Who’s on the Bus? The 6 Critical Roles of Growth Marketing
So, you want to be a growth marketer. You’ve defined the skills and capabilities you need. But, do you have the right roles?
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Jason Mlicki: When you and I talked last, we had mapped out the skills and capabilities of really, both schools of marketing. So, we had the school of demand generation, or revenue generation, then we had the productivity school when we mapped out those skills. And I think I made the illusion at the end, hey, let’s talk about roles. Let’s talk about, let’s go from skills and capabilities down to functional roles a little bit more clearly.
I think when you look at the revenue generation side of that, I think we walked away saying that there’s really five core skills that a firm needs to have. So, you need to have strategic skills. Firm strategy, business strategy. You need to have leadership skills, so the ability to change the way things operate either in the firm or in the marketing function. IP development skills, the ability to go out in the marketplace and identify new intellectual capital and intellectual property that the firm needs in order to be successful. Operational skills, so resource allocation, project management, the ability to operationalize the marketing function in general. And then, digital skills. So, skills around SEO, inbound, martech, social, to really take things to market.
I think this time, I think our goal is to say, “Okay, let’s take those skills and map them more towards roles, which I know you’ve done, I have done as well on different times in our thought leadership, so I guess that sets the table. Jump in. Where do we go from here?
Jeff McKay: I always loved your descriptions and your summations. I do. I really do. And as you feed them back to me, it just makes me think through some of my assumptions and my own thinking, and how I articulate these views and how they are interpreted or not interpreted in the way I intended. And you just gave an interesting one.
Jason Mlicki: Basically, my summation is not reflective of the intellectual capital you were attempting to deliver.
Jeff McKay: No, no. No, not at all. And it’s a very simple one, and I’ll give you an example. You had mentioned operations, and your perspective was that the operations I referred to were marketing operations, which are incredibly important when you have a huge volume and a limited capacity of ability to produce stuff.
It’s a very important skill and attribute of any effective marketing organization. But that skill in the growth school is broad based business operations. And those two might overlap in theory, but not necessarily the same way in execution. So as you said that, it just made me think about how I might need to explain that differently. So, I appreciate that.
Jason Mlicki: Well, that’s an interesting one too, because if you think about … And in hindsight, you’re absolutely right. We did talk about that, and you’re right, that I sort of misconstrued that skill. Although, I think the interesting thing in transitioning from skills to roles is, if you think about … If you were to do a Google search or look on LinkedIn at job titles and job profiles, a marketing operations manager, classically these days is a marketing technologist. It’s someone who’s running the marketing automation platform for firm.
So, it’s like when we talk about operations as a skill conceptually, broad based or marketing oriented, that’s not all a direct map to the title of marketing operations manager as it’s usually conceived in most companies. So, I think that’s a really interesting point you made, is that because as we get from skills to roles, I think we have to be clear on them.
And you and I talked about this before we started the podcast, is that it’s not a one to one relationship. There’s a skill here and you need to fill that with a seat. I think it’s more of a one to many. You need operational skills, and you may need multiple roles to fill that need. And that’s a really great one to point out I guess, for that reason.
So roles, how many are there? 150?
Jeff McKay: At least. At least. Let’s talk about roles, because I’ve seen, and I’ve heard, and I’ve had several conversations just in the last month about roles.
Normally what you see in professional services, because there’s such a clear progression on the practice or line of business side as these line professionals move in the direction of partner, and every firm has their own structures or industries have their progression.
Marketing has similar ones, you move from maybe a marketing coordinator to a marketing manager, marketing director, VP of marketing, maybe a CMO. Those are five big roles that show how you’ve progressed over your career. And people work hard to get those titles, maybe you throw a senior in front of this one or that one.
And I understand why that’s important. It’s not useful to me, other than from an HR perspective, about how you’re classifying. So, I said, “Sure, we can have those kind of titles, but I need to make sure that if I’m building a high performance marketing team, we have certain roles filled.” And these roles aren’t necessarily one person one role. It could be a shared FTE doing two roles. But these roles need to be in place to have a growth school marketing capability.
