CMOs: it’s time to up the game in team skills building

By Thomas Barta
Last updated: April 10, 2023

Every CMO agrees: skills are central for marketing teams’ business impact and internal standing. But when it comes to building those skills, the marketing department is too often undermanaged and underfunded. It’s time for CMOs to catch up (from my column).

Great marketing fuels profitable business growth. That’s why a CEO expects his or her marketing team to be masters of marketing strategy, communication, pricing, distribution, digital/social media management, etc.—in line with what’s needed in the market. In my recent global CMO study with Patrick Barwise, when it came to marketers’ business impact, analytic and creative marketing skills were the most important success factors (explaining about 20% of the explicable variance in success).

Yet numerous studies have highlighted that marketers often don’t have a structured skills development path and, in some cases, don’t receive any formal training. Studies also show that marketing, when compared with business functions such as finance and HR, has smaller training budgets.

Look outside the company to bring new skills into the team (e.g., data and analytics can be important). But it’s equally critical to develop the skills of the existing team. Skilling up a marketing team isn’t rocket science—but it requires the CMO to make skills a priority.

Here are some tips for how you can develop the skills of your team.

Decide: Do You “Make or Buy?”

Marketing is changing fast. With digital, social, and mobile media and big data rising, most marketing teams have a never-ending need for new skills. Which skills do you need internally and which should you buy? Two important factors can help you decide:

A skill’s strategic importance: As a rule of thumb, if a skill can become a significant long-term competitive advantage, build it in-house. Procter & Gamble, for example, has long run its own advertising effectiveness research, because it was seen as an important competitive asset. Conversely, most telecoms companies outsource advertising effectiveness research but invest heavily in in-house pricing capabilities because pricing is central to their business performance. If a skill could set you apart from competitors, don’t outsource it—build it internally.

A skill’s timeliness: Skills may take time to build internally. If you need a skill urgently, get going with external partners. If the skill is of strategic importance, make the building of internal capability an explicit part of these partnered projects from the start (rather than waiting until the experts have left).

Build Marketing Leadership Skills

Leadership isn’t (yet) part of formal marketing training in most organisations. That’s starting to change as people realise that, to create long-term value for customers and the company, marketers need to improve their leadership skills. This doesn’t just happen—it requires a conscious effort for marketers to learn to, for example, mobilise their bosses (shape the agenda), mobilise outside marketing colleagues (to serve customers better), mobilise their teams (become a leader of leaders), or mobilise themselves (find purpose and inspire others).

When you are building your team’s skills, think about marketing leadership skills, too.

Establish A Structured Marketing Skills Training Path

Structured skills training during marketers’ first two to five years should be a no-brainer. If your team doesn’t already have a structured skills training path, create one. At a minimum, it should incorporate different career points of generalists and specialists:

  • Required functional marketing skills and training.
  • Required marketing leadership skills and training.
  • Required functional on-the-job experience.

Functional skills training can often be done internally, combined with external skills workshops (e.g., run by agencies). Marketing leadership training involves highly specialised courses, often tailored to your marketing team. If you work for a small company, you may choose to send people to one of the few external marketing leadership-training providers. As soon as your team reaches 10 or 12 members, tailored marketing leadership training is the more cost-effective option.

How many annual training days should you plan for? I recommend that every team member (including you) gets at least five training days each year. Sounds like a lot? Well, that’s about 2% of yearly work hours. And if this feels like a multiple of what you invest today, keep in mind that you are just catching up with your peers from other functions.

PS: Skills development programmes aren’t only for big firms. Even if you have just three marketers in a company of 12 people, there’s nothing to stop you from writing a marketing skills development path on a few sheets of paper.