One of the many things I admire about great marketers is that the very best of them are not flashy, salesy caricatures of Mad Men episodes and Shark Tank segments. They do not play to Hollywood stereotypes and sometimes they play against them. Rather than brash, bold hucksters holding court, the best-of-the-best marketers today are analytical, data-focused, business-aligned collaborators.
Many of the businesses I help are putting top marketing leaders in place for the first time–CMOs, SVPs of Marketing, Chief Brand Officers–and the question I always get is this: What are some of the traits that the best marketing leaders share?
Well, in addition to the instinctive reflex to shine the spotlight on customers and colleagues, here are the five traits I believe distinguish great marketers today.
Trait #1: They Ask Really Good Questions
In marketing, we talk a lot about great storytelling, but how do you get to a story that matters? A story that moves people to action? It all starts with asking the right questions, a gift of the very best marketers.
For 15+ years, marketers and business leaders have been watching Simon Sinek’s now grainy Golden Circle Ted Talk where he asks the foundational questions of business brand building. What do we do? How do we do it? What’s our why? His simple yet profound questions helped rewrite how companies approach the marketplace and connect with their customers. The very best marketers have that power in all areas of business building, branding and amplifying.
You know you are in the presence of a great marketer when the interview you had scheduled becomes a moment that truly means something. How? They asked you a question that challenged and surprised you. A question that inspired you to share a story that moved you. They asked you a question that reminded you of why your work, business or team really matter. Great marketers are excellent at getting to the heart of the matter at hand and gathering the insights needed to communicate and connect with your customers and the marketplace as a whole.
Trait #2: They Listen and Listen and Listen
So, yes they ask great questions but then, great marketers stop at the question mark and listen. They listen to every stakeholder they can, gathering perspectives and insight so that they can build informed, authentic marketing strategies and tools. Calvin Coolidge famously said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job,” and this is a powerful truth.
Listening is the most powerful quill in a marketer’s quiver. A strong and active listener is the best information compiler out there. A good listener builds trust and rapport, empowering stakeholders to speak with honesty and clarity. You want to build great marketing solutions that work? Build them from the raw and authentic insights of people who trust you.
Trait #3: They Align Marketing to Business Goals
Another shared trait of exceptional marketing leaders is their rigorous alignment of marketing efforts with business goals. Many marketers get caught up in measuring marketing activities. Great marketers align their marketing efforts to business goals and let those business goals be the measure of success.
Should marketing’s measures of success align with sales revenue numbers and quotas? Absolutely! Should it map to customer engagement and satisfaction? 100%. Marketing as an island to itself has no impact. Marketing leaders who link efforts and strategy directly to business goals are impact-driven professionals who can and will grow the business and the brand.
Trait #4: They Manage Up with Success
Marketing has a broad impact across all areas of the business. That means lots of people and departments are looking to marketing for help and results. Those marketing leaders who are proactive in understanding multifaceted business needs, and able to manage up to meet expectations of leaders across the business, can and will win broad business support. That is a wonderful position of trust to be in and essential when it comes to managing critical business assets like the company brand.
Trait #5: They Are Unquestionably Curious
Great marketers are also not home bodies or office dwellers. They spend a ton of time out in other areas of the business working to understand all facets of operations, sales, solutions, products, customer service, backoffice workings, and culture. To speak with authority on the business and to own the voice of the business, as marketing often does, you need to be an indisputable expert.
Great marketers do not talk without true understanding. They take the time needed to go out and become organizational experts. They know what they are talking about because they are truly and deeply connected to the business, its employees, and its customers.
Marketing and brand superstar and award-winning author Ann Handley, in her hysterical and insightful newsletter–Total Annarchy–writes this challenge to marketers, “What if we thought more systematically about creating consistently remarkable experiences that matter for our customers?”
The best marketers know that customer, employee, prospect or alumni experiences can only be made incredible by understanding their experience first hand. Great marketers get out and get first-hand experience. All the time. Then, they turn that knowledge into marketing programs and tools that have mission, meaning, moxie, and measurable impact. And that is a winning combination the best marketing leaders rely on.