Becoming a marketing leader is not just a result of having hard skills. You need to have the right soft skills as well.
If you want to move into a marketing leadership role or reach the CMO-level, it can be hard knowing what are the right things to focus on. What should you know or be doing to grow your career faster?
How do you overcome any weaknesses you might have? Even if you know your strengths and weaknesses well, how do you leverage that into career growth?
We’ll dive into growing your career in marketing with Andrea Kayal, a 3x-CMO and marketing advisor to startups who has grown her career fast.
When you captain a team, you have to give guidance and direction to your teammates. You also have to have intense focus on take challenges head on. Those same skills apply to being a leader at a SaaS company.
To be an effective leader, you need to be able to take any punches, keep moving forward, and make sure you get it done.
“[Startup] jobs are hard, especially at high-growth tech companies. You kind of need to persevere. There's no other way. At Michigan we had training at four o'clock in the morning. That was the only time we could get gym time and then you'd have to go to class in the freezing cold and then go back to practice and then go to study.
The person that I am today is because I just said, ‘You know, we gotta get it done.’ And so that's how I feel when I'm in these roles.”
Taking inventory is an important part of starting a new marketing role. Make sure you have a good understanding of everything your role touches. For more senior roles, that will include things like NPS, customer health, customer sentiment about the product, and more.
“I actually send a spreadsheet out to all companies that I work for. You should interview companies with the same rigor they used to interview you.
That spreadsheet has about 25 questions on it. And it's like all about the health of the business, everything from customer NPS to the health of the customers to do the customers actually like the product or is the CEO selling you into the business.
You could be the best marketer on the planet. Great ideas, very smart in terms of your growth and forecasting. But if the company sucks, the people hate it, and the metrics are all backwards, it's not gonna work.”
The best CMOs don’t just take a budget, they make a budget. Your job as a CMO is to figure out what the business goals are and to build a budget around it. If a business wants to grow by a certain multiple or have a certain goal reached for a campaign, you need to make sure you have enough budget to reach that goal.
“Part of being a CMO, which is different from being a VP of Marketing or just marketing IC is that you should be coming up with a plan that is an investible thesis. You should say, you need to give me X amount of money, because I'm going to deliver this to the business. And so you get the CEO and the CFO excited about the budget you share with them, not the other way.”
When you get to a senior marketing role like CMO, it becomes less about marketing and more about being a good business leader. You need to spend equal time on being a good business leader and being a good marketer. That means knowing how to scale the company and keep a strong culture.
“As a CMO, I think 50% of your time should be spent on the M and 50% of your time should be spent on the C. In some cases, actually there's more time being spent on the C and the C is like a dozen things that I wish I had known sooner in my life.
The skills you need to be Chief Marketing Officer are 50% being a good marketer, 50% being a good business leader. And that includes things like knowing what your competitors are doing around you.”
Being a good marketing leader is less about being talented at everything in marketing and more about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t matter if you come from the demand side, the brand side, etc.
If you’re strong in something, double down on it. If you’re weak at it, hire for it.
“To be a good manager, you need to be a good manager of human beings. You should double down on the things you are strong at. I am not strong on the brand side, but I have a wonderful VP of Brand that I hired, who I convinced to take this journey with me.
I would say if you're not necessarily strong in demand, you need to know how to hire a five star growth person.”
If you want to grow your marketing career, you need to invest in your network. You should be regularly chatting and networking with people whose titles you want or have the same titles and are doing great work.
“I did a lot of my own networking. I reached out to people who had titles that I wanted. Before, we didn't have companies like Captivate Talent who put up forums that we could listen, learn, connect, and network through.
I would just say put in the work even though people don't want to network. It is absolutely critical. I have CMOs and VPs of Marketing attend our marketing meetings to share what they're doing. And all of my Directors are required to talk to people at companies they admire in their roles to learn about what it is they're doing.”
Andrea says that if you want to become a marketing leader, the fastest way to do it is by knowing your numbers. That’s the most important piece of growing your marketing career.
