Jason and Jeff define the characteristics of a great firm marketing leader.
Jason Mlicki: This is Jason. Do you want to be on Rattle and Pedal? We have a great audience and we think you should know one another. So come on Rattle and Pedal and share a success or a mistake. Visit rattleandpedal.com/peerstories to learn more. Now, on with today’s show.
Speaker 2: You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki and Jeff McKay.
Jason Mlicki: So, Jeff, today, we are going to talk about the top attributes of a really exceptional marketing leader. And so I have an opening question, which is, do you know any? Sorry, that was the best way I could think of to open this.
Jeff McKay: So you took all that time off that we did around the holidays and you worked on your joke delivery. Well done.
Jason Mlicki: Well, yeah, well, it’s all about storytelling and it’s good stories to keep people entertained and educated along the way. So.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Yeah. So to answer your question, yes, I do know many of them. As a matter of fact, they’re some of my favorite people.
Jason Mlicki: Oh, who? Should we get them on the podcast?
Jeff McKay: They will be coming on because if you have not heard, I’m going to do a shameless plug here, Jason and I have added a new segment to the podcast called Peer Stories, where we want to hear from our listeners. We have great listeners, they’re very diverse in terms of skills, firms, practice versus marketing versus business development. And as Jason said in his intro several webcasts ago, we think you should know one another. So go out to rattleandpedal.com/peerstories and tell us why you should be on, and give yourself more credit because you’re probably a talented marketer, managing partner, practice leader, business developer or just cool person, and people should know you.
Jason Mlicki: All right. If there’s anybody left after listening to that shameless plug, well, we should dive in here. So the top attributes of a marketing leader, and I don’t know necessarily what we mean by attributes in this context, but I don’t know that it matters, so.
Jeff McKay: Oh God. Okay.
Jason Mlicki: So, well, I mean, attributes. What do we mean? Are they tall? Are they handsome? What do we mean? Are they women? Are they men? So, let’s just jump in. I made a list. You made a list. I have a great list. You have a list. Let’s get going. Start us out. Give us one to ponder on.
Jeff McKay: Oh gosh, my face is hurting from all that laughter. Number one, got to be a listener, got to be able to listen to your team, you need to be able to listen to your leadership, most importantly, you need to be able to listen to your clients. It seems obvious that you would be a good listener, but I think many of us, or not, we don’t listen, we wait for our turn to talk, wait for our turn to sell, wait for our turn to tell our story, wait for our turn to make us feel good about being right. And I just find that the best listeners don’t do any of that. They’re actively engaged, they ask great questions to clarify what they’re hearing and they remember what they’re hearing. So I think being a great listener is number one on the list.
Jason Mlicki: That’s a really great one to start with. I wrote down curiosity, and I think those two go hand in hand and what I meant by that was just they want to understand, they want to understand the business and how it works, they want to understand the practices and how it works, they want to understand subject domains that they don’t know anything about, they want to understand how I think about when we’re working with marketers, they want understand how we do the things that we do and why we do them the way we do them. They want to ask a lot of questions and it’s because they’re just naturally curious and they’re active listeners and they’re just trying to absorb the expertise of the people around them and do something with it.
Jason Mlicki: And when I parry that against maybe marketers that I’ve seen that aren’t as successful, they don’t really care. They’re kind of just looking for someone to give them the answer, so to speak, us to give them the answer, practice leader to give them the answer, and then they’ll market. I’ve heard marketers say those things and I always think, hmm, that’s a bad sign. So.
Jeff McKay: That’s a bad sign. Is it a fatal flaw?
Jason Mlicki: I don’t know. I mean, I imagine anything’s correctable, right? Well, I shouldn’t say anything, but I would think that’s a correctable thing, right?
Jeff McKay: Well, if you want to correct it.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: Maybe on the flip side, we’ll need a podcast on the fatal flaws of ineffective marketers or something like that. That’s a good one. I like curiosity. I actually had one kind of parallel to that, that they’re learners, that they ask great questions, they’re developing new skills, they’re exposing themselves to new ideas, they’re reading, they’re listening, they’re talking, they’re traveling, everything is informing their creativity and their understanding of the people around them and the products and services that they sell. So I think that’s a great one. And [crosstalk 00:05:13].
