It should go without saying that effective marketing management can be make or break to a company's success. To understand the best ways to lead a successful Marketing Management team, we asked CMOs and other leaders in the marketing space to share tips, stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing David Alexander.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and how you got started in your career?
I’ve had an expansive career in marketing, working with some of the most innovative companies in the world—Everbridge, Microsoft, SAP, and F5—leading their digital transformation, demand acceleration, and revenue growth. I currently serve as Chief Marketing Officer at Everbridge (Nasdaq: EVBG) where I have the unique opportunity to work for a company that is truly saving lives.
Everbridge has built a global platform that empowers businesses and governments to proactively and effectively communicate with their employees and constituents before, during, and after a critical event. The power of our platform helps keep people out of harm’s way and enables businesses to optimize their resilience posture during a disruption or emergency—and that is a very rewarding feeling.
Having worked with many great leaders during my career, I have been able to identify the attributes that I wanted to cultivate as a leader—to be transparent, trustworthy, collaborative, empathetic, and to empower others. This guides me in my professional life and my personal life.
In addition to my role as CMO at Everbridge, I am also an Executive Professor at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, and a board member of Love Takes Root, an organization with an incredible mission to “deliver charitable, educational, and humanitarian support to the children of the world for a sustainable future.”
What are three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
Having worked in this field for over 20 years, I have developed a clear sense of the qualities that define a successful leader.
First and foremost, you must be highly collaborative and empower others to succeed. Team members are most inspired when they feel valued and heard by their team leaders and know that their work and opinions are taken seriously. This, in turn, empowers them to take ownership of their role and gets them excited about the team’s mission.
Second, you must lead with data and well-researched insights. No leader is an island, nor do they know everything (as much as they might like to think they do). You must make decisions based on the knowledge at hand, proactively seek valuable insights from outside your organization, and connect with stakeholders to keep yourself informed about their needs and expectations.
Finally, you must have a strategic vision for the team’s direction that is clearly communicated and explained. A leader can have a near perfect strategy, but without buy-in from the team to execute it, that strategy means nothing. A true leader fosters trust and transparency with their team so they feel confident about bringing the strategy to life.
These qualities do not materialize overnight—they require constant work over the whole of your career. You must be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, recognize how these impact other people, and be willing to change/evolve where needed.
Seek out mentors or coaches who can foster your strengths and help curtail your weaknesses. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Authenticity is critical in business, especially in marketing, and people are attracted to those to whom they relate. Once you have that, the rest can come together (relatively) easily.
What are some strategies you use to identify and attract top talent to your marketing team, and how do you ensure they are a good fit for your organization?
There are several ways to identify top talent, but listening to those you trust is at the top of the list. Once verified talent are in your pipeline, treat them as you would a lead in your marketing funnel—ask yourself what candidates are attracted to in an employer and in leadership, and evaluate your value proposition and how best to communicate it authentically.
Most often, candidates are attracted to great leaders and to companies that solve meaningful challenges and provide opportunities that drive personal impact, as well as jobs that align with their passions.
Once you have the foundation set to attract talent, what should attract you to them? What should you be on the lookout for? Culture fit is one of the most important things you can find in a candidate. A candidate who can be a champion for the brand and exemplify your values is hard to come by, even if they don’t have the specific hard skills that you are looking for (yet).
Recognize what can be taught on the job for the sake of keeping a value-add employee. The ideal candidate must also be curious, forward thinking, and action oriented. Again, the hard skills can often be developed on the job, but the intrinsic qualities that keep an employee ‘hungry for more’ are invaluable and unteachable.
What specific backgrounds, qualities, or credentials do you look for when hiring for management and senior positions?
Management positions are always harder to fill because of the soft skills needed outside of the formal job description. For example, does your candidate prioritize leadership over management? Do they want to develop their people to reach their full potential, not just teach them the skills to satisfy their current job requirements? Are they thinking in terms of challenges and opportunities that are months down the road, rather than what is in front of them right now? Are they willing to jump in on the work to support their team if needed, rather than task-mastering?
If your manager or senior leadership candidate isn’t meeting these needs, then you might need to reconsider if they are the right fit for your team.
When it comes to managing large teams, WFH and different time zones, how do you prioritize communication and collaboration to ensure a cohesive marketing strategy?
The unwritten rule of being a leader is full accessibility whenever your team needs it. If you are on East Coast time, forcing others to adhere to those time frames at the expense of their own free time or ability to do their job means you aren’t leading effectively.
Accessibility also means being proactive in connecting with your team members. It’s not enough to wait for them to make the first move in scheduling a meeting. Be the one to reach out, and emphasize your openness to sincere, constructive feedback. This lets your team, and the entire organization, share their thoughts and opinions in a safe, supportive atmosphere, and keeps you apprised of any changes you need to make to keep things running smoothly.
These steps ensure that you see the full picture as it informs your marketing strategy. It allows you to hear from different cultures, levels of tenure, and other demographics to make sure you are being sensitive and effective in reaching your core audience.
How do you stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and AI to ensure your team is implementing the most effective marketing strategies?
