The (Marketing) Kids Are Struggling!! We Need to Train Them


A new survey of almost 800 marketers uncovered struggles that are amplifying existing cracks in marketing teams. Jen Smith, VP, marketing for MarketingProfs, offers an assessment of how to turn these challenges into opportunities. 

Marketing friends, I bet your heads are spinning. I know mine is. 2020 brought us shredded budgets, layoffs, chaos, reimagined roles, and the struggle to learn new technology. Some have adapted, and others are struggling to keep up, but there is no doubt that we are all stressed heading into 2021.

According to a recent MarketingProfs survey of almost 800 marketers, nearly 40% of us have had to rip up our marketing plans this year. But only 20% of organizations or bosses are helping us adjust in “very significant ways.”

I feel the same pain. I had a robust marketing plan and budget for 2020. Until March, everything was looking good. Leads and appointments were up, and the pipeline was strong. Then, I was asked to freeze my budget. My plan was also event-heavy, and we all know what happened to events in March.

I started over. The new plan was to submit stories from our thought leader and steer customers to virtual events, amplify our SEO, and pursue co-marketing partnerships. Content generation is free, so I used that to keep the social and email channels humming. Then my thought leader announced his exit. On to plan #3 (here is where I drank a giant glass of wine and binge-watched bad TV).

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A full 75% of our survey respondents said their priorities have shifted in some or very significant ways. 60% said they feel less engaged and get easily distracted, and 48% say they feel less creative.

We, marketers, are having to do more things with less money, sure. But we always have. “Fantastic, I have all the money and people I need to execute on my vision,” said no marketing leader ever. What is important to note right now is this: 2020 has amplified cracks in existing marketing team structures and education. They are:

Marketing Leadership Changes More Than Any Other Executive-Level Position

Before 2020, the average tenure of a CMO was about half of their other C-suite peers.

Additionally, while very few organizations would entrust other executive roles to a person who had not “been there, done that,” it is not uncommon for companies to hire or promote marketing leaders who worked their way up the ranks through other disciplines. While this can bring outside and much-needed perspective to the marketing team, it can leave a gap between strategy and execution and put that leader in an incredibly precarious situation.

As Marketing Has Become More Complex, Marketing Teams Have Become More Siloed

Deep expertise is certainly important, but in marketing, connection points matter a lot. Without generalist skills, team members will often recommend that problems be fixed within their discipline (If you only have a hammer, every problem is a nail).

Already Siloed Teams Are Struggling With Our Virtual Leadership

A  new paper in the Journal of Business & Psychology found that virtual leadership requires a new set of skills. Confidence, intelligence, and extroversion are not enough. Organized, dependable, and productive people are better equipped to lead teams virtually.

As With Every Challenge, I Believe There Is an Opportunity Here

As we pivot (gah!! what a terrible word), we must rethink our roles and strive to become that fabled marketing unicorn. Why? Unicorns connect the dots. They work at the intersection of things. And, isn’t the best marketing an intersection of strategy, technology, art, storytelling, and experience with a side of measurement?

According to earnworthy.comOpens a new window , “Marketing unicorns are the extremely rare breed of marketers who are pretty much good at everything. They are full stack, digital natives with the perfect blend of creative genius, technical know-how, and marketing fundamentals.” As leaders, we are always looking to hire unicorns because they allow us to do more (and better) things with fewer people. But unicorns are not born that way. They have taken it upon themselves to learn. Constantly. And, something struck me recently while working closely with sales. While sales leaders love to hire top performers (their unicorn), they recognize that they cannot always do so. Instead, they also try to create them by dedicating time, attention, and budget to formally educating their teams. Marketing can strive to make unicorns by doing the same.

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Imagine if we marketing leaders committed to a formal cross-functional learning plan.

It would look like this:

  1. Assess team skills
  2. Develop learning paths
  3. Create a culture of learning
  4. Offer just-in-time learning

This model would create a unicorn factory (what an image!). It would lift the team’s success, aid in retention, get that important connected thinking, and allow teams to do more with less. It also likely solves that sticky issue of CMO retention.

eMarketer just released  The Biggest Challenges Marketers Face TodayOpens a new window . Surprisingly, the #1 challenge identified in the survey was the Training and Development of Workers. And, the way you think about education matters. “Not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing, and content of training is flawed.”

For too long, marketing leaders (including myself) have looked at education as a nice thing to do for our teams. We allocate a budget for them to learn without guidance. Rethinking our team’s skills (and our own) is the biggest pivot in the strategy we can make. It is time to tear down those siloed walls so that when we have to rip up our marketing plan (again), everyone will be ready to act.