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The skills evolution for marketing leaders in an era of change
Even before COVID-19, the world of marketing was experiencing significant shifts. But now, the pandemic has placed new demands that marketers must grapple with. One crucial factor that will help future-proof marketing careers is to possess key soft skills that will enable marketers to more effectively navigate and operate in a changing landscape, according to a former Top 20 CMO in Australia.
At a recent Michael Page webinar titled, “Marketing Leadership in an era of change”, Teresa Sperti, Founder of Arktic Fox said marketers are required to play a very different role than they have historically, as competition rises and disruption is more prevalent.
“We are operating in an environment which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – this environment is requiring organisations to rethink much of what they have known and much of what they do, in order to remain relevant to changing customer needs,” Sperti told the webinar.
“Organisations are increasingly looking to drive growth, build a customer-centric focus, and rapidly adapt the way the brand and business engages with its customers as technology advances.
“And increasingly, marketing leaders and their respective departments are being tasked with a broader merit and levels of accountability.”
Sperti therefore highlighted the need for marketing leaders – plus senior members of the team who play an equally critical role in the change agenda – to evolve and adapt, otherwise risk becoming irrelevant.
What will become highly crucial for marketers to possess are key soft skills, she revealed.
Soft skills are the personal attributes, personality traits, inherent social cues and communication abilities needed to succeed in the workplace. Soft skills characterise how a person interacts in their relationships with others.
Key soft skills for marketers in a changing environment
Sperti highlighted the importance of the following skills in an era of change:
• The ability to work cross-functionally and build productive relationships. Driving and embedding a focus on the customer and improving customer experience can’t be achieved in silos. Marketing leaders need to lead by example and drive cross-functional alignment, engagement and collaboration – sometimes even act as facilitators. In particular, relationships with IT, sales, finance and customer service are really important.
• Ability to operate in ambiguity. Environments of change are far more volatile so businesses are continually adapting to a changing external environment. The path is less clear so knowing how to operate in ambiguity is a skill we all need. If you lead a team, it’s important to create clarity amongst the chaos and being able to move forward without having all the answers.
• Strong commercial acumen. The best marketers and marketing leaders know what drives the business and how to best link marketing performance with business outcomes. Marketers need to demonstrate they have commercial acumen if they are to have greater ownership of the P&L.
• Customer orientation. Organisations will speak of their focus on the customer but often, they don’t know what it means or how to get there. Marketers need to bridge the gap and bring that vision to life. In order to do this, be an expert in the customer, not channels.
• Elevating influence. Marketers are being given greater accountability but not authority – this makes influence vital for marketing leaders. Changing perceptions of marketing, embedding purpose and customer focus all require greater levels of influence across the organisation at peer, C-Suite and board levels. To do so, marketers need to more actively contribute to strategic discussions which span beyond the marketing department, demonstrate an enterprise mindset when making decisions and speak common language of the C-suite.
During the webinar, poll results of participants around hiring intentions revealed 47% had no plans to hire in the next three months, while 44% don’t know until COVID-19 passes.
Responding to a multiple answer poll about the biggest marketing leaders faced in their organisation, 53% revealed they are too focused on the short term and 41% struggle to convince leaders to invest in brand and long-term initiatives. This was followed by 40% stating they are perceived to be a support function, while 35% of participants said departments don’t understand what we do and the value we bring.
Another poll found over the past 18 months, the biggest change to marketing’s evolution in their organisation was greater ownership of data and analytics, followed by greater influence over organisational strategy.
“We are in the thick of one of the most significant systemic shifts in marketing, and many leaders and organisations are working it out as they go along. So take comfort in the fact that most haven’t figured this out yet,” Sperti noted.
“I do believe it is a genuinely exciting time for the industry.”
Leela Lewis, Director at Michael Page has been recruiting marketing and digital roles for 12 years and during this time, has seen the continued evolution of marketing.
“Through partnering with different companies, recruiting for senior marketing and digital roles, I’ve watched a shift in expectations for these roles,” Lewis revealed.
“Most notably, marketing has moved from being a cost centre to a revenue driver.
“Also 80% of the businesses that I work with are going through some form of transformation. Increasingly, marketing and customers are at the centre of these transformations and so I’m tasked with finding change agents that can help drive their change agenda.”
She was named in the Top 20 CMOs in Australia 2018, which recognises the country’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders. Sperti has over 20 years’ experience working for leading brands including Coles, Officeworks and World Vision.