The three things that will make you successful in marketing

Here, Chandar Pattabhiram – chief marketing officer of Coupa, outlines his views on what makes a good marketer – qualities that he believes are very different now than they were ten years ago

Marketing used to be a right-brained, creative function. In the last 15 years, we’ve seen an explosion of marketing technology, which has generated a tremendous volume of data. That has created new marketing roles for left brained folk. Though marketing will always need specialists of both the right brained and left brained variety, to become a marketing leader today you need to be what I call full-brained marketer.

It’s parallel to the concept of the full-stack developer which we’ve seen emerge in the technology industry. It used to be that you had back end developers and front end developers. Technology has become more user centric, and many companies are following the Apple paradigm of starting with the user experience and working backward.

To be successful as developer in this new paradigm, just understanding your area is not enough. The back end developer has to understand how to use technology to support user-centricity, and the front end developer needs to know what is possible on the back end as they create their design. Having an understanding and some practical knowledge of the entire gamut is what makes someone a well-developed developer.

Similarly, as marketers, we must start with the customer experience and work backwards, not just push out messaging about how great our product is. So, although they may start off in a right brained or left brained specialty, the marketing leader of tomorrow eventually needs to evolve into a full-brain marketer. As you manage marketing in your business, here are the three key skills you must master:

1. Analytical skills

Because marketing is becoming a programmatic science, you need to have the analytical and critical thinking skills of Marie Curie to be able to use data to empirically prove the business impact of marketing as a revenue driver, and not just a lead generator.

That means gaining an understanding at a high level of how we measure return on marketing investment, and the influence of marketing on revenue, and then understanding the metrics that roll up to those such as MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads), pipeline, bookings, and other sales metrics.

You also have to understand the marketing technology stack, which today has more than 4,500 applications. Obviously, you can’t know all of them, but you need to know the landscape and how to set up a marketing stack so you have multi-touch attribution for all your marketing programs and that data flows through from first touch to deal close.

Finally, you need to understand the alignment between the different marketing functions–how product marketing, demand gen, and corporate marketing work in unison with each other, as opposed to being siloed and totally out of alignment.

2. Storytelling

Marketing is the science of storytelling. We have the data to be able to slice our audiences smaller and smaller and personalize our approach, but to be effective we have to be able to apply the storytelling skills of Steven Spielberg to make emotional connections through words, pictures and video.

There is an academic aspect to storytelling that can be learned by studying classic story frameworks such as the hero’s journey, the insurmountable challenge, etc. There are many books and classes and TED talks you can learn from.

What’s most important for marketers to remember as they apply these frameworks is that people buy candles not because they like candles, but because they want light.

Again, we are working from the outside in. Imagine a Venn diagram where one circle is what want to say as marketers and the other is what people care about. That small, football-shaped area where the circles intersect is called relevance.

You could have the greatest story in the world, if it isn’t relevant to that audience, it won’t resonate. You must be relevant to the audience and you must be authentic. If you can do those two things, your stories will be valuable. If you can make it fun on top of that, you will be very successful.

3. Communication

If you aspire to lead at the highest levels, you’ll need the communication skills of Winston Churchill. Churchill is one of history’s great communicators because communicated in a way that was very clear, and very memorable. He had a knack for speaking to people’s shared experience and inspiring them to do the seemingly impossible.

You’ll need these kinds of skills to inspire your team and communicate the vision of the company to the market. You have to be equally comfortable communicating about pipeline metrics with the sales team, and telling the story of how branding is impacting revenue.

Aspirational? Yes. But as I look for marketing talent, and continue to develop myself as a leader, the Curie-Spielberg-Churchill framework is what I work from.

Yesterday’s marketers built the brand and drove leads. Tomorrow’s marketers are strategic storytellers and revenue drivers. Most people enter the field as a specialist, but if you want to be a marketer for life and advance in your career, you have to move from specialist to generalist.

Creatives need to understand the empirical aspects, and analytic types need to learn storytelling. Wherever you start, you need to build cross functionally. From the left, you go right; from the right, you go left, in order to become the full-brained marketer that can think, feel, and lead.

Chandar Pattabhiram is chief marketing officer of Coupa

Further reading on becoming a successful marketing

Related Topics

Marketing strategy

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