To thrive as a marketing leader, step out of your role

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: September 02, 2016

As a marketing leader, customer knowledge is key for your business success—but it won’t get you promoted. In my research, what mattered more for marketer’s career success, were product and market knowledge. A good way to gain these insights is to step out of your role (from my column).

What type of knowldege matters for your success? As a customer leader you must of course know what customers want. But to deliver great marketing, you also need to know what your products are, why they exist, and how they are being made. And you need to understand what your competitors do, why they do it, and how they operate. Let’s look at some facts:

As part of a global research study, I recently analysed how over 1,200 CMOs lead (Patrick Barwise and I write about it in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader). When we looked at the question of knowledge, we found that customer knowledge is indeed the biggest driver of business success. However, when we analysed career success, the picture changed completely. Here, the knowledge that matters most is the knowledge of the company’s products. Insight into the customers isn’t sufficient. To climb the organisational ladder, you must also speak the company’s product language.

That’s why, as a customer leader, you should, if possible, find ways to step out of marketing. Try these:

Don’t start in marketing (right away)

When you join a new company, ask if you can first tour other departments such as production, supply chain, product development, and sales. Often, three or four weeks are all you will need to get a very good overview—and to become street-smart. Perhaps, you’ll receive some pushback. Be adamant and make your case. To the best of my knowledge, no company has ever collapsed because a top marketer started four weeks later.

Step out of your role (for a little while)

Even when you already work for a company, touring other departments can be eye-opening. You may not be able to step out for a full three or four weeks, but it should be possible for you to build in one-week stints in sales, production, etc. Even if you think you know your company already, you will be amazed how many new perspectives you will get—and how much goodwill you will be able to build.

Swap team members (regularly)

Don’t just think about your own product knowledge—consider your team too. A great way to increase your team’s product understanding and their relationship with the product team is through team-member rotations. In some companies, marketing and product teams exchange people for two or three months on a regular basis. Not only does this bring knowledge into the team, but strong networks with other departments also foster mutual respect, better communication, and the chance to benefit from new ideas and experiences.

Sometimes, the best way to grow as a marketing leader involves stepping out of your role.