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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 Monu Kalsi.

Monu Kalsi

Monu Kalsi

Monu Kalsi is a senior business executive and seasoned marketing professional with more than 25 years of industry expertise. With an educational background in engineering and an early adoption of digital and technology-focused marketing strategies, Monu possesses extensive knowledge across various industry sectors and functional domains. Monu has successfully held top marketing leadership positions within renowned Fortune companies, as well as prestigious global consulting and advertising agencies, showcasing exceptional strategic acumen in driving marketing initiatives.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your personal backstory and how you got started? 

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and have always seen myself as an entrepreneur within various companies. My background is in engineering, and I started my career in the technology industry, where I was involved in hands-on coding and web design for early-stage e-commerce and business websites in the late 1990s. This experience in technology gave me a deep understanding and appreciation for application development, systems integration, and the challenges and opportunities they present.

After working in the agency world with WPP group, where I gained valuable experience in CRM and database marketing, I decided to expand my business skills and put my MBA from Ross School of Business to use in Accenture's strategy consulting practice. My time at Accenture was like a fast-track boot camp in thinking, operating, and leading as a senior business executive.

Transitioning to the corporate side provided me with a new platform to not only build and grow businesses but also to create strong, sustainable teams capable of achieving any business objective. As Zurich's first digital leader, I played a key role in establishing Zurich's digital presence in North America and guiding their digital transformation over several years. 

I then took on the position of head of marketing at Stericycle, where I successfully shaped and expanded the marketing team threefold within two years. In my current role as VP of Marketing at CNO Financial Group, I have had the opportunity to build several new functions within the marketing department and once again significantly grow the team within a span of three years.

These experiences have provided me with valuable insights and strategies to attract, retain, and develop successful world-class marketing teams.

Can you share three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves? 

  • Accountability – assuming full responsibility for the assigned tasks, even if it required exceeding the initial requirements. This fosters trust and reliability among leaders and stakeholders.
  • Focus on people – striving to hire the most talented individuals to join my team. I firmly believe that the strength of my leadership is directly influenced by the quality of my team members. Therefore, I have dedicated considerable time and effort to clearly define roles and select the right people.
  • Emphasis on metrics – embracing a data-driven approach to assess performance, make informed decisions, and validate hypotheses. This approach has greatly facilitated collaboration, consensus-building, and obtaining approvals to invest in and expand my teams and programs.

While this list is by no means exhaustive and may vary for different individuals, my personal approach has been to pinpoint a few key skills or behaviors crucial for success early in my career. Instead of attempting to excel in all areas, I have found it beneficial to concentrate on enhancing those specific aspects. For aspiring leaders, I strongly recommend capitalizing on their distinctive strengths and identifying 2-3 areas of significance in their respective roles. They can then seek opportunities to develop and strengthen these areas through on-the-job experiences or accessible training resources.

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?

In my perspective, attracting top performers to your organization and team requires a deliberate approach. It begins with investing time in crafting an accurate job description that accurately reflects the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations, while also being appropriately graded. Rushing through this process can lead to negative outcomes such as hiring the wrong individuals and leaving employees dissatisfied.

Another crucial aspect of attracting top talent is your organization's brand. High achievers seek employment in companies they can take pride in, and those that offer excellent learning opportunities. Investing in brand development, managing reputation, showcasing efforts towards diversity, inclusion, and equality, as well as engaging in community outreach, not only benefits the business but also serves as a significant recruitment strategy.

Lastly, the hiring process plays a vital role. It is essential to ensure that the process is smooth, engaging, and responsive, providing candidates with the necessary information and reassurance to generate excitement and convince them to join your team. This requires careful planning and time investment from all parties involved.

Regarding your second question, my preference is to hire based on both fit and skills. I strongly believe that with the right individual, missing skills can be developed on the job. Therefore, my focus lies in bringing in top talent who possess the right "attitude" - individuals who are passionate about their role, eager to drive change, curious to learn and grow, and committed to taking ownership of tasks and seeing them through completion. Additionally, cultural fit within the organization is also important. It is crucial to assess whether the candidate's expectations align with factors such as team size, work pace, time commitment, and location preferences (remote, hybrid, or in-office).

What specific backgrounds, qualities, or credentials do you look for when hiring for management and senior positions?

When considering candidates for management and senior positions, I specifically seek individuals who possess the following skills or traits:

  • A strong passion and demonstrated capability to take ownership of projects and initiatives, resulting in successful outcomes.
  • The ability to establish trustworthy relationships with individuals at all levels within the organization.
  • Experience in building and leading high-performing teams, whether within the organization or externally.
  • A proven track record of utilizing data and analytics to inform decision-making and guide strategic initiatives.
Rapid Fire Question Round

Rapid Fire Question Round

What’s your best quality as a leader? Integrity

What bad management habit should cease to exist? Micromanaging employees

What advice would you give to aspiring CMOs? Take ownership of revenue

What are you reading right now? Invest and Wander – Bezos and Isaacson

What product, tool, or service do you wish existed? AI driven prioritization tool

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?

In the context of operating with extensive teams in hybrid settings and across different time zones, it is crucial to have clearly defined objectives and corresponding action plans. It is important that all individuals involved share a unified understanding of our goals, strategic directions, and committed efforts.

In the post-pandemic era, with the prevalence of hybrid work environments, I have placed a high priority on communication. It is necessary to reiterate our strategy, goals, plans, and roadmap in multiple settings. To achieve this, I organize various meetings, such as town halls with the entire organization, in-depth discussions at the team level, and individual 1x1s and skip level coffee chats as required.

As a marketing leader, my responsibility is to ensure that everyone comprehends our strategy, feels engaged and included, and has the opportunity to ask questions.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends, technologies, and AI to ensure your team is implementing the most effective marketing strategies?

