Creating a Marketing Career Path When You’re Just Getting Started

I was speaking at the University of Colorado recently to a room full of marketing majors.  One of the questions someone asked stuck with me.  A women in the room raised her hand and said she was trying to figure out where to work after graduation.  She struggled with the different options and was looking for advise on what size company she should target.

For marketers, like many professions, there are several roads to go down.  Specialists vs generalists.  Creative vs technical.  Client-side vs agency.  Choosing the right path can be daunting.  So here is the advise I have for a marketer just starting out trying to define a path for their own career.

Specialists versus Generalists

specialist

This is a question I get a lot from young marketers.  Should I pursue a career as a specialist or generalist?  First here’s the main difference between the two, as I see it.

A specialist can make more money due to lack of competition, but there are less jobs that hire specialists because they’re a bit of a luxury.  Generalists get paid less, but jobs are more plentiful since they can wear multiple hats, which companies tend to appreciate in an employee.

If you’re starting out, less than 5 years of experience, pursue a generalist role.  The more hats you can wear, the more valuable you will be over time.  A generalist can always become a specialist, but the other direction is quite difficult.  By learning as many areas of marketing as you possibly can now, you can discover which areas interest you or discover an unknown talent.  Then later, after you’ve got some experience under your belt, you can drive towards a career that is best suited towards you.

Creative versus Technical

When most people think about marketing, they think advertising – which is a very small piece of the overall puzzle.  I believe marketing is the meeting of 3 skillsets:

  1. Mathematical Analysis
  2. Behavioral Science
  3. Art

Because no one of these areas outweighs the others, the question is not should I be a creative or a technical marketer, but what amount of each.  To be a strong marketer, you must learn all three areas.  A whitepaper is a technical document that requires creativity (art) and is driving towards a certain behavior (behavioral science), which usually leverages some sort of mathematical analysis in its argument.

You will naturally gravitate to one skill set over the others, but learn all three.  You’ll need them.  Like I said, generalize now and specialize later.

Client-side versus Agency

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You have two main options when looking at a marketing career.  You can work for a brand directly as part of their in-house marketing department.  Or you can work for an agency supporting many brands with a specialized offering.  Which one should you pick?

I say, do both.  Spend 2-3 years at one, then switch.  The experience you gain at an agency is critical.  Balancing projects, managing clients, understanding different types of brands and their needs – you need to do it all.  Then when you go client-side you get to know a brand intimately, which will teach you voice, budgets and vendor management.  After 5 years, you’ll know which life you prefer.  Jack of all trades or mastering a signature dish – you don’t need to know the answer yet.

Small versus Large Business

This is the question I get most often.  Should I go with the small company or the established brand.  There’s a few things to consider with this one.

  1. Will the brand recognition (or lack there of) affect you in the future?  How so?
  2. Will you be allowed to change anything about the brand?
  3. How many people stand between you and the head of marketing?
  4. Do you operate better in a structured or unstructured environment?
  5. How important is salary to you?  Can you take a financial risk?

Here’s the thing.  You’re going to make more money at a larger company starting out.  The logo will look nice on your resume and people will be impressed.  But you won’t be allowed to touch anything and you’ll likely not be allowed to draw outside of very well defined lines.  You’ll be forced to specialize sooner than I think you should as there are many hands to do work.

At a smaller company you can immediately deliver value because you’ll wear many hats.  Events, social, content, digital, advertising, sales training, RFPs – you will touch everything.  On the flip side you will probably make less money.  Student loans and rent are real concerns and you can’t not pay them.

I recommend targeting small or medium-sized companies when you’re starting out.  You might work at PepsiCo, but no one is impressed if you were the Jr Content Researcher and there are 18 levels between you and the CMO.  Instead, take the risk now and learn everything you can physically stick in your brain.  The pain will be temporary, but the work will be much more fulfilling.  Then, after a few years, if you haven’t already been promoted you can go to the big brands at a higher level and make a larger impact.  How do you know if the company is too large?  Are they on Fortune 500?  Then they’re too large.  Go smaller.

