What makes a B2B marketing leader?

Our technical marketing skills will only get us so far.

For many of us, that’s fine; we’ll certainly never get bored and if we keep on learning the new skills that new technology will invariably require, those skills will always be in demand. But if that’s all we want, then we have got to stop complaining about marketing not having a seat on the board or that our business doesn’t value us as much as we think it should. And if we want more – and different – then we need to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  • Do we think as well as do?
  • Do we create the new or maintain the status quo?
  • Are we managers or leaders?
  • Are we doing marketing, managing the doing of marketing, or are we leading marketing within our companies?
  • Do we really know what our CEOs and the wider business want and need from us?
  • What do we need to do to become marketing leaders and, further, to cultivate leadership throughout our marketing function?

This is the predicament we face, because most us weren’t born leaders. Most of us are great tacticians with the necessary technical skills to implement those tactics. Some of us are inevitably promoted to leadership positions because of those technical skills and our ability to get things done. But few of us have the necessary skills for leadership.  

How do we become marketing leaders?

The first step is to stop the blame game. We are responsible for who we are and what we do. If our business does not value marketing, that is our fault, not the fault of the rest of the business. We have got to stop talking about ‘educating’ the business about marketing and start being more than ‘just marketers’.

We must be different and redefine marketing in terms of the business. This is not about the language we use – although that’s part of it – and it’s not about the marketing outputs; it’s fundamentally about the outcomes that are required by the business. If our outputs are not valued by the business, then we need to start doing what the business does value. We simply must get a whole lot better at listening to our businesses and understanding what they really want and need from us, instead of insisting that they value our technical skills.

In the ‘12 Powers of a Marketing Leader’ (McGraw Hill, 2017), co-authors Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise discuss their original research into the business impact and career success of senior marketers. In the research, they found 12 sets of leadership attributes, falling into four distinct categories, that determine marketing success. But the book isn’t about marketing, it’s a book about leadership for marketers, and it’s a profoundly important book for those of us in B2B marketing who are already leaders or who aspire to leadership.

Because through their research, the authors unequivocally found that successful marketers weren’t successful because of their functional marketing skills, their knowledge of the industry or their companies’ products and services, or even because of their personalities – although these all did contribute in some measure to their success. Instead, they found that the primary driver of success for marketers were their leadership skills, with more than half citing these leadership skills as critical for marketing’s ability to create a meaningful impact on their business and further their own careers.

The book is aligned around a simple premise: that marketing is uniquely positioned to be the voice of the customer within the company and drive alignment in what the authors call the ‘Value Creation Zone (V-Zone)’. This is ‘the space where customer needs and company needs overlap’ and it’s only through mastering and applying leadership skills that this V-Zone can be maximized.

The book takes us through 12 stages for mastering and applying these leadership skills, which the authors call the ‘12 Powers’ – these involve mobilizing our bosses (shaping and influencing the agenda), our colleagues (for a more holistic customer approach) and our teams (becoming a leader of leaders). But most importantly, it involves mobilizing ourselves (finding purpose and inspiring others).

We all know, most of our B2B organizations are slow to change. Organizational behaviour and perceptions are deeply rooted, even within the fast-moving technology sector. But it’s up to each of us to take charge and make that happen, and the first step is to embody that change ourselves. It may feel daunting, risky and scary but no matter where we sit in our organizations, we can make a start. Because we are marketers, we are people with a passion for our customers and our brands, and we can inspire change by learning the skills we need to become marketing leaders instead of people who just ‘do’ marketing.