Blog_MarketingSkills.pngYou hear the term “accidental marketer” frequently, especially in the B2B tech world. Many marketers did not start their career with a grand plan to join the Marketing ranks. They ended up in Marketing because they were good communicators or writers. They had an aptitude towards more complex products and technology. Or they found a good gig out of college as a new recruit doing social media, manipulating spreadsheets or assisting with events, and stayed.

Today, marketing leaders cannot afford happenstance with talent. The stakes are too high with marketing on the hook for revenue and delighting empowered customers. A renewed focus must be put on finding and developing difference-making marketing skills.

Over the last few months, I spent time with a variety of marketing leaders and CMO recruiters who are marketing game changers and have proven they can build teams that deliver results. I also added in my own perspective as a CMO who gets to work with hundreds of B2B marketing organizations.

Please note: this is NOT a scientific survey. Deep conversations – sometimes involving adult beverages – were exchanged to unearth the essential skills.

Here are four areas of B2B marketing talents that are in high demand. You’ll notice some of these aren’t new. Rather, they’re specific aptitudes and abilities that organizations need to separate their brands from the pack.

Storytelling is a lost art and it starts at the top

According to top recruiters I met at a recent CMO session in Silicon Valley, the #1 marketing skill that executive recruiters are looking for today is the ability to identify strategic market opportunities, and then differentiate and communicate a company’s offering. What? In the age of revenue marketing?

When you dive deeper, CEOs and Boards feel smart CMOs can hire and build teams around demand (this is a competitive, but available skill set). CMOs need to be in market, working with customers, influencers and sales to always be driving differentiated value and telling the company story.

Marketing is woefully “under-served” on data talent

Nearly every marketing executive I talked with had this at the very top of their desired skills list – data-minded marketers. Upon deeper drill down, this need had two core areas: 1) marketers’ knowledge on how to compile and interpret customer and performance data every day and 2) the ability to act on the data and intelligence to improve marketing performance.

Looking out at the next 12 months, I believe the most valuable marketing skill will be data analysis. As we all move to being more data-driven as marketers, it will be essential that we have the ability to quickly glean actionable insights from the growing amount of data we’re collecting on our customers and prospects.

~ Liz Du, marketing leader @ Adobe

With predictive analytics, machine learning and big data at our fingertips, it’s essential we have talent on the team that can crunch, interpret and make sense of the data. What opportunities are we missing? How can we drive higher performance?

“As we become more and more reliant on data for decision making and customer intelligence, we have to ensure we have deep data talent that can’t slice up the data in all sorts of ways to make smarter decisions, and at the same time, tell the story appropriately.”

~ Tom Kahana, Director Marketing Ops & Demand Center @ Infusionsoft

Strategy is great, but without execution you’re hosed

Today, we see many “subject matter experts”, “luminaries” and “gurus”. This is especially true with the rise of marketing technology and automation. Many of these experts preach what to do and why it’s needed. Fewer, have the skills to identify the need and to make it work in the real world. This requires a “change agent” mindset and a commitment to continuous learning and testing.

“It’s not enough to simply hire those with “marketing automation experience” anymore. Too risky. Using something incorrectly for a few years isn’t synonymous with “experienced”. Skills that take those execution elements and tie them to strategy are what separates you from the herd. Analytics, modeling (not runway), predictive, and anything similar to omni-channel will rule going forward.”

~ Beki Scarbrough, Marketing Executive and Top 40 #B2BGameChanger

Customer empathy is good; customer collaboration is excellent

Many marketers talk a big game when it comes to putting the customer at the center of their efforts. Few deliver on it. This is not about personas and positioning. Those are tactics for engagement. Rather, real customer preference and loyalty starts with being in the field with customers to develop better solutions, understanding their challenges, and translating your products and services to business and customer value.

“It’s simple—you need to translate those core customer insights (on a continuous basis, not once in a while) into actionable changes of your products/solutions, plus create an open dialogue that allows customers (and your sales team) to experience the real value you bring to their business. Without that ‘customer collaboration’, you’ll find yourself lacking insights, little or no focus, always shifting product strategy, separating from sales, overspending on marketing initiatives and failing to achieve any traction or results at all.”

~ Greg Jorgensen, President @ Interfocus Technologies , B2B CMO

We will be planning for 2017shortly. Now is the time to take inventory and assess your skills. Both the skills and talent you need to hire and develop, and the skills YOU need to be a difference maker.