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The 3 Traits Every Marketing Leader & CEO Needs To Have—And How To Develop Them


marketing leader

Although the work of a marketing leader is varied, these are the essential elements of it.

Just like any other executive position, marketing leadership roles are unique in what they require from those who fill them. Ultimately, what’s required of these essential positions comes down to the three “i’s”: Inform, Influence, and most importantly, Inspire. However, I believe that every executive leader should make note to focus on these three traits.

The last “i,” especially, is imperative, along with multifaceted; you have to inspire both externally––by way of your words, your verve, and your vigor––as well as intrinsically, by way of things like your company’s mission and its core values. This itself requires a certain kind of emotional connection, which is what ultimately sticks with people. After all, if you touch the mind, an employee or user will remember it for a while. But if you touch the heart, they’ll remember it forever.

Of course, for those aspiring to become a leader of marketing or of a company altogether, the question then becomes: how, exactly, does one inform, influence, and inspire so effectively? 

It starts with developing these three behavioral traits. 

1) Exude Passion 

A primary way you’ll inspire both users and the teams you manage will be through the energy, passion, and devotion you convey day-in and day-out. (This goes back to the last “i” from above.) 

You must have a passion for making a difference, along with a passion for inspiring others. You need to be able to instill passion for your company mission within your employees. You need to build belief. To do that, you must be passionate yourself. Your belief in what you’re doing––as well as in your company and yourself––must be genuine and powerful. 

Now, having and conveying passion is not simply a matter of waving your arms or yelling into a microphone during all-hands meetings. Personally, I try to convey my passion (and inspire it in others) more naturally, by way of sharing real-world examples of customers for whom our product has made an actual difference, or by celebrating folks whose work internally has directly led to improvements or positive customer outcomes. I let the success of others, in this sense, exemplify my own passion.

2) Be Attentive to Detail

In practice, marketing depends on attention to detail. Clearly, it’s important when it comes to copy, branding, and developing logos. It’s also necessary for using data to determine what resonates with users and what sort of positioning compels users into your desired outcome, as well as in understanding the efficacy of a new campaign. 

But attention to detail also allows you to understand your customers more operationally, and the journey they’ll take when interacting with your marketing materials and products. 

To market your product or service effectively, you have to know what personas you’re selling to and what market you’re targeting. Are you selling to C-suite executives, IT directors, or everyday consumers? Each gravitates to and identifies with different kinds of content. Some want videos; others need researched whitepapers. Knowing those differences down to the seemingly minute specifics is what sets effective leaders apart from the rest. You must “know thy audience.”

The same is true, meanwhile, when it comes to building customer loyalty. You need to pay attention not only to what your metrics suggest about your strategy for acquiring contacts and qualified leads, but also to what the details reflect about your ability to turn those leads into customers who love your product. 

If this sounds like a lot to manage or juggle at once, that’s because it is. However, as a leader, it’s critical you understand how all these points intertwine. Together, they’ll help you make sense of the big picture to deploy the appropriate strategies needed to achieve success.

3) Technical Aptitude (The Ability to Connect the Dots) 

Although it may seem counterintuitive, a marketing leader must possess technical aptitude in the traditional stereotypical views of marketing folk. You have to understand how to use tools like CRMs and MATs, of course––many marketers sadly only exploit a small percentage of these tools’ operational capability––but you also need to thoroughly understand your product or service. You need to be able to translate the technical utility of your product into layman’s terms for different audiences. (Mark Lewis, CEO of Violin Systems, did a great job of this in using his freeway analogy to explain matters of bandwidth, latency, and input-output performance per second.)

This, ultimately, is an essential part of the gig. It’s a matter of credibility. You need to be able to explain your product inside and out and connect the dots from technology to product, and value delivered up and down the business stack.

So, how can marketing leaders go about building their technical aptitude and achieving this in-depth level of product knowledge? I did so personally at a number of companies and most recently at Violin Systems by talking not only with the C-level execs, but also with the engineers, IT team, etc. It’s important to obtain these different levels of understanding. C-level executives will give you a different explanation of your product––more high-level––than an engineer or storage admin will, for example. The former might tell you that “Violin is a great solution for transactional applications,” but the latter will tell you about how “our architecture ensures a level of persistence performance that’s critical in terms of user experience.” 

It’s almost like they’ll give you answers in different languages. And as a leader, you need to be able to speak all of them. 

At the end of the day, although the work of a marketing and product leader is varied, these are the essential elements of it. Ultimately, it comes down to leading by example––showing the people who work for you how informed they need to be about the product you’re selling, how attentive they need to be to small details, and what kind of passion they should bring to the work. I’m reminded of a John Quincy Adams quote: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

Or, a CMO. 

Currently serving as CMO of Violin Systems, I'm a senior executive with extensive experience and success in trailblazing business growth and leadership in enterprise storage and software markets. I've spent more than 20 years driving innovative, award-winning products, teams, and programs. I'm known in the industry as a veteran of flash memory pioneer SanDisk (acquired by Western Digital), EMC, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, and Veritas Software. My extensive impactful experience includes enterprise software and systems, enterprise applications, and close collaboration with enterprise customers, OEM partners, and major cloud hyper-scale players.

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