How an Anthropology Degree Helped Me Become a Better CMO

Declaring a major is one of the first really big decisions most people will make. It can be very stressful because you’re basically deciding the direction of your professional life. At the time I chose my major, I really had no idea what I wanted to do—but I knew a degree was essential to starting a career. I ended up selecting anthropology because I figured if I could understand humans, I could figure out just about anything.

In my first anthropology class I learned what it meant to be ethnocentric; which essentially means to view our own culture as superior to others. This had a profound impact on me and has stayed with me some twenty-plus years later. This was a useful awakening entering the business world, to remain open-minded to new ideas and approaches from anyone and anywhere. In managing a global team, this has been an essential learning.

Over the course of my career, I have gravitated towards global companies and global projects. I love the idiosyncrasies of global work, and the way it forces you to consider all kinds of perspectives: time zones, languages, cultures, business etiquette, and so on. Every day is a learning opportunity.

At Return Path, we do business all over the world. We have marketers in London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Sydney. I also have the privilege of working with global salespeople, relationship managers, technical support and service people. It’s work that lets me apply my understanding of human culture on a daily basis—but I also realize I could be a much better global manager and more aware of global challenges.

The world is becoming smaller, and more and more companies are operating globally. But most of you probably don’t have an anthropology degree to help you navigate global challenges. If your company is expanding globally or you’ve recently started managing a global organization, I have some tips for you.

Avoid the US-centric mindset

We try very hard to think globally. But no matter what, when you work for a US company, it’s hard not to focus on the US perspective. Budgets, resources, and priorities all come out of US-based headquarters, and in most cases, the bulk of the revenue will come from US customers. This is ok to some degree and even expected. However, US focus can become a problem if it’s not kept in check. I typically start our monthly global all-hands meetings with a simple reminder: We are a global company. Do this for every project and it will help alleviate a potential miss and help your global teams feel included.

Be aware of time zones

Our global head of sales lives in Sydney, Australia. He oversees our APAC, LATAM, and European sales efforts. As I mentioned previously, we have marketers on four continents—not to mention US teams in several time zones. Before scheduling meetings with your global colleagues, stop and think for a moment about where they are and what time you’re asking them to meet. Be considerate of people’s time, their personal lives, and the fact that they are not on call 24/7. This might seem like stating the obvious, but I see this inconsideration played out time and time again. It’s disrespectful of your international colleagues and not conducive to a healthy work environment.

Video > audio

Collaboration is absolutely critical essential to business success, but most companies don’t have the resources to bring global teams together on a regular basis. We use a couple of different video conferencing solutions, and I find them to be an essential tool for working effectively with a global team. Video allows you to read body language, see a smile, and connect with people thousands of miles away. It’s not perfect, but it does give you a real-time visual of your team. This cannot happen over a phone call or email. Once you get used to video calls, you’ll love it.

Make yourself available

This should go without saying, but try to be available to your global colleagues. Prioritize their calls, emails, and requests so you can get back to them in a timely manner. Remember, if you are US-based, most countries are hours ahead of you—so sending a response early in your day may allow them to move forward before their close of business. Global teams are trying to do as much as you are (often with fewer people and smaller budgets), so the least you can do is get back to them with critical information. They are your team with their own revenue targets. Help them out.

Be honest and ask for feedback

Do your best to keep global priorities top of mind. Try different tactics for keeping global teams aligned. But if it’s clear that something isn’t working, be honest about it and ask for feedback. (In fact, I’m about to do that right now.) Sometimes the best learning opportunity arrives from another person’s perspective. Remember what I said about ethnocentricity?

Nothing beats face-to-face

This is obviously dependent on budget, but if you can swing it, visit your global teams. It’s important to spend time in-market to understand global challenges and get a feel for how your marketing resonates. But it’s perhaps even more important to spend time together so you can build and invest in relationships. Most global offices will include core functions like marketing, sales, customer relations, and so on (although one person may wear multiple hats). Invest your time in getting to know these people. And if you can’t make it there, invite your team to you. It’s great experience for them, too.

See the opportunity

Don’t view this as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Working globally gives you the chance to interact with some of the best and brightest from a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives. It presents unique business opportunities—especially for marketers. Marketing is storytelling. And great marketing is about connecting to your customers. In today’s world, this requires a global perspective.

Even with a degree in the study of human culture, I have to remind myself of these things! So don’t get frustrated if it takes a while to find the right rhythm with your global team. Stay calm, approach things with an open mind, and do your best—it will all come together. The global connections and initiatives I’ve been a part of have led to wonderful experiences—things I couldn’t have even dreamed of way back when I chose my major. It’s worth it, I promise.

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