So, the first one is the strategist. And the strategist is not just a marketing strategist, it’s a business strategist, and it’s a person who understands how all the pieces fit together. And it’s not somebody that just knows strategy nomenclature, because most firms have some kind of planning process that they go through and they make beautiful decks, and they do SWOT analysis, and talk about adjacencies, and all those buzz words of strategy.
What the strategist does from a marketing perspective, is look at all those pieces together, and identifies the synergies that exist given the core capabilities, the market opportunities, and the relevance of the firm’s brand in any given markets. And they ask the big questions, you know, what problems are we solving? Who’s our ideal client? What do these clients value? How do we know they value that? And they pull it all together. And in order to do that, you need somebody who has very strong business acumen, strong … Well, all the skills that we talked about, in order to be the voice or reason across the silos. So, that’s the strategist’s role.
Jason Mlicki: Is the strategist a translator? I mean, are they translating the firm’s strategy as it’s defined into how the firm’s going to take itself to market, in your mind? Is that what you’re saying? Or are they shaping the strategy of the firm at a high level, in partnership with the partners or the owners?
Jeff McKay: Yes.
Jason Mlicki: Or both?
Jeff McKay: Both.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: All of the above. All of the above. I think they inject some new thinking. They challenge the thinking. But I think most professional services firms don’t reach their growth potential because they don’t translate their business strategy into an effective marketing strategy. It all looks good on paper, but it has no chance of flying in its current form. And I do think one of the key roles as strategist is the translation as well.
Jason Mlicki: Okay. Let’s move through them. In your model, you’ve got at least six. So, let’s go through each one, and then let’s reflect on how they all fit together, I guess, maybe is the best strategy for this discussion, is my guess.
Jeff McKay: Okay.
Jason Mlicki: So, what follows?
Jeff McKay: The next one, I call the futurist. And the futurist is the one who takes the time to climb the mountain, sit up there, think, survey the landscape. Business and business consulting in particular, is just like the fashion industry. What’s the latest thing offering competitive advantage? Who’s written this book or that book? Or what country or market is hot?
And these consulting fads come and go. And oftentimes in professional service, I would say all the time, most firms are just followers. A competitor hangs out a shingle for this service, we need to offer that service too, let’s go.
The futurist gets out in front of those trends. And they get out in front of it by just being the learner, the consumer of all that’s around them. They are the problem solver, they’re client centric. I would say they’re antagonistic. They’re impractical people, they’re high maintenance people.
Jason Mlicki: Just the type of person everyone’s looking for on their marketing team, right? Let’s find the most high maintenance, most difficult person we can.
Jeff McKay: And this is why this role often doesn’t exist, because these people are annoyingly brilliant. And every firm that I’ve been to who is a thought leader out in front, has this person roaming the halls. And if you ask somebody, “Who’s the most annoyingly brilliant person in the firm?” They’ll tell you, and there’ll be some kind of tone in their voice about them not being practical, or they only pop in when it’s convenient for them, or they’re normally a negative descriptor.
But you need those type of people on your team in order to be cutting edge and at the front, but you also need to know that it’s a role, and it’s a role that has to be managed accordingly. And it’s not a conflict to overcome, it’s a tensioned role that needs to be managed and harnessed in a positive way. And most firms either don’t think like that, don’t have a capacity to do it, or just don’t want to do it.
Jason Mlicki: Well, yeah, that’s a big one there. As you’re talking, one of the things that strikes me is, we went into this around the mindset that these are the roles of the demand generation marketing model, right? But these roles don’t necessarily have to be in the box that is marketing. That’s sort of one of the takeaways I guess I’m having, is that when I hear the description of the futurist, I could see the futurist existing kind of anywhere in the practice. They might be in marketing, they might not be. Do you disagree with that?
Jeff McKay: Once again, a Jason Mlicki wonderful summation. Absolutely. I never talk about marketing small m in professional services. Productivity school talks about marketing as a small m. Growth school firms talk about marketing capital M, and they don’t care where it comes from, it’s the capability and capacity to think like a capital M marketer. And oftentimes, firms think they’ve got that capital M capability covered, because they assume that should be a line function, but it isn’t always there. And we’ve talked about that, I think on some other podcast, in particular the why your marketer doesn’t understand your business.