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I like that one too. I was thinking about a client that we had where I was talking with the CEO of the firm at one point and he was having some frustration with the marketing leader and he was talking to me about it and he felt like the marketing leader was routinely sort of out of step with what he wanted. I saw you asked her what she’s reading, man. Just ask her, well, what are you reading? I’m going to see what’s shaping her worldview and see if that gives you a better handle on how to interact with each other. So I like that learner one.
Jason Mlicki: I have one that is, I just call the… this was my top attribute actually, just decisiveness. To me, that is maybe the single most important attribute of a marketer. It’s just you have to be decisive and you have to move things forward. You can’t spend all of your time in introspection mode and you can’t wait for perfect information because you’ll never have perfect information. You will always be operating from a place of limited information and yet you have to make decisions and move the firm forward with limited information on a routine basis. And that to me is really the most important skill of the marketing leader from our perspective is being decisive about the things that they’re doing.
Jeff McKay: I like that. The word that you used was not on my list, but you’re absolutely right. I would take that one, one step further and I would say one of the most important attributes is prudence. And [crosstalk 00:06:37]…
Jason Mlicki: So this is the moment where Jeff overthinks decisiveness and ruins it for all of us, makes him indecisive.
Jeff McKay: No, no.
Jason Mlicki: I’m teasing you.
Jeff McKay: Because prudence makes decisions. It makes those decisions and moves on them as you describe. But prudence incorporates that listening dimension. It seeks counsel and it makes decisions within the context of reality. These are the conditions on the ground. We may want it to be some other way, but these are the conditions on the ground. And they do it within the context of other virtues that clear long-term vision, that magnanimity of something bigger than themselves, and then they choose and they act. I wrote a blog post on this on Prudent Decision Making and it is that seeking counsel, choosing and then act, and it’s built out of my kind of love for Ignatian spirituality in the Jesuits and they’re called contemplatives in action. And I think the smart leaders, not just marketing leaders, they contemplate, they think deeply and then they act and they’re thinking for the purpose of acting, of making that decision.
Jeff McKay: And as you eloquently said, moving the ball forward. But prudence is about making the right decision at the right time for the right reason. Look at that, we kind of agreed on another thing. How about that?
Jason Mlicki: All right. Give us another one. I’m not going to question anything you said. Actually, I thought it was all quite good.
Jeff McKay: Okay. I’ll make sure I…
Jason Mlicki: Even though I still just really do not like the word prudence in any way, but anyway, keep going.
Jeff McKay: The next one, confident humility. It’s that ability to say I don’t know, I don’t understand, I was wrong. And be okay with yourself within the context of saying those things because you are willing to learn, that you could be wrong and there may be a better way, but not just being a doormat that people can walk on. You have to be able to make hard decisions, as you just said, stand by them, but also, say I was wrong. And a lot of people either have all the confidence and none of the humility or too much of the, I wouldn’t even call it humility, what would be the word I’m looking for? An unhealthy humility, the word escapes me, but it’s the combination of the two that is going to allow marketers confidently speak and move the ball forward in a professional services environment where a lot of times, they don’t have legitimate authority within the organization. And I think this is a way for them to build credibility and get stuff done.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I like that a lot actually. It hadn’t made it on to my list of things, but it’s really important one sort of recognizing when you’re wrong and acknowledging it and accepting it and stating it, saying, “Well, you know what? I thought about that wrong. I agree with you.” Or whatever the repercussion of that is, and then moving the ball forward in a different direction sometimes.
