Five success factors at the VP Marketing or CMO level

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The best VPs and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) realize they never do it alone. Everything we do is through the greatness of other people. The success factors start with the idea that your people come first. You must bring a vision to the role, put the spotlight on your team, be an approachable leader and run the process and the numbers to ensure your people can focus on delivering what needs to happen.

If you are good at your role, you might not even need to do any marketing other than challenge and guide your people to do their best work. Your greatness comes from the greatness of your people. Invest in training your people as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged. At the VP Marketing level, it is more about people. The equation is simple: smarter people make amazing work that delivers outstanding results.

Quintessentially, rule #1 is you have to make the numbers. Your primary role is to create demand for your brands. You are paid to gain share and drive sales growth to help drive profit for the company. The results come from making the right strategic choices, executing at a level beyond competitors, and motivating your team to do great work. Making the numbers gives you more freedom on how you wish to run things. Without the numbers, the rest might not matter.

At the VP Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) level, success comes from your leadership, vision, and ability to get the most from your people.

Five success factors at the VP/CMO level:

1. Your people come first

2. Run the process and the system

3. Be the visionary

4. Put the spotlight on your people 

5. Be a consistent, authentic, approachable leader

1. Your people come first

What many people miss is that people come first. At the VP Marketing and CMO level, I believe if you focus on your people, and the results will come. Smart people produce great work and in turn, outstanding results. It would help if you had a regular review of the talent with your directors. Build a system to provide feedback to everyone on the team, preferably quarterly.

Invest in training and development. 

Marketing Training should not be just learning on-the-job, but in the classroom, to challenge the thinking of your people and give them added skills to be better in their careers. Marketing fundamentals matter. Your people need to know how to strategic thinking, define their brand’s positioning statement, write a Brand Plan, write a Creative Brief, and judge advertising. Marketers are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations. Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it also motivates them to know that you are investing in them.

2. Run the process and the system

The best VP Marketing should run the P&L and all the Marketing processes. You have to run the P&L and make investment choices. Bring an ROI and ROE (Return on Investment and Effort) mindset to those decisions. These choices will be one of the essentials to making the numbers and gaining more freedom in how you do the job. Regarding the process, it has always been my belief that smart processes in place—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—should not restrict your people, but instead provide the right freedom to your people. Get your people to drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks cool in the brand plan presentation.

3. Be the visionary

The best VP Marketing brings a vision, not just for the direction of the brand but the inspiration for the team. Come up with a theme that taps into the purpose, beliefs, expectations, and the behaviors you will reward. You are now the Mayor of Marketing. What’s your campaign slogan? Get up, walk around, and engage with everyone on your team. You can make someone’s day, motivate and encourage them to deliver excellent work. Set a high standard, and when your team put an outstanding idea up for approval, and it is fundamentally sound, then approve it. Do not do the constant spin of fear. It makes you look indecisive and bureaucratic.

4. Put the spotlight on your people

The best VP Marketing lets their people own it and let them shine. It has to be about them, not you. Do not be the super-duper Brand Manager. By making all the decisions, you bring yourself down a level or two, and you take over their job. Instead of telling, start asking questions. Challenge your team and recognize the great work. It might be my own thing, but I never said: “thank you” because I never thought they were doing it for me. Instead, I said: “you should be proud” because I knew they were doing it for themselves.

5. Be a consistent, authentic, approachable leader

The best VP Marketing has an open door and make it easy for people to engage them. You have to set up an avenue where they can approach you and feel comfortable enough to communicate the good and bad. A hidden leader scares people. No one wants to share concerns or bad results, for fear of how you will react. Don’t get left in the dark. Open communication keeps you more knowledgeable. Get your people to challenge you. Inconsistent and unpredictable behavior by a leader does not “keep them on their toes.” It creates tension and inhibits creativity.

Be consistent in how you think, how you act in meetings, and how you approve. Leadership assumes “follower-ship.” Create an atmosphere that will make people want to go the extra mile for you. Once you show up ready to listen, you will be surprised how honest they will be and how much they will tell you.

The VP Marketing and CMO role can be very lonely

I remember when I first took the job as VP, I found it surprisingly a bit lonely. Everyone in marketing tries to be “on” whenever you are around. Moreover, you don’t always experience the “real” side of the people on your team. Just be ready for it. It takes a while to get used to the distance from your new peers (the head of sales, HR, operations, or finance). It is far greater than you might expect, and it may feel daunting at first.

Your peers hope you to run Marketing and let them run their functional area. Also, the specific problems you face, they might not appreciate or even understand the subtleties of the role. Your boss also gives you too much rope, which can be either good or bad. There will be less coaching than you had in prior positions. It is crucial for you to have a good mentor or even an executive coach to give you someone to talk with that understands your role.

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