Thursday 05 July 2018

Having a broad skill-set is key to success in professional marketing and marketers. But what skills do firms look for in their marketers today, and what skills will be essential in the future?

This panel session, chaired by Victoria Lennon, Head of Digital Marketing at BDO, together with Grace Eldridge, (Marketing Recruitment Manager at Hays), Rachael Evans (Co-founder, Stack for Business) and Amanda Clement (Business Partner for Audit and Risk Advisory at Deloitte) provided some answers to these questions.

Before the discussion began, the audience was asked to vote on the most important skills for the future professional services marketer from a list of four:

  • Data and analytics
  • Commerciality
  • Soft skills
  • Innovation

Soft skills were came out as the clear favourite with almost half of the room believing this to be the most important, followed by data and analytics, then commerciality and finally innovation lagging as the least important. Victoria challenged the room to see if they had changed their opinion by the end of the session.

The panel discussion opened with their response to the poll. Without exception they all considered Commerciality to be the most important skill in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Strong soft skills, whilst important, were considered to be more or a less a given for professional marketers. The panel were then invited to discuss each of the skills in turn.

Data and Analytics

Never have we had so much access to data and analytics as we do now. The panel agreed these were important for effective marketing, but were a tool to inform marketing activities not an end in themselves.

Junior marketers are more likely to have grown up in the digital era as digital natives. A majority have also studied marketing either as a degree or a professional qualification, where they will have been taught data and analytics as part of those courses. Understanding and using data and technology is likely to be second nature. Senior marketers are more likely to have learned how to use sophisticated data and analytical tools at a later stage in their career.

Irrespective of what level of digital experience a marketer has, it is essential for high-performing marketers to be able to interpret data in a genuinely meaningful way. It is now possible to drill down into data at the most micro level, but too much information can lead to “analysis-paralysis”.  Some information that may be interesting, it isn’t always necessarily useful, or worse, could divert attention from more important areas. The ability to deliver as much clarity as possible is essential whilst avoiding “vanity analytics”.

Commerciality

Commerciality scored low among attendees, whereas the panel unanimously agreed this was the single most important skill for marketers. Measuring ROI plays a fundamental role in marketing to demonstrate value, performance and success. This can only be successfully achieved through understanding the bigger picture.

Senior marketers are likely to have a better grasp of this as it is part of their role, but junior marketers also need to develop a good understanding of their firm and their role within it. This can be done by tracking the firm and sector through relevant press releases, daily business news (CityAM, the FT), industry publications, websites and LinkedIn updates. These all quickly help to build an understanding of the sector and the wider PESTLE environment.

Internally, “making the finance department your friend” is the easiest way of understanding the firm’s numbers including PEP and profitability. However, it’s useful to talk to anyone and everyone in the firm to get the full picture.

Key questions every marketer should regularly ask include:

  • How does your firm make its money?
  • What are your partners/stakeholders main concerns?
  • Who are your firm’s clients – by geography/industry/companies?
  • Where should you concentrate effort?
  • How did your firm perform last year compared with competitors?

Where possible, marketers should also engage directly with clients to understand their needs through programmes such as client listening, client feedback and client journey mapping. Understanding the bigger picture by engaging with the “why” and “who” as well as the “what” and “how” should also help to make the marketer’s role more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Soft skills

This was the top skill identified in the room, although not with the panel who felt that it should be taken as a given that the majority of marketers have strong soft skills already. The panel agreed that influencing, negotiating, communication and the ability to have difficult conversations were all vital skills for success.

It was recommended that marketers should acquire these skills if they don’t already have them through internal or external training courses. Training was also considered to be a helpful way to broaden a marketer’s network, particularly for junior marketers as it sets the foundations of future professional relationships. Today’s marketing assistant could be the CMO of the future.

Innovation

What is innovation? This was seen by the panel as the least important of the skills for marketers, not least as “innovation” is a very nebulous concept that needs definition. In practice the panel agreed innovation for markets might mean introducing new processes, refining existing processes or developing new products or systems. Whilst the least important of the four under discussion, it is still a useful concept for ongoing development.

Conclusions

The panel offered three top tips to help marketers to future-proof their department: identify which skills exist in your department, and which are missing; build a team with complimentary skills to cover all the areas discussed, and finally, source training where required to fill skills gaps.

The event concluded with a second vote on what the audience considered to be the most important skill for the future professional services marketer. Had minds been changed over the course of the discussion? Yes, this time commerciality achieved over 50% of votes, with soft skills gaining half that amount. Data and analytics, and innovation also lost votes for 3rd and 4th place respectively.

Graph July 18 Report

Helen Trudgeon, Meridian West