15 years? Already? Really? It’s tough to believe how long I’ve been involved with Sales and Marketing, especially in the digital space. This month marks the 15th anniversary of my professional career – In August 1998 I landed my first Marketing job after having just graduated University a few months before. I was fortunate to get a marketing job right out of school since they were few and far between in Saskatchewan back then. Most people I graduated with were either underemployed or moved away to find work, but I was resolved to make a marketing career in Saskatchewan even if that meant being paid poorly to gain some experience.
In fact, gaining experience at the expense of income and stability has been a major theme throughout my career – I’ve always pursued opportunities with start-ups or being self-employed over the conventional corporate job. What can I say, I’m attracted to fire. And In the past 15 years I’ve learned how to fan the flames but have also been burnt. Here’s four things I’ve learned that I hope help you with your journey:
1. There’s no substitute for experience.
The best way to learn is by doing. If you want to get anywhere and develop yourself it’s not going to get handed to you. In the early years of your career or even if you’ve been working for a while and recently moved into marketing then you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. You’ll likely be part of a very small department and it might even just be you, so be prepared for a shit ton of learning, grunt work, and becoming a persuasive negotiator. If you’re working for a small or medium sized business then be prepared to do a lot of “other duties as assigned” which may include website maintenance, graphic design, proposal writing, event planning, tradeshow logistics, customer service, and sales data analytics amongst other things.
If there are two things that really helped me get through this initial learning curve it was doing sales for a few years and finding a mentor. The reason doing sales is so valuable is because that’s how you really learn what the customer wants and needs. At the end of the day your customer doesn’t care too much about your swag or newsletter – They just care that your product/service solves their problem cost effectively and they feel respected. So, volunteer to go on some sales calls. In regards to finding a mentor, I was fortunate enough to work alongside some veterans who were consummate professionals and I made a point of having regular meetings with them. If you don’t have any immediate mentors then consider joining a professional marketing association to make new connections and share ideas. You’re bound to learn something and make new acquaintances.
2. Your ideas will always face obstacles.
Almost everybody you work with will think they’re a marketer and those same people will think of marketing as an expense consisting of fluffy duties. Your biggest “frenemy” will be IT since you’ll frequently want to try the newest software and tech tools while they roadblock you since it’s something else they’ll have to support. Do whatever you can to minimize IT involvement when making marketing decisions, especially when it comes to the website. Having IT lead your website is like hiring an automotive engineer when you just need a paint job. Also, save yourself a lot of headaches by choosing cloud based software/tools where possible and acquire some IT skills yourself (your job will increasingly rely on technology).
Speaking of technology, marketing is part art and part science. A good marketing initiative will have both but most colleagues will not understand. You will gain trust one idea at a time and/or one retirement at a time. Be patient but be persistent. Ultimately the goal is to make your company look good and shape a positive customer experience. If you got what it takes then give it what you got.
3. Focus on results instead of activities.
If you happen to have a marketing or communications degree then be prepared to deprogram yourself and relearn everything. Unless you’re working for Procter & Gamble or some other large consumer product/service company then what you learned in school will have little applicability. Those fifty page marketing plans you prepared while in school don’t get used by most businesses. The job is about speed, agility, and producing deliverables to help meet this quarter’s sales goals while spending as little money as possible. In most cases you’ll be evaluated based on what activities you accomplish and there will be hardly any time for evaluation or measurement. This will be a mistake.
Focus on initiatives that have trackable results and find data that supports your decisions. Yes, there will always be business cards, brochures, and trade booths that need to be created but this is pedestrian stuff. Truly effective marketing is about measurable results – Leads, sales, customer satisfaction, and market share. These things are what your boss or company owners really care about.
4. You’ll never win a fight with your boss.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself fighting a losing battle that can be best summed up by the great words of Homer Simpson – “You tried your hardest and failed miserably. Lesson learned – Never try.” I’m not advocating you never try but if you find yourself constantly at odds with your boss despite best efforts then you need to know when it’s time to quit. If your ideas and efforts are ignored due to prejudice or ignorance then you’re better off working somewhere else. Your boss ultimately has more power and they get the final say. Period.
Companies are not democracies – The harsh truth is companies are dictatorial hierarchies for the purpose of profit made up of people looking to do the same. That’s just the way it is and conducted in as civil way as possible. Try find a company that matches with your personal values and has a culture that attracts you. It’s a lot more fulfilling working somewhere you like than working somewhere just for the money.