21st Century Marketing Teams Need Diverse Skills

Thomas Barta And Patrick Barwise

Twenty-first century marketing is suffering from a skills crisis. There’s also confusion about priorities. In particular, the well-justified focus on digital and data skills means that other important areas are tending to be neglected.

Despite the burgeoning of digital media and database marketing, the basic role and nature of strategic marketing haven’t changed. All of these are still at the heart of winning and keeping profitable customers:

•   Aligning with the CEO’s priorities

•   Understanding customer needs

•   Creating better, user-friendly products and services

•   Developing engaging, cut-through communications

•   Finding the right combination of distribution and customer support

Similarly, how to mobilize your non-marketing colleagues to maximize the Value Creation Zone (or V-Zone) — that area where the customers and company’s needs overlap — and drive long-term business performance hasn’t materially changed.

Building a better team
Marketing departments are becoming more analytical and complex. This raises both technical and organizational challenges: you need to decide which marketing techniques to use and how to combine them in terms of structure and skills. For instance, what is the best way to optimize the skills of,
and relationship between, the data analytics team, the market research team, outside suppliers of technology and insight, and those making marketing decisions?

McKinsey estimates that by 2018, marketing teams in the United States alone will be short of close to 190,000 people with data analytical skills. Seventy-eight percent of CMOs expect more marketing complexity, but only 48 percent say they’re prepared to deal with it. While all business functions face a digital skills challenge, marketing faces it in spades.

Many marketers find making the transition from marketing expert to marketing team leader hard. Why? Because they are used to being on top of the details and feel threatened by the increasing pace and complexity of what’s happening.

You need to develop a team with the right mix of skills for what you are trying to achieve. This sounds like an obvious, motherhood statement, but the evidence is that too few marketers are doing it. Reviewing and adjusting the skills structure of your team to fit the V-Zone issue can lead to breakthroughs in performance.

Steps for success

• Recruit for distinctiveness. When we ask marketers to see their team’s job descriptions, they usually show us a needlessly complex document. When building a team, clarity matters. We recommend a brutally simple distinctiveness approach. Whatever your V-Zone challenge is, clarity about it will greatly help you decide the right skills mix for the team.

•   Build marketing leadership skills. Companies are beginning to realize that in order to increase the V-Zone and 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.

•   Build functional skills beyond marketing. Marketing issues touch many departments. Marketers who have had exposure only within marketing will struggle to walk the talk and collaborate across the company. Try to rotate your people. Allow them to get three to six months of experience in, say, sales, finance or operations.

•   Give your team’s skills architecture your full focus. Accept that structure isn’t a one-off project. Instead, your team’s skills will need constant adjustment. People develop and move on. New skills gain relevance. You’re never done when it comes to architecting your team. Successful marketing requires staying at the top of the skills league.  

Excerpted from “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value” by Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise. Reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill. Copyright 2016.