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Building a Brand through Employee Enablement

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I recently spoke at the Colorado Marketing Summit (#COMKTG) on a panel entitled “The Colorado Brand”.  During the session I mentioned an employee engagement program I introduced as a grassroots marketing strategy.  After the session I received 10 emails and LinkedIn messages from marketers wanting to know more about the program and how they could replicate it at their companies.  Since so many people were interested, I thought I would share it here.

Back when I was head of marketing for zColo, a Zayo Group sub-brand specializing in the data center industry, we were noticing more competitors coming into the Colorado market.  Considering this is our home turf, we were all understandably annoyed by the influx.  I remember being in a meeting where we discussed the lack of local brand recognition and saying, “This is not acceptable in our house!”  And so the program #OurHouse was built.

#OurHouse was a grassroots campaign designed to leverage our large staff in Colorado in order to get the name “zColo” out in the market.  It was comprised of a few pieces.

  1. Train employees on the elevator pitch
  2. Get our brand name out and about
  3. Introduce ourselves to other Colorado brands
  4. Communicate internally using a simple message

Training employees on the elevator pitch

You would be shocked at how interested your employees are in building the brand.  My quarterly marketing plan presentation always had great attendance from, strangely, the engineering side of the business.  Data center technicians, electrical engineers and software developers would show up in mass (85% attendance) to hear what marketing had to say, while sales averaged only a 15% attendance record.

When you have engagement like that from curious employees, leverage it.  These are the people talking about the company, interacting with end customers and representing your brand on a daily basis – so turn them from employees into advocates.

The easiest way to do that is to teach them the elevator pitch.  I’ve written instructions for writing a simple and memorable elevator pitch in the aptly named blog post, “How to Write an Elevator Pitch“.  By giving your employees, all your employees, the tools to quickly and eloquently describe your brand, you’re inadvertently creating a field marketing team.  They will feel more confident speaking on the brand and you can be assured they’re doing it correctly.

Ask yourself, how big your field marketing team could be if every employee was a trained brand advocate?

Get your brand name out and about

After you have taught them how to talk about the brand, give them something cool to wear that also has the brand.  We made jackets that read zColorado and gave one to every data center tech and employee in Colorado.  The jackets were a HUGE hit!  I would walk around town and see employees wearing them proudly on the weekends.

The key is to create something people will want to wear.  We got nice jackets that were actually warm and fashionable.  Since state pride is a really big deal in Colorado (think on par with Texas), incorporating the state brand also made local employees want it all the more.

Plus it was a unique piece of swag that was made only for them.  I even had a director pull me aside once to tell me how much the field employees appreciated the jackets and how they felt they were more involved in the company culture as a result.  It made me feel amazing.

zColorado
Sporting our zColorado jackets

Introduce Ourselves to Other Colorado Brands

After all our Colorado employees got a jacket, we made a list of all the Colorado companies we would love to work with but didn’t have a relationship yet.  Then we packed up the jackets and mailed them, along with a signed letter, to the CIOs at each of those companies.  The letter introduced zColo and asked for a meeting with our Vice President.  We received several thank you notes and a few meetings out of the campaign.  Since brands rarely send you a $30 jacket just to say hi, you can understand why they were understandably appreciative.

Communicate Internally Using a Simple Message

As the program grew legs of it’s own after a while, it was important to have a simple way to communicate internally about how we were reaching the Colorado market.  Zayo uses Salesforce for everything, including internal communication.  We would use the hashtag #OurHouse on any internal communication about the program, which was easy to remember and understand.  Since it was also the name of the program, it made a lot of sense.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn.  Ask yourself the following questions as you’re developing an employee brand engagement program of your own.

  • What will success look like?
  • How do I want employees to talk about the brand?  How can we train them to do it correctly?
  • What are ways we can get employees excited about the program and feel they are owners in its success?
  • What are other ways we could utilize the program to build the funnel?
  • How long do we want the program to last?

After you’ve designed your program or are in the planning stages, leave me a comment below and tell me how your company is turning employees into brand advocates.