Jason Mlicki: Going back to my decisiveness piece, in a way, one of the things I talk about, I don’t know if we totally disagree on this or totally agree on this, but on some levels, we’ve talked about this idea that perfect is the enemy of good, meaning that you don’t need to be right every time in your decisions, nor do you have to be perfect in your decision making, you need to make decisions. And when you make wrong decisions, you need to correct them, and that’s where humility comes in. And so that’s actually been a big part of my learning curve as a professional over the last 20 years is just getting better at making more small, medium, big decisions all along the way and knowing that they can be corrected versus over-analyzing and thinking we have to make a perfect decision all the time. I think that’s a mistake that many of us fall trap to. So.
Jeff McKay: That reminded me, we talked about those on Our Biggest Mistake podcast.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: And you went in depth in some of the ones that you… well, we both did, and actually, how they were so positive eventually in our lives. So.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I mean, it’s…
Jeff McKay: If you haven’t listened to that…
Jason Mlicki: I mean, that’s a common knowledge we all know, right? We learn from our mistakes more than we learn from our successes. And so if you’re not making decisions, you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning and hence, you’re not a learner, which is one of your key attributes, right? So all those things go hand in hand. So I like the humility piece. I feel it’s a really important piece for any leader. Anytime anyone’s too overly confident in something, usually makes me a little bit hesitant to follow them. If you have no questions, whether this is a good idea, something wrong with you. There should always be some seed of doubt somewhere.
Speaker 2: You’re listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on growing your professional services firm. Your hosts are Jason Mlicki, Principal of Rattleback, the marketing agency for professional services firms, and Jeff McKay, former CMO and Founder of strategy consultancy, Prudent Pedal. If you find this podcast helpful, please help us by telling a friend and rating us on iTunes. Thank you. Now back to Jason and Jeff.
Jason Mlicki: I have one that is sort of philosophical, I guess, I’ll throw it out there is, and I call it a perspective but that’s not the right word, it’s just this notion that I believe strongly that marketing’s job is to grow the top line of the organization. That is the fundamental essence. Marketing and sales go hand in hand for a reason and that is your number one job. Your number one job is to create top line growth. So it’s, to me, the perspective of focusing on the top line, not the bottom line. When I see marketers talk about cost cutting and I see them talking about different ways they’re trying to make things more efficient, I always kind of roll my eyes because I say, that might be nice, but if you’re spending a bunch of calories trying to wring costs out of your marketing organization, that’s calories you could be spending on top line revenue generation.
Jason Mlicki: So, not saying that those things should never happen, I’m just saying that it should be lower priority. So to me, it’s sort of a perspective thing. It’s like which lens are you using? And to me, the lens always has to come back to are we helping to create top line growth? And if you’re not, if you’re spending a bunch of energy somewhere else, then that’s just wasted energy from a marketing perspective, in my opinion. So I call it a perspective, but I don’t know, [inaudible] the right word, but that’s how I see it. It’s orientation maybe to the business?
Jeff McKay: I think that’s a good one. On my list related to that was business acumen, that you don’t see yourself as a marketer, as a communications person, as a designer, as a creative, as a fill in that marketing discipline, but that you see yourself as a business person, and you understand things like wringing out costs is something you just constantly do in order to be efficient, to be in fighting shape, to reallocate resources elsewhere, but that you’re geared towards, as you said, what’s the ultimate goal here? And it’s profitable growth. And if you don’t understand finance, accounting, IT, HR, operations, sales, you’re going to struggle in that. And I don’t think anybody was ever hurt by getting a deeper understanding of not only their business but business in general. And I think this is why all the people on my teams have always had Wall Street Journal subscriptions and were expected to read it and to be attuned to the economy and finance and talent and all of those things. So I think those go hand in glove.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah. No, I agree. The only caveat I have in there, and this will be a topic of a different podcast, is the phrase, profitable growth, in that’s actually not always the objective. Sometimes, it’s just growth, and that’s part of that culture discussion that we have kind of slated to talk about, that growth and profit may go hand in hand, they may not, and that’s okay. So we have to talk about that because I think that’s a really interesting episode.
