100 Marketing Hats Worn Over 20 Post-MBA Years, and 10 Lessons Learned

Tony Compton, Managing Director

Imagine carrying one of those big, brown, heavy, taped-up, oversized boxes of your company materials down the street in Las Vegas on the way to your next event. In the afternoon, under a summer sun blazing so hot that your eyeballs would dry if you dared to squint at a stoplight in the triple-degree heat. You’re dressed for your company event and are hauling the box with your laptop-weighted briefcase thrown over your shoulder. And when you arrive at the resort entrance, the conference ballroom feels as if it’s another half-mile away. You take a deep breath of the air conditioning that’s cooling your dry-cleaned, but now soaked attire, and press on.

Now forget the box, walk, and heat, and imagine being a keynote speaker for an industry conference in a foreign country, where the audience’s first language is not your own. Where despite the language barrier, the audience finds common understanding and value in your real-time translated content, and you enjoy every minute of being on stage.

Lastly, imagine doing 100 different jobs in addition to carrying that big box and being a keynote speaker. Imagine being in a world where you wore most every marketing hat possible, and worked with some of the best people on the planet. And you found value, and life experience, in all of it.

Two decades ago, the economic sky was the limit and AOL was on my desktop. The economy roared, companies spent big money on software, hardware, and professional services, and vendors enjoyed carte blanche when it came to marketing, events, and investing in a consistent calendar of tech product launches and service offerings. Smiling salespeople, wide-eyed marketing teams, and countless executives danced as if they were parading with Ferris Bueller on his day off.

Then the world changed. September 11, 2001 was a tragic turning point, but there were additional turning points in business and in the economy. Warning signs in the late 90s and in the early years of the last decade preceded an economic downturn that delivered its own set of memories. And for those of us in the world of technology and consulting, in B2B marketing, sales, and customer service, everything changed in that very short period of time. It’s been that way ever since. I wish to share some of my experiences, and lessons learned.

10 Takeaways over 20 years, Divided by Two Distinct Areas

First Five: Strategic Marketing Lessons Learned

1. B2B Marketing must be aligned and measured with Sales. Always.

Gone are the days of the 90s when substantial investments are made in marketing with little insight into business rationale, few performance measures, no good mechanism for reporting, and evasive results. Marketing must be able to show its contribution to the pipeline, and the bottom line, and work with sales to protect the customer base and close net-new customers.

2. Marketers need to know how to speak numerous languages. 

And I don’t mean learning English, Spanish, German, or French. Marketers touch every internal department, and are regularly called upon to understand the languages of IT, Product Development, Sales, Finance, Legal, Social Media, Travel, Operations, Human Resources, and Communications. Keep in mind that marketing is also expected to be fluent in the languages of the competition, analysts, industries served, and, of course, customers.

3. Marketing’s true role combines intelligence, strategy, facilitation, and leadership. 

Marketing should never be solely reactive, and it should never lead from behind. Marketing must be proactive, and maintain fluency in: opportunities, the competitive landscape, financial forecasts, the Buyer’s Journey, and the corporate roadmap to success. Marketing leaders who build their plans on an analytical, intelligent, and quantitative foundation will build consensus throughout an organization, and gain the necessary buy-in among all business units. An internal position of strength, leadership, and respect is the part marketing has been meant to play.

4. Rationale, Reports, and Pop Quizzes

No day is complete without somebody asking a marketer a who, what, where, when, why, or how question:

  • Who decided to do this trade show?
  • What’s happening with our website?
  • Where is that financial services industry slide deck?
  • When will you upload the leads from the webinar?
  • Why aren’t we sponsoring this event?
  • How much did this webinar cost?

Marketing gets the widest range of questions. The questions can be about anything, at anytime, and out of nowhere. I’ve never seen anybody walk into accounting and ask why they’ve chosen to use a particular financial software tool, but many will ask marketing for the rationale behind trade show booth displays, the use of any or all supporting technologies, and staff shirt colors and designs.

Always have your:

  • Business rationale to support marketing decisions.
  • Mandatory, periodic marketing reports.
  • A process for developing strategic and tactical marketing plans – well before they’re needed.

5. Experiences Rule

Marketers possess a giant sphere of influence, and should bring passion and energy to the world around them. Set aside boring, standard conventions. Instead of giving a presentation, use your imagination and skills to create an experience for your audience, and for yourself. Instead of regurgitating product-centric messaging, help your salespeople to see the world the way your prospects do. Enable your team to tell stories which present industry-specific solutions, and capture imaginations. Craft and deliver meaningful, long-lasting experiences.

Second Five: Personal Observations, and Business Lessons Learned

1. Health and Well-Being. Always maintain your physical, spiritual, and mental health. Strike an enjoyable work-life balance. And never, ever, sacrifice your personal health for a job.

2. Time Flies. At no other point in my life has the calendar moved so quickly. Years pass in the blink of an eye, and it’s time that’s gone forever. People will enter, then exit your life. You’ll develop lifelong, short-term, and temporary relationships. That’s life. In every case, make the absolute most of your time, and every opportunity you’re given.

3. Family (and Close Friends) First. From time to time, I’ve given business-related activities priority over family and personal relationships. Sometimes I’ve put work ahead of the important life events of relatives and close friends. That won’t ever happen again.

4. There’s My Professional LinkedIn Network, and My Personal Go-To Network. The two may partially overlap, but there are some in one network who will never be in the other. I’m connected to a lot of people on LinkedIn, but have meaningful off-line relationships with many friends and personal contacts. So do you. My go-to network has made professional life a bit easier for so many who will never know the personal sacrifices and contributions. And that’s okay. My go-to network isn’t looking for recognition. We help each other simply because it’s woven into our DNA.

5. Coworkers, Gratitude, and Mutual Success. I’ve learned much in my 20 years after receiving my MBA from Loyola University Chicago, but there’s one life lesson that you can’t learn from any textbook, or in any classroom: Listen. Listen to your coworkers, to your audience, and to your friends and family. Listen to the janitor emptying the office waste baskets late at night, to the lost person asking for directions in a strange city, and to the driver taking you to the airport at 5:00 am. We come from all walks of life, are unique in the way we’re wired, have our own stories to tell, lean on each other to succeed, and should be grateful for every opportunity for human interaction.

I’m humble, and extremely grateful, for all that I’ve learned and experienced.
This is just a small, but representative sample of memories, and lessons.

To all those who played a part, thank you.

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