How to Write an Elevator Pitch

What is an elevator pitch anyway?

Image result for elevator pitch funnyAn “elevator pitch” describes your company and what you do in about the time you have to talk to someone on an elevator – 30 seconds to 2 minutes max.  Elevator pitches are critical for conveying very simply who you are as a company to someone who has never heard about you and doesn’t have time to research.

No one, and I mean no one, wants to sit and listen to you drone on about details that don’t affect them and take too long to describe.  Nor do you want to under represent your company by being so succinct that you are leaving out too much critical brand information.  The balance has to be just right.

Aren’t elevator pitches just for sales reps?

You would be shocked at how many marketers I meet who do not know how to write an elevator pitch and have never thought to give one.  I sit beside myself as year after year professional B2B marketers stumble over explaining what value they’re company produces in less than 3 paragraphs.  What the hell are they paying you for?!

So for my own sanity, I thought I would break down how to write a proper elevator pitch.  These steps can be used and reused for any market, industry or company you need to support.

How to write an elevator pitch

An elevator pitch has 3 sections:

  1. What
  2. How
  3. Who

That’s it.  Each section lasts 1-2 sentences max.

What

What is going on in the world that is being meaningfully impacted by your technology, product or service?  This should have several flavors, depending on the markets you serve.  You should have a standard “what” and a custom “what”, which is dictated by the industry or audience your speaking to.

A “standard what” might be, “Managing projects is becoming easier and more collaborative every day from around the world.”

A “custom what” might be, “Marketers are managing projects more easily and with more collaboration every day from around the world.”

As you can see one is fairly generic.  One is specific to the market they’re reaching, in this case marketers who do project management.  Note, this is not the part where you name your company.

How

How explains how the above statement is able to happen.  This is also not the part where you mention the name of your company.

A how statement might sound like, “It’s cloud-based project management software that allows spread out organizations to collaborate so easily, eliminating the need for so many meetings and status updates.”

If you’re thinking this looks a lot like a value prop statement, it is.  The how allows you to back into your value prop without introducing your brand too soon.

Who

Now tell them who you are.

“Smartsheet is one of the largest cloud-based project management platforms in the world, supporting over XXX marketing departments and agencies.”

Put it together.

“Marketers are managing projects more easily and with more collaboration every day from around the world.  It’s cloud-based project management software that allows spread out organizations to collaborate so easily, eliminating the need for so many meetings and status updates.  Smartsheet is one of the largest cloud-based project management platforms in the world, supporting over XXX marketing departments and agencies.”

Please note, Smartsheet has not contacted me in anyway to use them as an example.  I’m just a fan.

How I Use It

At a recent healthcare conference we wanted a refreshed elevator pitch to teach to everyone working the booth.  Everyone was required to learn it, which meant it had to be easy to remember.  Here’s what we came up with:

  1. What: “Healthcare is revolutionizing patient care with everything from accessing online medical records to meeting patients virtually.”
  2. How: “But its bandwidth that’s enabling all this technology”
  3. Who: “Zayo is one of the world’s largest bandwidth providers, supporting hundreds of hospital systems and healthcare organizations.”

 

Now you try.

Team Building According to Coach K

I recently attended MarketingProf’s Annual Conference and wanted to share some of my insights from this event – which I highly recommend.

On-the-Edge-SM_11151One of the keynotes was Alison Levine, the Captain of the First All-Women Mount Everest Expedition.  The story was incredible, and I encourage everyone to read the book, but I want to focus on only one story.  Alison was tasked with building a team of five women to hike to the highest point on Earth without dying.  How do you do that?

She called her friend, Coach Krzyzewski, the legendary Head Coach of Duke’s Basketball team and the USA Olympic Basketball team.  He said he looks for 1 thing when building a team – Ego.

Alison assumed he meant lack of ego, but he corrected her.  He wants two types of ego.

