Core Competencies Make the Difference in Marketing

The world is a much different place for senior marketing executives today, with responsibilities that go far beyond the marketing agenda. The chief marketing officer (CMO), in particular, is charged with providing strategic leadership to help transform the business—becoming the “transformative CMO” who can drive a change agenda across the entire enterprise. The stakes are higher, as are the expectations for marketing leaders to perform: to predict the future, to know how consumers/customers will behave and how (and what) they will purchase.

Within this changing world, what will make senior marketing executives successful? As research has shown, it takes more than just skills and experience, which account for only 30% of performance. A far bigger influence, accounting for 50% of performance, stems from core competencies—those behaviors and attitudes that lead to high achievement.

Three core competencies

Based on our conversations with successful CMOs, we have discovered three core competencies that have become increasingly important over the past few years, and which are expected to play a decisive role in how well senior marketing executives deliver against expectations for the future. These competencies, which should be part of the talent development of marketing executives and those who hope to become transformative CMOs, are:

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and
thinking what nobody has thought.”

–Albert Szent-Györgyi, Nobel Laureate

Creating the new and different

The core competency of “creating the new and different” applies innovative thinking to all aspects of the go-to market strategy, the customer/consumer experience, and how a company engages with its constituents. This competency, which tends to be high among CMOs and other senior marketing executives, generates new ideas and leads to breakthroughs for a competitive market advantage.

Creating the new and different also involves speculating about alternatives, managing the innovation process and one’s teams, and bringing ideas to market, while drawing insight from unexpected sources. Senior marketing executives who are skilled in this area look at the world and their customers holistically, and are able to link unrelated ideas by seeing connections that others don’t. Curious and mentally agile, these leaders are inventive, which also means they’re comfortable with taking risks—knowing that a lot of innovation has resulted from failed experimentation.

Another aspect of this competency is being comfortable with ambiguity, yet practical when it comes to implementing strategy and rolling out ideas. Marketing leaders who are skilled at creating the new and different are able to anticipate the future (indeed, they can envision many different scenarios for the future) without having all the information. In short, they’re the ones who come up with the next best things.

People who are not skilled in creating the new and different tend to focus on right now—what’s in front of them. They’re not good at imagining what lies ahead and thus need data to feel secure about the future. They often prefer the familiar path rather than blaze a new trail.

Of course, like anything, this competency can be taken too far. Those who overuse it are in danger of focusing exclusively on the future and not enough on what is happening today, which can unintentionally demotivate their teams. Too much experimentation can also lead to endless tinkering.

Creating the new and different, although crucial, is balanced by the other competencies of focusing on action and outcomes and inspiring others. Together these competencies are crucial to senior marketing leaders who are being asked to do more and contribute more, not only in terms of the marketing agenda but to drive change across the organization.

  Caren Fleit leads Korn/Ferry International‘s Global Marketing Center of Expertise. She is a Senior Client Partner in the firm’s Consumer/Retail practice, based in New York.



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