Marketing team-skills: Simplicity matters!

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: October 07, 2016

“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, couldn’t be truer for marketing leaders. Think about it: you want to change the customer experience that large numbers of people in your company create each day — most of whom don’t work in marketing.

You can’t possibly achieve all this on your own. The only way to succeed is to become a “leader of leaders.” Don’t just build a support team. Build an influential team of marketing leaders to help the whole company meet customers’ needs better than the competition.

Marketers often tell us that it’s hard to find the right team members. When we ask to see their team’s job descriptions, they usually show us a needlessly complex document.

For example, one senior marketer showed us a list of what she wanted from a new team manager, including: adaptability, business mind-set, enthusiasm, entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence, willingness to learn, previous business-to-business marketing experience, and data mining.

When we challenged her list’s length, she told us that what was most important to her was expertise in data mining and entrepreneurship. Most of the other things listed were standard competencies from the firm’s HR framework. No wonder her team could never agree on a candidate!

When building a team, clarity matters. We recommend brutal simplicity.

First, summarize what Patrick Barwise and I call your Value-Zone (‘V-Zone’) challenge – a big issue for both customers and the CEO. For instance, your priority may be to increase margins by improving the retention and contribution of the most profitable customers, or to increase market share by better serving customer needs in a certain market. Whatever your V-Zone challenge is, clarity about it will greatly help you decide the right skills mix for the team.

Then, based on this, answer the following three questions:

Q1: What are the one or two most distinctive functional marketing skills needed to expand the V-Zone?

Don’t write a long list of basic skills (most decent marketers will have those skills anyway). Focus only on distinctive skills — things your team or the individual must truly excel at. Make sure you’ve thought about both analytical and creative skills: most marketers focus on one of these, rather than both, often reflecting their own personal preference and interest.

Q2: What are the one or two distinctive personality traits needed to expand the V-Zone?

For your team, which personality traits matter most? Do you especially need people who are entrepreneurial? Or people with a lot of stamina who’ll never give up? Ideally, you’d have all of these, but which are the top one or two traits that will make the most difference?

Q3: Which personality traits are “no nos” for your team (fit)?

“Find people you like to hang out with,” says Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Look for people you like. But don’t recruit too many people who are like you: that would reduce the team’s diversity. You want people who are capable, committed, and good team players. You can afford a few difficult characters as “grit in the oyster,” to challenge the majority’s views. But they’d better be good and you don’t want too many of them. Define the few personality traits that are an absolute “no no” in your team.

The answers to these three questions should help you create a clear description of what you need for the team as a whole as well as for each individual contributor.
Once you’ve created a skills-and-traits sheet (shown in table), you’ll be much clearer about what you’re aiming for.

You can also use your list to take stock of your team’s current mix of skills and traits. On a sheet of paper, next to each distinctive skill (and trait), write the names of team members with the particular skills and, if possible, whether their skill level is “world-class”,“OK,” or “weak.” You’ll soon see where you’ve got the right balance and where you need to invest.

Some people have suggested that our three-question approach is simplistic. Of course, other skills-and-traits assessments are more comprehensive. But in our experience, the longer your list, the harder it is to see the wood for the trees when you recruit. Less is more.

The three-question approach can also be used to complement a more sophisticated recruitment model. For example, your company may have a validated model to predict marketing career success, based on a cognitive abilities test. That’s great. You can use standardized tests like these to screen candidates first, while in interviews you look for the distinctive skills and traits you need in your team.

(This is a version of our article on the topic).