There’s the understanding of the technical aspect that most marketers will not understand, but there’s also the understanding of the business aspect that many line people won’t understand, but a growth marketer will. That’s where we’re starting to enter the futurist capability, and why this is a hard role to find and sustain.
Jason Mlicki: Well, that’s a whole podcast in of itself, right? In the sense of, just where do you find them? How do you find them? Are they in your firm? Are they outside your firm? I think that’s a really interesting thing, but we don’t have time for that.
So, I want to hear about the enforcer. The enforcer is sort of the third role, and I’m guessing the enforcer is almost the complete opposite of the futurist? The futurist is this sort of like … I’m going to say lone wolf, but that’s the wrong description. But someone that kind of marches to their own beat, and does what they want, when they want, how they want. And it seems like the enforcer’s job is probably the exact opposite of that, trying to get people to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done.
Am I right, or am I wrong?
Jeff McKay: No, absolutely. And this is probably the role in both capital M and lower case m that doesn’t exist in a lot of firms, particularly given that marketing is a staff function, and subservient to the line. Nobody wants to step out and challenge the power. You know, speak truth to power. But it’s a very important role because it gets the firm focused. It challenges your rational thinking, or unsubstantiated strategic thinking. Where’s the proof? Where’s the ROI? Where have we seen this demonstrated, that success is going to come from this? But this person, kind of metaphorically stands up and says to a partner, “Sit down and shut up.”
Jason Mlicki: So, the enforcer is not about holding deadlines and making sure things get done, it’s about enforcing rigor into the marketing effort. Over the years, Bob and I, mostly Bob. But have made this distinction in thought leadership that there’s … Well, I should say all Bob … That there are idea developers and ghost writers. And they productivity school we use a ghost writer. So, your job is just to channel my brilliance.
And the growth school would say, “No, we need an idea developer. We need someone who’s going to challenge our own assumptions, and force us to bring rigor to our story. Force us to bring rigor to the intellectual property itself.” And the enforcer is that person, right?
Jeff McKay: I think that’s one of the-
Jason Mlicki: Or, one of them. Yeah.
Jeff McKay: Yeah, yeah, it’s one of the important roles of the enforcer. But I also think the enforcer has that capacity to step in and say, “Wait a minute, let’s take a step back. Why are we going this way? Are we going this way because this person has intimidated or used some Machiavellian machinations to get his line of business positioned to do something?”
This person takes a step back and injects rational thought, business thought into the process and doesn’t say, “Hey we’re just going this way because it’s easiest to go this way, and I want to avoid a fight.” This person’s willing to have a fight, but they have good fights. They have really good fights, because as my good friend Ted Harrell says, “Conflict in a firm means we’re fighting for something important to us all. And you have to learn how to have a good fight.”
And the enforcer is a good fighter. They fight for what’s real, what’s important, and what’s going to be best for everyone.
Jason Mlicki: Now, you made a sort of quick comment that this role quite frequently doesn’t exist in firms. And my sense is that it’s, quite frankly, it’s a role that partners don’t want. A lot of partners anyway. They don’t really want to be challenged. They don’t want that thorn in there that’s constantly saying, “Well, wait a minute, no. Why are we doing it this way? Why are we going after that opportunity? I don’t see that opportunity as being macro in a marketplace. Yeah, you had a deal over here with that client, but I don’t see that as being a significant opportunity for our firm, or we’re not relevant over there,” whatever. My sense is that’s a role that’s hard to fill because partners don’t want to really fill it necessarily, a lot of them.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Well, want and need are two different things. I think those firms that don’t have this role-
Jason Mlicki: Need it.
Jeff McKay: … underperform their … Yeah, they underperform their growth potential. And the role of the enforcer does not have to be a negative role. In my mind, it’s a very positive role because it’s a consensus builder. It’s a challenger. It’s like any competition, when you have others challenging you, it’s making you better, it’s making your ideas better. And when you have that role, it can-
Jason Mlicki: My ideas are pretty great already Jeff, I don’t know.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Yeah, well, they are. But when we turn off the mic, then I tell you what I really think.
Jason Mlicki: Oh, that’s right. Oh crap.