  1. Performance Ego – You want people who can walk on the court and have believe they have what it takes to win. You don’t want folks who are filled with self-doubt and question themselves constantly… Especially on a mountain.
  2. Team Ego – You want someone who is proud to be part of something collectively bigger than themselves.  They have to be happy in the team’s victory, even if they get none of the glory.

Maybe you’re building a marketing department for the first time.  Maybe you’re trying to find slot players to fill gaps.  For those of us who have been individual contributors for years and are not used to a “team” mentality, this can be difficult.  I have recently been promoted to run field marketing across all our regions.  The idea of building a team from scratch was an incredible opportunity, but I did wonder if I had what it takes to build the right one.

As we look for talent and encounter opportunities for growth I think we should challenge ourselves to follow Coach K’s advice.  Do we walk on the court and believe we have what it takes, while celebrating the successes of our team members?  Are we hiring team members who do the same?  I challenge you, and myself, to look for ego when hiring, but the right kind.

Thanks Coach.

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The Anti-Resume Every Marketer Should Make Immediately

Recently, as part of Zayo’s Coffee Club program, I met with a marketing professional named Karen Sutherland.  While meeting we discussed her marketing background and traded stories.  She then handed me a document I’ve been fawning over every since.

Below is Karen’s “Strategic Plan”, the quintessential “anti-resume” and it’s a project every marketer should take on immediately.  In it she summarizes all her experience, differentiators and objectives in an easy-to-consume and compelling format.  I’m blown away and can’t wait to make my own.

Strategic Plan

I’m sure this is meant to be a way to help plan your career with a more targeted and strategic approach.  In my opinion this is also the perfect way to introduce yourself on paper.  Resumes are detailed, bulleted and sometimes overwhelming.  You’re including dates and awards and metrics and publications and on and on.  This document drills down to everything a hiring manager or recruiter actually wants to know.

  • What do you want to do?
  • What do you know how to do?
  • Where do you want to do it?

Once the conversation has started your resume can fill in any timeline or metric gaps.

How to format your personal strategic plan:

  1. Name, contact info, URL at the top – just like a resume.

Don’t slouch on this section.  It doesn’t need to be professionally designed, but this is literally your first impression.  Make it count.  Maybe include a headshot or a special logo.  Maybe just play with the formatting or layout.  Use this to disclose your talent or personal brand without saying it outright.

  1. Professional Objective

I like what Karen did here.  Get to the point and tell the reader exactly what you’re looking for.  Don’t write a complete sentence, but make it skim-worthy.

  1. Positioning Statement

Now you can write in complete sentences.  Write a paragraph on what makes you different, skilled or the best choice – just like if you were describing a product.  Maybe play with the title by doing something fun like “The Pitch” or “In a Nutshell” – if you’re feeling adventurous.

  1. Competencies

I love that Karen broke this into three sections – skills she has, marketing specializations, and who she is.

  1. Target

I really like that she’s broken this down so well.  If you were marketing a product, you would clearly state what your target market looks like.  Why not do that for yourself?

Answer the following questions:

  • Where do you want to work geographically?
  • What type of industries do you prefer?
  • What size company do you prefer?
  • What is your ideal culture?

You may worry that this limits your ability to find work, but we all know the key to proper marketing is segmentation and targeting.  Don’t be afraid to be niche.

Now, do your research.  Which companies fit these parameters?  Which companies complement these parameters?  Now, go hunting.

In summary, stop what you’re doing and make your own strategic plan.  It may be a little tough at first, but zeroing in on your target market and treating yourself like the amazing product you are is the best free thing you can do to market yourself right now.

Why Video is the New Sales Slick

I’ve spent a lot of time researching video marketing in preparation for my next marketing plan.  There is a wealth of information on the trends and stats surrounding video marketing.  Ultimately I’ve decided, after all this research, that video is replacing the classic one-page sales slick as the go-to-source for B2B marketers to decimate information to the market.

  1. Video marketing is everywhere, just like your classic sales slick.
  2. They’re more engaging than a static piece of paper with a ton of words.
  3. They produce a better conversion than a one-sheeter.