“You need to know your numbers. I can't tell you how hard it is for people to articulate this. There are no surprises here. If I am hiring you to carry a number, anything related to pipeline or bookings or whatever, and you don't have any slides or anything to talk about how to get there, that's like a no.”
For marketers looking to grow their career, a brag book can be an excellent resource. It’s a written resource that has all of your accomplishments and numbers for the jobs you’ve done. Many marketers can’t present on numbers so having a brag book can give you a big advantage.
“I do have a brag book about what I've accomplished because what they're buying is my track record of success. If I cannot articulate that they're not gonna buy it.
It's like, what did you do in your job that shows me that you're going to make an impact at this new job. You have to be able to articulate that in a way. It can't just be the activities you've done. You can't just say, oh, we did five case studies. Oh, we did work on sales enablement stuff.
What did that do? How did that move the needle? Those are the things that people need to articulate.”
19:45 - What skills and traits should you look for when hiring a marketer
Education is not the most important thing you should look for when hiring a marketer. It’s actually passion, curiosity, and grit. You also need a marketer who can work well with others. EQ is a big part of the hiring equation.
“I hire for passion, curiosity, and grit. I also have a strict policy on what we're not hiring for. And that is your school resume. Because I also think that it's discriminatory to be hiring on pedigree. Like only 30% of the country has a degree. So right there it's a problem.
99% of what we're doing in these roles, especially for marketing jobs, is just collaborating with each other. Bringing creative ideas, inspiring each other, and being nice to each other.”
When you’re a first-time manager, it’s important to set clear, attainable goals. If you don’t document these goals somewhere, it’s going to be hard to determine progress. First-time managers might find it helpful to use OKRs to turn goals into yes, no goals to keep it simple.
“Try to create your own semblance of the OKR model. Your employees absolutely need very clear direction on what you want them focused on so that you can go back and review.
Look to see if they've accomplished it and do not have nebulous goals and initiatives that you don't check in on is like a recipe for disaster when you're trying to help that person manage their career. Make sure you set a very clear understanding of your expectations.
I think the easiest way that that manifests is throughout the OKRs. Have you done it or not? Try to make the conversation more binary? Yes, you've accomplished this or no, you haven't to take kind of the subjectivity out of their performance.”
Andrea says you should follow leaders who give practical marketing advice. Many of her favorites have done the role a few times so they are able to give actionable advice.
“I love Kyle Lacy. He always has very practical LinkedIn tips that aren't like novellas. He does a lot on the people side of management like caring for the whole person and those kinds of things.
They're like very practical tips, also very practical marketing tips. I have made mistakes for so many years that knowing what not to do is important too. So I love following him.
Udi Ledergor has great posts. He's gay. I'm also gay. So I appreciate his posts, helping the LGBTQ community feel safer to share more about who they are and their whole self to work.”
Even the best CMOs have failures. Learning from your failures is key to becoming a successful marketer. You should know that not all of your marketing efforts are going to work so it’s important to know what went wrong and how you can improve from that.
“We did a cyber truck giveaway.
Our CEO said it's gonna be gangbusters. And I'm like, ‘okay.’ By the way, I had just started like a month before. And I'm like, oh my God, how awesome. The CEO knows everything. He's willing to give me money to fund the cyber truck. We only had like three signups.
I could blame myself for maybe doing a shitty job on the promotion of it. But anyway, here we are. For marketing successes, I would just say without speaking to any one campaign, I would say that most of the successes I've had come from this philosophical view I have about just giving, giving a lot to the prospect before you ask for anything in return, you know, like we don't gate any of our content. We do a lot of gift sending. We try to make a lot of deposits before we try to withdraw.”
Andrea looks at her soccer background when it comes to why she hates losing more than she loves winning. She was a goalie in college and knowing she let in goals is why she hates losing so much.
I hate losing. I think that was the first thing that popped into my head. I don't stand for it. I think it was definitely the characteristic that keeps me going inside of these tech companies.”