At the beginning of each new year, thoughts inevitably turn to plans for the year to come: new projects to undertake, goals to attain, books to read, skills to develop or strengthen. For many marketers, as 2018 gets underway, this will include ideas around creating new and innovative marketing campaigns, finding new sources of data, improving the relationship between sales and marketing, getting more accurate with pipeline projections, increasing conversion rates, and much more.

But while those things are important, my opinion is that none of them individually rise to the level of the “most important” thing for marketing leaders to focus on in 2018. Instead, we need to take a step back and focus developing a skill that’s far simpler—and infinitely more complex.
It’s managing change.

CMOs have the shortest average tenure of any C-level position at just 42 months. This means that marketing leaders face mounting pressure to deliver solutions to address business challenges on a shorter and shorter timeline. The amount of data and technology at our disposal can lead to impressive results, but it also means we have to perform at higher levels to keep up. I have some theories on this, and they all relate to change (but surprisingly, not changing jobs).

A marketer’s role is to respond to the current conditions, business challenges, and competitive landscape—all of which change frequently. Just because something worked last year, or in your previous role, doesn’t necessarily mean it will remain a proven strategy the next time. Anyone who intends to succeed in the business world will have to become more comfortable with change. This means being comfortable with the uncomfortable, at peace with being in uncharted territory, and having the confidence to take risks.

But there are also several steps we can actively undertake to make change easier to manage. Here are just a few.

Be a marketing advocate. I still believe that within most companies, marketing remains a poorly defined and misunderstood function. At a very high level, marketing exists to develop a strong brand, drive business demand, and help the shape the company’s culture. As marketers we take this for granted, but we should also not assume that everyone within the company understands this.

It’s up to us to educate those around us about the marketing function, strategy, and goals. We should be able to readily and intentionally explain how marketing improving the brand and helping drive demand.

Even more importantly, when we shift strategies, we should be communicating how and why we’re making those changes. Modern marketing is a moving target and strategy is not static. It’s on us to inform the CEO and others as to the challenges we face, but also the solutions we develop. After all, marketing is a key part of a company’s strategy, and advocacy ensures that it will remain so.

Stay agile when it comes to data. There’s no question that today’s marketing is driven by data. We analyze leads by channel and region, develop new target accounts, calculate productivity per head, map marketing programming to pipeline generation, and estimate the amount of potential new business at every event.

These are the tactics we employ today, but this aspects of our approach will undoubtedly change in three, six, or nine months. And we need to be prepared for how this will change our strategy and tactics. New technologies will emerge, and the prospects of tomorrow will have new needs and expectations. Our collection methods and the type of data we assess will likely change as well.
Keep this in the back of your mind, and watch for signs of change around marketing data. Be ready to respond to these changes when they come, because adapting to change is key to your success (and that of your team).

Think beyond marketing. If marketing is to play a role in shaping the company culture, then it’s on us to help all areas of the company succeed. This sounds like a selfless goal, but there is a self preservation element to this as well. For example, if sales isn’t hitting targets, then marketing’s demand generations efforts are somewhat irrelevant. For most marketing teams, this will require a shift in the way we think about the scope of our responsibilities.

One of the most important relationships within the company is the one between sales and marketing. Thinking beyond marketing means building that relationship and providing the right messaging, content, and pipeline so the sales organization can flourish. Consider too the relationship between marketing and other areas of the company. The hand off between product management and product marketing. The importance of insight from relationship managers and the services team in enhancing customer marketing efforts. The list goes on and on.

With a slight change to our current approach, marketing can be the common thread that connects seemingly separate areas of the company. By taking a more holistic approach to marketing, our efforts can complement and amplify the impressive work of our colleagues.

Is it really possible to to manage change while driving a great brand and a healthy demand engine, educating our colleagues on the latest marketing strategies, watching data trends, and supporting our colleagues in other departments? Absolutely. It just requires us to be ok with change and open to following an unfolding path that may twist and turn with alarming frequency.

I love this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” As we continue to move forward, we will be influenced by an enormous amount of data, rapidly evolving technology solutions, and morphing challenges for our customers.

Marketing is going through a period of rapid change. It’s fun, exciting, and daunting. The stakes are high—but the upside potential is staggering. Let’s do this.