Jeff McKay: So, I think it’s an important role. I really do. And oftentimes, I play this role as marketing leader. A managing partner can play this role, and this role can take place in different teams by different people. Some people might have the comfort level of acting as enforcer among their function or practice, but not outside of it. But it’s a role, I think, that is really important, and it’s a role that needs to be thought about in the development process of line and staff people, is are we building these people that are going to fill this role, this capacity, that the firm needs so bad?
Jason Mlicki: Well, I think the interesting thing about, really all three of these first roles, to your point about the relationship between skills and roles is that the five skills we’ve defined, it’s easy to argue that pieces of those skills actually have to exist in all these roles. I mean, the enforcer is never going to have cultural acceptance if they don’t have broad based business operational understanding. The partners are never going to allow the enforcer role to emerge, certainly not from a marketing function. But it’d be really just from the firm in general, if that role doesn’t come with it, this sort of broad based business understanding of really what’s going on in the firm.
Let’s talk about the idealist. So, we’ve been through the strategist, the futurist, the enforcer. We’ve got the idealist. Let’s talk about the idealist. That’s totally you, right?
Jeff McKay: It definitely was. When I was young and naïve, and fully believed all the stuff I heard from partners or read in brand books and stuff like that, I definitely was the idealist. I think over time-
Jason Mlicki: Always picking on the brand. No matter where we go, you always come back to picking on the brand. But anyway, keep going. So, the idealist …
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Well, this role, I just absolutely love because the idealist role is to keep all of us other people who get caught up in firm life, and firm life we all know, and I talk a lot about it in the BS of PS, highly competitive, high performance people can sometimes lose sight of what they’re trying to really live for. And the idealist role is to keep up on that highest plane, and keep calling us back to our higher ideal self. And oftentimes, like I was, it’s the naïve person, but it is also somebody that’s really well rounded, that sees beyond just that win today, or that bonus at the end of the quarter or year, that there’s something more important in life.
Jason Mlicki: Well, I think too, if you think about marketing, one of the things we talk about is, what’s your objective? What are you trying to do as a marketer? And there’s a lot of firms where I think the marketing function, the objective, is lead generation. The objective is to get leads. And I always say, “That’s not an objective. That’s an outcome.” The objective is to educate and inform clients on issues that matter. And if you do that exceptionally well, you will get leads from it.
I kind of see the idealist as someone who would be in that mold, where it’s sort of like … Let’s say, true to the mission. The mission is to be the expert. The mission is to be the unquestioned expert on this topic, and educate clients on what they really need to know about it, and business will follow. And they sort of stand in the wind of everyone who wants to kind of get more tactical, and maybe a little bit more outcomes, you know, “I want outcomes right now.” It’s like, well, no. They’ll come when they come, but if we stay on the course, they’ll come. Let’s not rush to the table. So, I like that role.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. That’s because you are an idealist.
Jason Mlicki: Hey.
Jeff McKay: And it’s one of the things that I like about you.
Jason Mlicki: I like to see the upside of everything. All right, let’s talk about the quant, which is very close and dear to my heart as a … You may not know this, but I am a mathematics major, undergraduate in mathematics. So, I spent a good deal of my life with numbers, and I love the quant. So, let’s talk about the quant.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. The quant is one of my favorite roles. I feel like I kind of fall into that camp as well. And the market is moving in the quant’s direction to a large degree. The quant, sometimes when people hear that think, “Oh, yes, they’re calculating marketing ROI and budget span,” and that’s an important dimension of this.
But the reason the quant is so important on capital M marketing team, is they enable all these other roles. They help the strategist think more strategically. They help the futurist connect the dots. They help the enforcer by giving him the facts that they need in order to build business cases about which direction to go.
But the quants, and why I love this role, is they enable learning and very strong decision-making capability. And they identify the trends, the white space in the market for capital M marketing to exploit. And they are connected to all the other roles’ success.
Jason Mlicki: I think what’s interesting is that I’ve done, you have as well I know, a lot of reading on behavioral economics lately. Which, I think a lot of people are. But one of the fascinating things is that we are sort of systemically blind of data, as people. So, we are not good as humans, of taking in data, internalizing it, and using it to make better decisions.
So, I think the quant, while everyone is flooding to the quant, because people are becoming more understanding of the idea that data doesn’t lie. We have an inference that says A, but the data’s saying B, and we need to follow B quite frequently. My point in saying all that, is I think that quants often face headwinds in firms. Partners, people that want to essentially ignore data, because they’re hard wired to, and I think it’s a real challenge.