There are three things I do to achieve this:

  • Being affiliated with renowned marketing thought leadership organizations like MMA, CMO Club, and Forbes Council through memberships and leadership positions.
  • Actively collaborating with technology, digital, and marketing partners/vendors who are well-informed about the latest developments in their respective fields. 
  • Prioritizing the involvement of our associates in industry events, conferences, and training programs by making strategic investments.

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?

As marketers, we constantly face the challenge of lacking 100% accurate data when making decisions or evaluating the outcomes of a specific campaign. I encourage my teams to take calculated risks by relying on approximately 70% of available data and their experienced instincts. To mitigate these risks, the key is to adopt an experimental approach towards reaching the optimal solution. Instead of making a single major decision, whenever feasible, it is advisable to break down the problem into smaller components and conduct A/B testing to validate our hypotheses. This method is indispensable for solving intricate business or marketing issues and reducing risks – continuous testing is always essential!

What tips do you have to motivate and inspire your team to consistently meet and exceed their goals? 

I have identified several proven approaches that effectively motivate and inspire my teams. These approaches encompass:

  • Clearly defining goals and performance expectations, as challenging objectives can inspire individuals to surpass their limits and strive for excellence.
  • Prioritizing tasks and maintaining focus. Teams thrive when they concentrate on a few key priorities rather than attempting to do everything and becoming overwhelmed.
  • Being accessible and available. Managers should ensure that teams know how to approach them, while also being available for team members and providing the necessary resources, tools, and guidance to facilitate their work.
  • Encouraging growth and development. Establishing a culture of continuous learning and growth by offering opportunities for professional development and skill training.
  • Recognizing and celebrating high performers and successes, no matter how small. This includes publicly acknowledging achievements, providing feedback, and offering incentives or rewards.

How do you handle underperforming team members?

In my experience, team members who demonstrate subpar performance can generally be attributed to two primary factors. Firstly, they may lack motivation or enthusiasm for their work, or secondly, they may have a limited understanding of the expectations associated with their role. Alternatively, they could simply be in the wrong role altogether. Sometimes individuals accept a position with certain expectations, only to find themselves assigned tasks that are completely different. While this is not their fault, the longer they remain in such a role, the greater the likelihood of disengagement and underperformance.

It is the responsibility of their direct manager to recognize these behaviors or shortcomings and address them promptly. I recommend initiating an open and honest conversation to discuss any gaps in expectations and observed performance. It is crucial for expectations to be clearly defined and measurable. Encouraging team members to seek clarification through open-ended questions can be beneficial in addressing any areas of uncertainty.

If there is a noticeable mismatch in fit between the team member and their role, it is important to address it swiftly rather than allowing the situation to escalate and potentially become contentious for both parties involved.

What would you say is the most valuable marketing software in your tech stack?

While the marketing tech stack encompasses various crucial layers for our success, I consider the Customer Data Platform (CDP) to be the most vital and valuable marketing software within this framework. The CDP serves as a repository for our core customer data, encompassing demographic, transactional, behavioral, interaction, and service data, along with associated relationships and critical business logic.

In the context of contemporary data-driven marketing campaigns, the CDP assumes the role of a foundational element or pulsating core for all programs. By ensuring the presence of an accurately configured CDP platform tailored to our business needs, we empower our marketing efforts to be agile, insight-oriented, and adaptable to evolving business and sales requirements.

Ultimately, a robust and trustworthy CDP implementation is essential for successfully transitioning to AI-enabled marketing, allowing us to fully leverage the value of future AI investments.

Based on your experience, what are the five things you need to lead a successful marketing management team? 

To lead a successful marketing management team, you will need a combination of skills, qualities, and strategies. Here are five essential things you need:

Strong Leadership Skills: As a marketing manager, you need to possess strong leadership skills to inspire and motivate your teams. This includes setting clear goals, providing guidance and support, and fostering a positive work environment. Effective communication, delegation, and decision-making are also crucial for successful leadership.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Marketing is a collaborative field, and a successful marketing manager knows the importance of teamwork. By promoting open communication and creating a supportive environment for collaboration, you can harness the collective talent of your team members and achieve better outcomes.

Adaptability and Agility: The marketing landscape is constantly evolving, and it is crucial to be adaptable and agile. Encourage teams to experiment and innovate, even if this means failing fast. By staying flexible and responsive, you can navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and keep your team ahead of the curve.

Strategic Marketing Vision: As a leader, you must have a clear and compelling strategic vision for your marketing team. This involves understanding the organization's goals, target market, and competitive landscape. By articulating a strong vision, you can align your team's efforts, set priorities, and drive them towards achieving the desired outcomes.

Data-Driven Execution: In today's digital age, data plays a critical role in marketing decision making. Encourage the use of analytics and insights to drive marketing strategies, measure performance, and optimize campaigns. Develop a system for tracking and reporting key performance indicators (KPIs) and use data to make informed decisions that drive results.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be? 

Prioritize your mental and physical health! Many individuals in the active workforce neglect to adequately address their well-being until it becomes a pressing issue. Following the transition to remote work in the post-pandemic era, the boundaries between personal and professional life have become blurred, leading to a tendency to allow work to dominate the time that was once reserved for personal activities. Dedicate 30 minutes each day to concentrate on engaging in a physical activity that takes you away from your work environment and promotes both physical and mental well-being. Remember to prioritize yourself!

How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?

I am an active user of the LinkedIn platform and frequently share my thoughts on it or engage with other marketing leaders on topics of interest. That would be the best place online to follow my work.

Enjoyed this interview? Read more marketing management tips from our other seasoned executives. While you're here, get more of the latest tips, insights, tools, and expert advice by subscribing to The CMO newsletter.

Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.