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February 18, 2022

Five Traits of Today’s Top Marketing Directors

By Matt Pilon, Content Specialist

B2B marketing directors face unique challenges in their leadership roles at marketing and advertising agencies. They’re on the hook for managing strategy, relations and workflow for multiple clients, often in vastly different industries.

They also manage  – often remotely, these days –  diversely skilled marketing teams whose members serve multiple clients, all while working in a deadline-driven industry that boasts the highest turnover rate.

Jonathan Franchell, Ironpaper CEO

Doing all of that while keeping the trains running on time are indeed crucial talents, but according to Ironpaper Founder and CEO Jonathan Franchell, today’s top marketing directors must also remain laser-focused on the value of their team’s work and whether it is delivering on desired business results. “They have to look at all the investments they’re making and ask if they’re creating tangible value and allowing the organization to grow better,” Franchell said.

Successful marketing directors often share a particular mix of qualities, competencies and management approaches, according to Franchell and Ironpaper Senior Marketing Director Ian Smith, who drew upon their extensive marketing leadership experience to share insights and observations for this piece.

Here, we’ll discuss five key characteristics of great B2B marketing directors.

Jonathan Franchell, Ironpaper Founder & CEO

They use data to hone strategy

The explosion of digital marketing over the past 20 years means marketers today are awash in all manner of metrics about their paid campaigns, search engine rankings, buyer behaviors, and other KPIs. Today’s top marketing directors know how to use that data to make decisions that help achieve desired business outcomes. 

“What I'm seeing is the best performing marketing directors are able to find meaning in the data,” Franchell said. 

Great directors narrow their data focus, honing in on KPIs that measure the financial impacts their marketing efforts are generating and weeding out “vanity metrics” that don’t. They also understand the potential pitfalls of having reams of data at their fingertips. Accurate interpretation is crucial, since those insights will ultimately inform marketing strategy. A marketing director who draws the wrong conclusions from data could pursue a less effective strategy that fails to achieve results.

When reading the data tea leaves, critical thinking skills, experience and perspective are vital. The best directors take a hands-on approach, staying involved with their teams in data review work, Franchell said. “A strategy needs to be a framework for making decisions,” he said. “It can absolutely involve testing and insights, but it can't just be a collection of data points. Where some marketing directors will fall apart is if they’re too removed from the work, they won’t see the devils in the details, and those devils do matter.”

They're communicators and educators

People skills are a valuable trait in almost any management role, especially in the marketing world. Strong marketing directors are great communicators who can build trusting and collaborative relationships with clients and colleagues alike.

As previously discussed, great marketing directors use data to craft effective strategies. But even the best written strategy isn’t always enough on its own to convince decision makers to try something different.

In these moments, great marketing directors act as educators, clearly articulating to clients the merits of their strategy, framed as “a vision of what a client is doing today and where they’re trying to go,” Franchell said.

They foster a collaborative, agile culture

Great marketing directors serve the interests of their clients, but it’s just as important that they nurture their marketing teams.

Effective directors understand their team’s mix of skill sets and individual strengths, and they create conditions where team members can collaborate and learn from each other. They empower their team members instead of dictating to them with a top-down management style.

“They understand how to have an adaptive learning and working process, where the work that's produced becomes a tool for learning,” Franchell said. “They create the conditions for a continuous learning process.”

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For Smith, one of the ways he creates that environment for his own teams is trying to make the work fun. Marketing teams tend to perform and collaborate more effectively when they’re enjoying the work, and clients pick up on the vibe in meetings and calls too.

Marketing directors can help set that tone early on, like at the launch of a new account.

“I tell everyone on the team ‘Let's make sure that this is enjoyable, that we have fun together, and that we learn from and about each other,’ ” Smith said. “If it’s not fun, it’s all going to fall apart, I can promise you. It might sound silly to say fun is important – why should that be necessary in a professional setting? – but it’s a seemingly tiny ingredient that goes a long way.”

Ian Smith, Sr. Marketing Director

They're calm under pressure

Here’s an uncomfortable situation most marketers know well: they’ve convinced a client to invest in a new ad campaign aimed at generating more qualified leads for its sales team.

It’s been a week or two since the launch, and metrics are tepid. The client is starting to have doubts, wondering if the entire effort should be scrapped.

Like ship captains, great marketing directors know not to ignore the waves ahead, but they also know not to panic and turn the wheel too early, before they have sufficient information.

It’s possible that the data will prove their strategy wrong, but it’s far more likely that a great marketing director can iterate and fine-tune a campaign based on what the data indicates, ultimately producing desired results, which would have never have materialized without a bit of wisdom and patience.

“Marketing directors get a lot of pressure for immediate results,” said Smith. “You have to stay calm and be collected while you build something that you believe in. It takes a certain kind of patience and character that I’ve noticed in directors I admire.”

They're committed to marketing-sales alignment

Every marketer has heard about or experienced the negative impacts of misaligned or siloed marketing and sales teams. Alignment between those two groups, whose missions are so closely linked, can produce incredible results, like faster profit growth, higher revenue, and better deal-closing success rates.

However you define alignment, creating a more effective partnership between two departments is sometimes easier said than done. “A good marketing director has to know what's driving sales and how the sales team is functioning, and vice versa,” Smith said. “It sounds pretty simple, but one of the challenges that I’ve seen over and over are personality differences.”

Even if it’s difficult, a great sales director knows the effort is worth it.

In a previous role, Smith found success in using technology to bridge a difficult disconnect between sales and marketing teams that was impacting performance. He got the sales team using the marketing team’s marketing automation software and the market team using the customer relationship management system.

“Suddenly, our marketing team was writing one-to-one sales emails in Salesforce and the sales team was providing input and reviewing marketing campaigns before they went live,” he said. “It was a technical approach, but it bridged some of the culture gap.”

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