I think it’s a difficult role. As someone who has been the quant for much of my life, I can say very openly that it’s very frustrating for someone who sees the world with data fairly naturally, to accept that other people just can’t accept that data and take it objectively. And so, it can be a difficult role, especially if a firm hasn’t embraced that yet.
Jeff McKay: And that’s why you need the enforcer. The two are joined at the hip to address what you just described.
Jason Mlicki: The good news is, I think I embody all six of these roles probably. Nah, I’m teasing. The sixth role being creatives.Let’s talk about the sixth and final role. Or not final, but the sixth role.
Jeff McKay: Okay. I want to be as articulate as Jeff McKay can possible be about this role.
Jason Mlicki: I would highly recommend those of you listening with kids, to turn this off for about 30 seconds. Put us on mute, and then come back. Anyway, go ahead.
Jeff McKay: Pay attention. The creative is not about making things pretty. The creative is not about making things pretty, which is the traditional perception of a creative in a professional services firm. The creative role is about making things understandable, and there’s a very big difference between those two. In professional services, we deal with big thoughts, big ideas, and oftentimes, lots of data to substantiate those, or thought leadership.
What the creative does is looks at that data, those ideas, those concepts, and translates them into a way that others can understand them, making them visible, powerful, interpretable, in a way that perhaps a written word can’t. And it is a very hard role to fill, because I don’t think there are many people who do this really, really well.
One person that I really enjoy, who does a phenomenal job at this is Bill Shander, Beehive, does a really good job. And it’s what he does, and how he translates data into meaningful things. And this is becoming really important, and I think why companies like Tableau and Click are so ascendant right now in helping visualize all that data that’s accumulating in these data warehouses.
The creative makes this stuff understandable, and it is just a very important role.
Jason Mlicki: I totally agree with you. My only, kind of I guess, pushback would be I don’t think it’s either or. And I don’t think it’s things are pretty or understandable, I think they need to be both. I think we’re in a world where I think the expectation is it’s going to be compelling and understandable, but it should be beautiful. At the end of the day, I think that should be the aspiration of any creative that’s working in this industry.
I know it’s certainly our aspiration, is to say, “Well, we want to take this thought leadership, we want to make it understanding and compelling … Understandable. We want to take people from short form to long form content elegantly. We want to take them from interactive content to downloaded deep thinking content. And we want all that to be understandable, compelling and beautiful.” We want all that to happen, right?
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm.
Jason Mlicki: And to your point, I think it’s very hard. It’s not a simple task, especially with, just as we’ve talked in other podcasts, just sort of the shifts in how people consume information, and the control, or lack thereof, sometimes you have over the experience. Because sometimes people want thing to work a certain way, and really as a designer, I know from working with our teams, we have much less control over things than I think most people realize. All we can really do is design for a handful of use cases, and hope that those use cases play out the way that we intend them to.
All right, so those are the six roles. Now I think, to me, the fascinating thing about all of these roles is, none of them are really like a box on an org chart. It’s not like, “Okay, let’s build the org chart. CMO, strategist, futurist, enforcer.” It just doesn’t work that way, and I think that’s a good thing. I think maybe a positive of that is to say, well, it’s not necessarily the way you organize your marketing function as much as it is making sure you’ve got the right skills and roles to be successful. And then from there, presumably you say, “Okay, now how do I organize this thing based on what has to get done, and the objectives we have for our firm?”
Jason Mlicki: Is that sort of an accurate statement?
Jeff McKay: I think so. Let me take a step back. We started this podcast talking about the skills you need in a growth school marketing organization. And one of those key skills was leadership. And I think implementing these roles and having them return the value that they offer, requires exceptional leadership skills. Because many of these roles may exist in your firm, they may not.
Partners often think they’re filling these roles. They don’t. They either are overestimating their ability in each one of those roles, they are not rewarded to fill those roles, or they simply don’t have time to fill those roles. So, I think as a leader, whether that’s a managing partner, or a practice leader, or operations leader, or marketing leader, you have to say these roles are important, and you have to identify are they already being fulfilled in some way in the firm? And using your leadership skills to elevate those roles, or those people into those roles, and putting them in a position that they’re contributing to those roles.
