Transcending education to grow as a professional marketer

Michael Valos and Alvin Lee look at the areas an up-and-coming marketer needs to love and nurture to blossom into a future chief marketer.

This article first appeared in The Love Issue, our June/July 2016 of Marketing magazine

Issue badge Love IssueIn 2016 we’re examining the aspects of mastery that are needed to become (or continue to be!) a successful chief marketer.

For this article, we draw on two focus groups conducted in May 2016 in which marketing managers and CMOs discussed the relative importance of Erik Zimmerman’s ‘Three Mastery Framework’, which outlines the competency framework through which junior marketers grow towards the CMO job.

Now CEO of Littil, Zimmerman informs us that, “Sustained success comes from three forms of mastery: personal mastery of your energy, vision and resilience, interpersonal mastery of your message and your connections, and professional mastery of marketing and management skills and acumen.”

One CMO focus group debated the skills and traits needed to become a chief marketing officer. The consensus was that marketers have to acquire transformative skills.

“Truly transformative CMOs have something more than the requisite technical skills,” said Christine Khor of Chorus Executive. “They have the inquisitiveness of children and the courage to stand out. They are confident enough to embrace failure and have the resilience to not be discouraged by it.”

The group also agreed that aspiring candidates have to practise transformative leadership skills from when they are junior executives and develop traits that let them push their job envelope.

Warwick Lloyd, BP Australia’s marketing program manager, shared insight into the types of
skills organisations want: “My observation is that organisations are now open to seeking out marketing personal from broader backgrounds than marketing. In particular, they are seeking those with strong financial skill sets or those who are operationally orientated. The logic behind this is that employees that are more commercially aware are able to drive business getting programs. In addition, the ability to be agile and work at pace is key to winning.”

michael valos alvin leeThe standout finding from the focus groups is that marketing technical skills and knowledge are next to useless if someone does not understand how to implement these through organisational structure and process. For example, while marketers of all levels understand concepts like the BCG Matrix and segmentation, differences between junior and senior marketers surface when they execute these concepts.

CMOs also need awareness of their industry context. Over time, they need to hone this ability to effectively fit marketing strategies to different industries by recognising crucial nuances in executing and implementing marketing strategies. Especially important are the risks inherent in different industries for different marketing strategies.

An important aspect of this assessment is their realistic evaluation of their organisation’s ability to deliver on a strategy within a particular market. A part of this assessment means that the marketer must have a good perspective of timing that gives a longer-term view of how marketing programs will perform within dynamic business environments.

Increasingly, the delivery of marketing strategies requires financial savvy. As a marketer grows professionally, they must manage profitability and balance sheets and have the ability to discuss financial issues with their chief financial officer.

This means that CMOs need to have a holistic picture of what is happening in the business and in their industry.

They need to ask questions like: ‘how does my company interact with the business environment? How do we interact with our competitors? What are the relationships between marketing and the other areas in our company? How will proposed changes to a marketing program affect other functional areas?’

Perhaps the most important skill an aspiring CMO can attain is interpersonal mastery. This helps them to sell marketing upwards. CMOs have to champion marketing to senior executives and board members, especially the way marketing creates value for the company. Without the marketing voice, many organisations risk losing their market focus. Having exceptional interpersonal skills also helps marketers manage external suppliers and vendors. Often, senior marketers have to be cynical when faced with vendor hard sells.

Industry context

The CMOs in our focus groups indicated that another discriminating characteristic separating junior from middle to senior marketing roles is the ability to know how to apply marketing principles and concepts within the industry context. There are nuances and differences between each industry or sector that make certain marketing strategies riskier or inappropriate.

Financial savvy

The more senior the marketer becomes, the more critical it is to understand the financial impacts on profitability, balance sheet and calculations. The ability to discuss with the CFO financial implications of the business case in the current economic environment into trade-off cost savings in procurement with value creation are not critical for a junior level marketer.

Big picture

The CMO must see the internal organisation in an interdependent big picture way to understand that changes to a marketing program have wide ranging implications for all the other functional areas. The junior marketer can afford a more narrow scope and perspective.

Time perspective

The CMO needs to have a longer-term view of the impact of marketing activities as well as how the environment is changing over time and how the organisation will stay relevant given external environmental change.

A junior marketer with only a couple of years’ experience tends to focus on small tasks. They are generally not given a task of being a change agent and bring in fresh thinking unless they’re part of a graduate recruitment program. This does not thwart career hopes – rather it suggests that juniors should first prove themselves within the parameters of their jobs before seeking loftier responsibilities.

Our previous articles have identified contextual factors as strong determinants of who the most appropriate person is for a specific role. This article also accentuates the weight of context, there are clear demarcations between the focus of junior and senior marketers.

We part on this occasion with a thought from Zimmerman: “In a world with rapid change, the learning opportunity for business must be highly situational. The learning should be applied to the career stage and specific challenge at hand.”

This emphasises that, to grow in the profession, marketers must transcend their training in marketing to become people managers and discover novel ways to achieve marketing success.


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The ‘Three Mastery Framework’ is being used as the basis developing of a library of tools and guides for Marketing Pro Members. Upgrade at

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