Enterprise Marketer - Make Your Marketing Matter.

It may surprise you to hear that a Marketing team's success has more to do with the strategic decisions of what isn't done than with what is done. As a founding father of modern strategy thinking, Michael Porter, says: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” To exercise strategy effectively, marketing leaders must apply the four soft skills of Agile Marketing leadership: emotional intelligence, conspicuous communication, restrained metrics, and vigilant protectorship.

Marketers are bombarded with viable requests from various stakeholders, each wanting the time, resources, and talent of the creative marketing team to deliver - and deliver now. The art of saying 'no' is entirely subjective unless and until there's a framework in place to filter the prioritization of work, the impact of interrupt-driven work, and a measurable return on marketing deliverables. Fortunately, our brethren in the software development industry already tackled this problem with the introduction of Agile to supplant the business-as-usual method of long-term project planning. For today's marketer, the principles of Agile have been applied to the intersection of planned content and real-time responses inherent in marketing communications.

However, the focus of this piece is not to compare the various flavors of Agile Marketing, but to narrow our view to the top of the pyramid where strategic leadership meets the light of practical realities. There are four soft skills - the linchpins of marketing leadership - that transcend any one practice or method and are crucial for Agile Marketing leaders.

Emotional Intelligence

The ability to manage and control your emotions in the face of any circumstance or person is perhaps the most significant quality required of any person in leadership. In the 1990's, a new term called 'emotional intelligence' - called 'EQ' - entered the workplace lexicon. Workers with high EQ are better able to work in teams, adjust to change, and remain flexible in any circumstance.

In his book, 'Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ', Daniel Goleman presents five categories of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: If a person has a healthy sense of self-awareness, she understands her strengths and weaknesses, as well as how her actions affect others.
  2. Self-regulation: A person with a high EQ can express emotions with restraint and control.
  3. Motivation: Emotionally intelligent people are resilient when they encounter disappointment.
  4. Empathy: A person who has empathy has compassion and an understanding of human nature that allows him to connect with other people on an emotional level, responding genuinely to others’ concerns.
  5. People skills: People who are emotionally intelligent can build rapport and trust quickly with others on their teams. These leaders avoid power struggles and choose to honor others even before respect is earned.

To lead any team well, a high degree of emotional intelligence is, quite simply, required. Those without a healthy EQ will find their teams operating in fear or frustration.

Conspicuous Communication

It may be ironic, but all marketers are not automatically excellent communicators. The skill to write a pithy line or be glib with a quick turn of phrase does not directly translate into the strategic viewpoint required for vigilantly delineating and consistently interfacing with marketing teams and external stakeholders and managers.

In Agile Marketing, visibility of all work is a foundation for building trust and prioritizing work. However, beyond the software or Agile board of choice, Agile marketing leaders must be mindful of capricious stakeholders and the ever-present threat of scope creep.

In certain Agile practices, the role of Scrum Master is often used as the point person for communications for a team or teams. But beyond the focus on work, the marketing leader needs the soft skills to administrate the overall communication and champion the repeated alignment of work with the stated purpose of the organization. All too often, marketing teams start Agile with gusto only to be quickly derailed due to unclear objectives and unstructured ways of dealing with the inevitable interrupt-driven work required of real-time market changes.

Restrained Metrics

The world of email marketing is perhaps the easiest starting point to illustrate the absurdity of too many metrics, as we all have experience with the multitude of data points centered around email communications. From open rates to click through rates to form completion rates to landing page click paths to prospect scoring and grading to conversion rates - and the list goes on and on - there's more than enough data to drown in as a marketer.

What's needed is the clarity of only measuring what matters. While it can be argued that each data point may have some intrinsic value, each organization must carefully choose to not boil the ocean when it comes to making a decision from a plethora of inputs.

Instead of focusing on inputs, a key soft skill for marketing leaders is the focus on outputs. These leaders understand that only when the focus is on things that are most valued by the C-Suite can the outputs be correctly identified. Said another way, when it's clearly understood what is valued, it becomes obvious what needs to be measured. The other half of the battle for restrained metrics comes when the marketing leader shares her insights and reports with her leadership. For many marketers, it can be quite difficult to reiterate that what was measured and reported must now be valued as key learnings for future decisions.

Vigilant Protectorship

The capacity to set a sustainable pace with healthy boundaries may indeed be the most critical of these soft skills; this is where the line between leader (inspiration/encouragement) and manager (blockage remover/protector of the team) must be balanced. Similar to a baseball coach who confronts the umpires in baseball on questionable calls, Agile marketing leaders have the ultimate responsibility of protecting the team from unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands, and sideways energy expended on executive insertions.

The team must be able to trust that the leader has their back, or their loyalty will be easily compromised. Unlike the baseball coaches who kick sand on the feet of umpires and yell in their faces, these leaders understand how to remain cool and confident under pressure due to their high EQ.

Agile Marketing is based on the principles of Agile as a belief, not a methodology. Similarly, the beliefs of marketing leaders have a litmus test in these four crucial soft skills, and time reveals where each leader has room for improvement.

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