Do our marketing leaders need to be marketers?

5th March 2017

This past week I was asked a question that I’d never considered before: what did I think about non-marketing professionals leading the marketing function?

03 Sky

My initial knee-jerk reaction was that marketing needs leaders who are marketers. I remember only too well working in organisations where marketing reported in to sales, and marketing’s only purpose was to serve the sales department. Marketing never moved beyond being event organisers and brochure makers, and managing the CRM lists. Marketing did what sales asked us to do and that was it.

But as I thought about the question, I realised that in my entire career as a B2B marketer, I’ve only ever had one truly inspiring marketing leader. And this person was not a marketer – most of their career had been in finance and consulting. Yet I learned more from this person than any other marketing leader I’ve ever worked with, not about marketing per se, but about leadership, influence, impact, perspective and networking, among other things beyond our technical skills, that are integral to the role of a marketer. Granted, this person was also immensely frustrating to work with, as they didn’t understand what it actually took for marketing to deliver on strategy or an idea. But they learned and so did I – I fundamentally learned how to communicate and work with non-marketers because of this leader.

And isn’t this what we really need to learn, how to work with those in our organisations outside of marketing? We know how to ‘do’ marketing. We are skilled at the tactics, at project management, on delivering the marketing outputs. Some of us are even skilled at working collaboratively across differing functions. But few of us are really skilled at getting to the outcomes that our businesses want from marketing because at some essential level we don’t understand and so don’t provide what’s of value to our businesses. And without that our organisations will never see what marketing can (and should) achieve.

Furthermore, we are in dire need of real leaders for our marketing functions in B2B, people who are actually leaders of marketing within our organisations, who intimately understand our businesses and our customers, as well as the wider commercial landscape. People who inspire and challenge, not just marketing, but the entire organisation, on what is possible; people who can change the perceptions of marketing throughout the organisation, instead of merely managing the doing of marketing.

So now I’m not so sure. Does a leader have to possess the technical skills and background in the functions they lead? Might we learn and be more as marketers if we had different types of leaders?

What if our marketing leaders weren’t marketers?

Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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