Jason Mlicki: I have just, this is sort of an obvious one in today’s environment, is technology savvy. I don’t know. It’s just, I mean, I don’t think that the marketing leader necessarily needs to be an expert in technology right now, but then they need to be really savvy and need to have a vision for how technology could be used in the marketing model and how it should be used in the marketing model. I was even thinking through some of the best marketing leaders that I’ve interacted with recently came out of the ops, marketing ops side of things. They were coming out at a deep technical role and they’re extremely successful marketers. And so to me, that’s pretty important skillset to have right now. I just can’t see a marketer being super successful in the 2020s but doesn’t have a level of savviness to MarTech in general.
Jeff McKay: Absolutely. It is the storefront, if you will, the modern storefront. It is a significant modern research tool, voice of the client, if you will, and everything that it produces in terms of data is just going to make everyone better, smarter, faster. So, absolutely. Yeah, I think the CMOs of the future are coming, and this was my experience 15 years ago. I was always looking to those tech people as the next leaders in my teams because what goes with that normal tech mindset are a couple of attributes that we already talked about, the curiosity, the learner, the listener, and then I would add another one, problem solver, right? They get in there and they solve the problem. They, number one, define the problem correctly, but then they tenaciously go after solving it and they think creatively about how they solve it.
Jeff McKay: When you’re in technology, God, you got to be, all those things come together, whether you want them or not, and I think because technology allows you to exercise those muscles, if you have them, it’s going to be attracted to technology. And if you don’t, you’re probably [crosstalk 00:17:11].
Jason Mlicki: How many more on your list?
Jeff McKay: 59.
Jason Mlicki: 59 attributes. We did this game last time.
Jeff McKay: No, I just have a couple.
Jason Mlicki: Let’s hit them rapid fire because before we close out, I want to just talk about what to do with this information because it’s one thing to say, well, these are the attributes. Well, what do I do with them? How do I take any action on knowing this? So let’s hit the ones that you have left rapid fire and then we’ll go from there.
Jeff McKay: Okay. An important one, I would probably not lay claim to it myself, but it’s an important one and it’s woo.
Jason Mlicki: What?
Jeff McKay: Anyone who’s taken the StrengthsFinders from Gallup, there’s an attribute called woo, W-O-O, and I love woo and I wish I had woo, and I do, when I look at my StrengthFinders, it’s somewhere in the middle of my strengths. But woo is this social intelligence. And it’s not just about being a cheerleader, which is that, to me, negative stereotype of a great marketer, “Hey, come in to my office, I have [inaudible] the candy, and you can come and socialize with me.” And they throw a great party. It’s not that, but it’s being adept within a social setting. And when you’re in professional services and everything is relationship driven, whether one-on-one or in groups, you have to have an emotional intelligence and ability to not just understand other people but to move them. And that’s what woo’s all about.
Jason Mlicki: So essentially, it’s emotional intelligence, it’s understanding or having that sense to understand and read people and see what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and use that to motivate them and engage them, have empathy and interact with them, right?
Jeff McKay: And most importantly, move them. It’s about influence…
Jason Mlicki: And that’s different than motivating? You’re saying… motivating is getting them excited and moving them is actually getting them to move to where you want them to go?
Jeff McKay: Yes. So woo, yet another vocabulary word that Jason has to learn. So, anyway, that one should be easy for you to spell.
Jason Mlicki: Don’t think it’s a word. I think Gardner made it up. All right. Give us the last one you got.
Jeff McKay: Okay. All right. So, woo. The next two I’m going to combine into one. You have to have some core strength around creativity or analytics. Normally, those are somewhat mutually exclusive, it is a Venn diagram I get, but if you’re creative then you need to use that fulcrum in how you manage and how you strategize and how you move the ball forward. If you don’t have it, you need to get a lieutenant or somebody on your team that does have it. If you’re analytical, then you need to exploit that. That becomes your fulcrum towards successful leadership role. But you got to know which one of those you are and build that strength for yourself and supplement it if you don’t have it. And if you’re blessed to have both, exploit it. But I think you got to know what they are and you’ve got to know how to use them to your advantage.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah. Whichever dimension you are on that, if it is an either or dimension, and I agree with you, it’s not, it’s and, it’s having both. I would just argue, if you’re really analytical, then you need to be in tune with the creative side of marketing and then vice versa. If you’re really creative, not really necessarily hugely analytical, need to be in tune with the analytics and what they mean and what they say. And if you can sort of do those two things together, then that’s usually where, to me, breakthrough type marketing campaigns can happen.