Being a leader in marketing means towing the line of being unafraid to test new technology, while also being willing to pivot if it’s not serving your needs. Take in the opinions of your team members and their experiences, read up on the latest trends, and be ready to constantly listen, question, and learn.
AI and ChatGPT are great examples of this. There’s tremendous promise but also tremendous risk to using a platform with this level of power. A marketing leader’s job is to recognize how to deploy it effectively so it makes the day-to-day easier without hindering workflow and customer (and employee) satisfaction.
We’re seeing the bulk of backlash on ChatGPT come when it’s used to replace inherently human elements of the job—fact checking, incorporating tone and nuance into customer communication, recognizing the viability of mainstream trends for your business, etc. These tasks are meant for your marketing pros to flesh out and evaluate, letting them be creative and strategic. ChatGPT can develop and sift through mass amounts of data, but the onus is on the marketer to evaluate what it has produced and recognize how it should complement brand activity.
A marketing leader must set the tone for this. It is up to them to empower their team to be creatives and strategists, and to independently recognize the best way to use such a powerful tool to increase productivity of the team and drive the outcomes for the business.
In an industry that is often focused on data and metrics, how do you balance the importance of quantitative data with the qualitative insights and instincts needed for success?
Context is critical to data. This is why it’s important for the leader to ask questions and listen. And when there is enough data and context to make a decision on behalf of the team, you make it. Teams respect a leader that will make a decision and move forward. So as soon as you can – make the decision and move forward.
For example, when we recently evolved the Everbridge brand, we did significant due diligence—both quantitative and qualitative. We listened to our customers; we listened to our employees; we listened to our investors and partners, and we talked to them about what the Everbridge brand meant to them. We looked at the data. We also listened to their responses on what value our products provided, as well as the road map and vision we had for the company.
We took all those components and synthesized them to ultimately create a vision and path for a future brand. Now, not everyone agrees when you are going through something as emotional as a rebrand, so you have to consider all the datapoints, and all the perspectives. It is important to take all the different contexts that you are getting from all these key constituents, and then you have to make a decision on what you believe is going to drive the best outcome for the business and be most aligned to your company vision and mission.
What tips do you have to motivate and inspire your team to consistently meet and exceed their goals?
People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They also want to see that there is a path forward for all of the hard work that they are doing. This is especially important when an organization is going through a transformation and you are disrupting the status quo. You must ensure that the vision and goals that you share with the team are clear. These goals must be:
- Honest about where you are currently
- Highlight the “From” to the “To” (where are you going, where do you aspire to be)
- Aspirational, but realistic, and be informed through the team’s input
- Broad enough to enable flexibility on how you get there
- Include everyone
Your team can sense when goals are unrealistic or developed without a clear strategy in mind. By involving them from the start, clearly communicating, and giving them tools to meet the goals in front of them, they will more easily buy into what you’re asking of them.
How do you handle underperforming team members?
First and foremost, you must ask yourself why they are underperforming, if at all. Are your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for them realistic, and in line with evolving needs and learning styles? If not, it’s time to adjust the parameters by which you’re measuring them. If so, and they are truly underperforming, are they:
- Experiencing personal problems?
- Lacking a fundamental understanding of how their role contributes to the overall health of the group/project?
- Not using their talents in an effective way (ex. Do they have a more qualitative brain but are in a quantitative role)?
- In need of different leadership/mentor styles than what you are used to?
Rarely is a team member underperforming because they are incapable of doing a job. An effective leader must practice empathy and understanding to ensure their team is set up for success. Before putting an employee on an improvement plan or terminating them completely, ask them and yourself these questions to find the root cause of their performance issues.
Based on your experience, what are the five things you need to lead a successful marketing management team?
To lead a successful marketing team, you must:
- Be a leader that people are willing to follow. We’ve spent a lot of time here going over what makes an effective leader that inspires others. Putting these strategies together in a way that works for your team and keeps you personally from burning out is critical to inspire your team to succeed and trust in you.
- Align people and resources to go after your goals and establish unified global teams who can easily partner, collaborate and innovate together. A great tool in the leadership arsenal is recognizing synergy that works long-term. Understanding the personalities that work together and the teams that should cross-share resources will make your life easier, help teams function autonomously, and keep projects moving smoothly.
- Drive workforce efficiencies by creating a more organized operating structure and leadership framework for the teams to operate within. Effective leadership must be sustainable for future teams to work within and replicate. Set up processes that are long-lasting and flexible as the team and organization grows.
- Enable teams to work in an empowered way by placing decision making authorities in the right areas of the organization. The C-suite is never the sole decision making body of their departments in any organization. There are layers of decision makers and gatekeepers that ensure only the most critical decisions reach the top. But, positioning those gatekeepers appropriately and making sure they strike the right balance between resource and micromanager is crucial.
- Establish a data-driven culture and support strategy alignment with structured teams who are focused on specific goals. Teams take on the persona of the culture they are given. If they sense disorganization or a lack of structure, their work will reflect this. If you create a culture driven by data, informed opinion, and clearly communicated goals, then they tailor their working style accordingly.
How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?
You can follow and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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