And by that, when you’re doing planning, when you’re doing reviews, that those people have an opportunity to execute those roles in the planning process, in the meeting process, and the development process, whatever is happening. But I think if you’re not filling those roles, you’re squandering a lot of growth.
Jason Mlicki: No, I just, I think the fascinating thing is that these roles are not … they’re not job titles, right? That’s where we were starting, is if … Most of these anyway. You’re not going to have someone in the job title or the job function that is enforcer. That’s not a job that somebody has, that’s a role that somebody in the function needs to fulfill. And I think where we were sort of going was these roles can move around the marketing function, or even around the firm potentially, but they have to be there.
And so, the roles themselves … I mean, maybe, I could be all wrong on this, but maybe the roles themselves actually don’t define the structure of the marketing organization, and the structure of the marketing function itself. They inform it, but they don’t define it necessarily, because any one of these skills could be move around anywhere.
That’s spot on. That’s spot on. These roles don’t define organizational structure. The strategic objectives do. So, in the optimal marketing organization, I talked about are you focused on demand gen, lead gen, sales, our R&D? You’ve got to pick one or two of those as your primary marketing strategic-
Jason Mlicki: Objective as a firm.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. And then, that would fall, the structure would fall out of that. These roles that I’m talking about, is what elevates the performance of those functional roles, but the accomplishment of those strategic objectives. And I think a role like the enforcer, that’s a marketing leader role, a managing partner role, or maybe an operations role that cuts across all of the functional and practice silos. And it’s one of those roles that’s consultative. You and I fill that role oftentimes when we’re doing strategic work, but we’re not there all the time. We’re not there for those conversations. We’re in, we’re out within engagement, but that same consultative approach has to exist in firms.
Jason Mlicki: Well, the interesting thing about that comment is I find a lot that clients want us to be that role. They want us to be the enforcer. They want us to challenge. They want us to hold them accountable to their own obligations to the firm from a marketing perspective. And you can do that to some extent from the outside, but to your point, I think it’s pretty hard because you’re just not interacting with them daily. You’re interacting with them weekly, or monthly.
And so, whenever we’ve been asked to fill that role, we’re always a little bit reticent just to say … to jump in and say, “Absolutely,” because sometimes it’s hard.
The bigger point there I think that’s interesting though, is that they’re acknowledging that they need the role and they don’t have it. That’s probably the bigger point I wanted to make there. Whether or not we can do it or not is irrelevant, it’s more just, they know the role is needed and they don’t have it right now. And we get that a lot. Tells me that there’s probably a fair amount of firms that don’t have that role but need it. And they instinctively know it, but for whatever reason they’re not changing behavior or changing culture or whatever.
Jeff McKay: And that’s the red flag. If they’re looking-
Jason Mlicki: Red flag for what? I should run away?
Jeff McKay: No. Well, yes. Yes. No, not run away. To add additional value to your client, because if they’re looking to an outsider for that ongoing capacity, it means they don’t have a culture that supports good fighting, and they’re taking the path of least resistance. And it’s just a matter of time before they have that negative cycle back into where they’ve always been.
And I think anyone who looks outside the firm to fill that enforcer capacity in the way you described it, is a firm that lacks confidence. And it’s going to be a firm that doesn’t have the confidence to be an industry leader. It’s probably marked by a culture of optionality, and it’s going to underperform its growth potential. Because that role is an intimate role. Kind of seems like an oxymoron, but it is relationship driven as much as it is stand up, get in your face type of role. It’s about setting boundaries, it’s about collective view of who we are as a firm.
And you can’t have an outsider do that for you, it has to come from within. And when you see somebody going outside the firm for that role, it means there’s a leadership void, and a big one in the firm.
Jason Mlicki: I honestly could not think of a better place in the world then to stop than right there.
So, I’m going to say this was a great discussion. Love the skills, I love the roles. Thanks for having the chat with me, and I hope everybody listening got as much out of it as I did. Fill the roles or squander growth.
Jeff McKay: There you go.
Jason Mlicki: All right. See you Jeff.
Jeff McKay: See you buddy.