Jason Mlicki: So we’re out of time, so I want to do this. So these are the things we talked about. We said a successful marketer is decisive, they’re a good listener, they’re curious, the prudence, they’re technology savvy, they have top line orientation, they have business acumen, they’re problem solvers, they have woo, they have some kind of hybrid mix of creativity and analytics or just really the ability to recognize where their weakness is and find a parry to them.
Jason Mlicki: So we’ve got this list, now what do I do with this information? How does this help me and what should listeners do now that they have this list to work from or do differently?
Jeff McKay: I guess the first thing is, think about yourself. Do a self-assessment. And we’re not psychologists, these attributes are not scientifically proven. They’re born out of 20 or 30 years of success.
Jason Mlicki: Speak for yourself.
Jeff McKay: What?
Jason Mlicki: Mine were done on… based on multivariate analysis and a deep dive of all the analytics surrounding every client I’ve ever worked with. Yes, yes, I have data on all of you.
Jeff McKay: So, the first thing is know thyself. Second, do not beat yourself up if you find you’re lacking in one of these and don’t pat yourself too hard on the back if you do have them. I think it’s important to understand that these are significant attributes that are going to lead to success in many different jobs. And find yourself or identify where low hanging fruit is for you and make some investments in that. If you’re not a good listener and you think the cost of learning how to listen versus the return of it is really high, then invest some time and money and effort in doing that. You could even ask, if you’re a leader, ask your team to rate you on these things. That’ll be enlightening. And then if you don’t have them, find somebody on your team that can fill that role for you because it’s a great way to be a leader and help others develop and actually work together as a team to accomplish a goal. So that’s what I suggest. I don’t know. What do you think?
Jason Mlicki: Well, I wonder, now that we’ve made the list, I mean, so I was just thinking through if you were hiring, you were going to hire a new marketing leader and you made this list of we’re looking for somebody with these 11 sort of innate skills or attributes or capabilities, my hunch is that the list of qualified applicants you’d get would be very, very low, if at all. So I wonder if it’s really a function of these are sort of the attributes of the marketing function, these are the things that the marketing function needs to have innate to it and as you’re assessing yourself or as you’re hiring, you’re looking at these 11 things and you’re trying to assemble a team that kind of collectively can bring these attributes to bear. That’s just sort of a general thought. But my sense is that all 11 things in one person is probably fairly rare because I guess, in a way, if you think about the notion of confident humility, if you believe you have all 11 things, then you’re lacking that one, aren’t you?
Jason Mlicki: So at the very base, it may be impossible. But it’s a great list and I think we all like to believe that we’re competent on most, if not all of these fronts. But I agree with you getting maybe some feedback from people you work with or just thinking about it collectively as a group and saying, well, how do we make sure we have all these capabilities in our team, whether they’re inside one person or two or three maybe as is all that matters. So. All right. Well.
Jeff McKay: And you know what Jason? Jason, before you sign off.
Jason Mlicki: I’m signing off now. Goodbye.
Jeff McKay: I’m going to say this.
Jason Mlicki: Teasing.
Jeff McKay: Listeners, go to rattleandpedal.com/peerstories.
Jason Mlicki: Oh, you want to do another shameless plug?
Jeff McKay: And tell us about your skillsets here and how you exploit them. We’d love to have you on, talk about that, talk about successes, talk about challenges or just talk about how bad Jason’s jokes are. We’d love to have you on.
Jason Mlicki: Drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop. Listeners, dropping, dropping, dropping. All right, see you.
Jeff McKay: See you, buddy.
Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to Rattle and Pedal, divergent thoughts on marketing and growing professional services firms. Find content related to this episode at rattleandpedal.com. Rattle and Pedal is also available on iTunes and Stitcher.