I believe this so much, that I created a video about it.  (Very meta)

3 Metrics Every B2B Marketer Should Know

Razzled-but-not-dazzled“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science.”
– Sr. William Thomas, Lord Kelvin

The number one thing that has set me apart from other marketers throughout my career is my ability, and willingness, to do math.  It is not enough to make things look pretty or budget for events.  You must be able to express very clear and useful metrics that drive a business forward.  Here are 3 that I believe every marketer should know off the top of their head if ever asked.

ROI: Return on Investment

ROI

This is the basic of the basic.  You should be able to rattle off exactly what your ROI is for major initiatives and for your year overall.  Although we all know this is very basic, most marketers don’t actually bother to calculate it or share it.

If you have a negative ROI it could lead to negative consequences.  However, if you can get ahead of the question, report your negative ROI, and outline causes for this you will, most likely, be viewed as a professional in the eyes of your management.  Entry level marketers hide bad metrics.  Professionals address them head on.

Equity Value Creation

This equation literally tells the business how much more valuable you’ve made it.  Not how much money you’ve made it, but how much you’ve increased the company’s value.

This is a tough concept for many marketers.  We focus on the bottom line and how much deals are worth.  But how much is the company worth?  If you CEO decided to put the company on the market, how much more valuable have you made it?

This is a critical metric for marketers for two reasons:

  1. You’re communicating how your influenced deals affect the attractiveness of the company directly
  2. You’re communicating how your more fluffy work, like brand awareness and sales enablement, are contributing to the overall value of the company – if not the quarterly sales directly.

Equity Value Creation Formula

Let’s break this down:

  • Monthly Revenue – look at how much your influenced deals bill on a monthly basis.  If you’re measuring something like “brand awareness” look at your monthly revenue a year ago and compare it to now.  Calculate the difference.
  • Expense Ratio – What percentage of your revenue goes to cover expenses?  If you don’t know, a good estimate is 50-60%.  Expenses cover keeping the lights on, employees’ salaries, paying contractors, etc.
  • Multiplier – A multiplier tells a potential buyer of your company how much more than your annual profits they need to purchase you.  This one is tricky.  If your company is not publicaly traded, you likely don’t know what your multiplier is.

    Here are a few good rules of thumb I got from BusinessTown:

    • An extremely well-established and steady business with a rock-solid market position, whose continued earnings will not be dependent upon a strong management team:
      a multiple of 8 to 10.
    • An established business with a good market position, with some competitive pressures and some swings in earnings, requiring continual management attention:
      a multiple of 5 to 7.
    • An established business with no significant competitive advantages, stiff competition, few hard assets, and heavy dependency upon management’s skills for success:
      a multiple of 2 to 4.
    • A small, personal service business where the new owner will be the only, or one of the only, professional service providers:
a multiple of 1.

Essentially this equation takes your Annual Profits x your company’s multiplier and generates the value of the company if someone wanted to buy it.  You can use this to communicate how much more valuable your company is now that marketing is doing x, y or z.

NPV: Net Present Value

“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.”

A dollar today is worth more than a dollar you make a year from now.  Marketers often report metrics based on the total value of a deal, which makes sense.  But to take your marketing game to the next level, start reporting on NPV instead.  Net Present Value is how much the deal is worth today.  For B2B marketers we often deal with more expensive, longer term solutions.   It could be years before our company realizes the actual full revenue from a sale.  By calculating your ROIs with NPV instead of total deal you’re indicating to your leadership that you understand the deal loses value the longer it lasts.  It shows you’re a professional.

Here is the actual equation:

Image result for npv formula

But only college students do it that way.  If your CRM doesn’t already calculate NPV for you, here’s a website that will do it for you.  There is an equation to calculate your discount rate, but here’s a cheat I found online for all our sanity:

  • 10% for public companies
  • 15% for private companies that are scaling predictably (say above $10m in ARR, and growing greater than 40% year on year)
  • 20% for private companies that have not yet reached scale and predictable growth

That being said, most CRMs can do it for you.  Just customize your opportunity page to include the field.