Kate shares advice for what skills are most in demand, and how to stand out when you’re looking to take a step up to a C-level role. Don’t miss her advice on how to find (or be) a sponsor, as opposed to a mentor, and why self-promotion is essential, not annoying. Kate’s insights are perfect to share with anyone you know who wants the inside scoop on how to build their dream career.
Megan: I hear congratulations are in order, Kate. What are you celebrating?
Kate: I am a co-founder and managing partner at SEBA International and I’m happy to say we celebrated our twentieth anniversary this past March!
I lead our marketing and revenue practice. Clients in my practice call on us when the need is for a CMO, Chief Revenue officer or someone reporting directly to one of these people such as VP Customer Success, Product Marketing, Demand Generation, etc.
We represent clients in both the B2B and B2C world, so when I talk about the state of marketing, I'm not just speaking from the perspective of B2B technology. I'm also speaking from experiences on the B2C side of marketing. Those worlds can be very different and we do see some separate trends.
Megan: What are you seeing in terms of hiring trends overall? And what are your thoughts on how the market is today as opposed to Spring 2020?
Kate: Is the market better now than it was for hiring at the top of the pandemic? Certainly. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw about 25% of our search work go on hold. That said, very few engagements shut down all together, and almost all of the searches that went on hold came back on. That 25 percent number was not just true for my practice.
We polled 20 or so executive search firms across multiple industries and sectors to learn what they experienced, and it was also somewhere between 20 and 30 percent for almost every firm. So there was that initial moment that the brakes went on, but because hiring never actually stopped and the pause was quickly lifted, it became clear by the summer of 2020 that this has not been as severe as past crises in terms of impact on executive level hiring. While the amount of activity isn’t the same as 2018 or 2019, it's not nearly as bad as some of us predicted. Hiring continues, particularly in marketing but also in sales and customer success.
Megan: It was surprising to me how many people were caught up in the doom loop, because to your point, I see in my own network every day, people are getting jobs in marketing and customer success, and people in sales are moving around and getting better opportunities.
Kate: That's exactly right. This is a very real message that I want the Product Marketing Community audience to hear. I wish I had a dime for every day I have a conversation with someone who assumes it's a really bad time to be looking for a role. It's simply not true. Leadership needs are forever and always - in good times and bad times. More often than not, it's hiring a leader versus three junior people because the company really needs the leadership and the capability to take them through a challenging time. No matter what, companies have to get their leadership right.
Megan: Kate, the leadership part of your message may be somewhat counterintuitive. Often you hear folks assume junior people get more offers because companies want to save money. But what we’re hearing from you is that if you've got the right skills and leadership background, and are a fit for the company, there is great opportunity.
Kate: Absolutely, and every case is different but the biggest message, and this is absolutely accurate, is that hiring continues, especially in tech.
Megan: Well, that's good news and I like sharing good news! Let’s talk about what skills are in demand for executives right now, and for marketing and the revenue team in particular. What helps candidates stand out in the market? How does that look different between B2B and B2C?
Kate: I'll start with B2C and focus on performance marketing. I define performance marketing as the set of skills in marketing that cut across top-of-funnel/awareness, middle-of-funnel journey, down through optimizing conversion, acquisition and retention. It’s the whole journey from awareness to acquisition to retention. In both B2C and B2B, this is a hot area. In B2C, however, we’ve seen a massive demand for marketers who can lead through all that successfully but ALSO bring off-line experience. Omni-channel is the name of the game.
Only a few short years ago, the company ask was, “give me a digital performance marketer” because companies didn't have digital as an area of expertise. They weren't necessarily born in digital and really needed to get that skill set. Now, the pendulum is swinging to the middle ground, with need for that omni-channel marketer. While digital is still important, we know now that it's not everything when it comes to consumer marketing. Different communities and buyers respond to a brand via various channels.
Companies want a holistic marketer who doesn't just go in with a preconceived recipe and say, “this is the way that we're going to do it.” They want the person who says, “I've made cakes, bread and pie,” and brings to the table all the experiences and all of the ingredients to figure out the optimal combination of channel usage. Companies are looking for very strong analytical rigor, open mindedness to the right recipe for success and experience across both online and offline channels. These things are very hot in consumer marketing.
On the B2B side, a strong ask from the market, particularly for product marketing but other roles, too, is for a marketer who can help with some kind of shift. For example, the company is entering a new market, or shifting who the customer is, say from SMB and mid-market to enterprise. I get lots of calls for marketing leaders who know how to help a company get into a new market and understand that new buyer. It’s not just about a new persona. It's understanding a whole new go-to-market / buying motion. Another trend, though it’s not necessarily new, is high demand for marketers who have lived through SaaS high octane growth. Finally, more recently, we’re seeing a surge in demand for marketers who can lead both “top down” and “bottoms up” growth.
This is the marketer who can optimize the GTM motion that the company may already deploy, say ABM/Enterprise Marketing, but ALSO lead the motion that the company needs to move toward or add, such as product-led. These are highly different motions, audiences, price points, messages, etc. The Marketer who can lead both is the new black.
Megan: What else are you seeing? What about people who’ve been at large companies and who know how to get hundreds, if not thousands, of people to be part of transformation? That's a very different skill set than scaling up from 50. Do you see that need? How do I position skills that I may have from a while back that I didn't know might be applied in a different situation?
Kate: Let’s talk about the differences between a marketer who's been with smaller, high growth companies, and the marketer who's been with massive technology companies. When I'm giving career advice to a marketer and looking at their resume, I'm not saying, “Well, since you worked at Cisco, we must bring you into a networking company.” I’m asking who they marketed to, what changed inside Cisco because of the work they did, how they led through - and at - scale. In short, beyond the quantitative skills and outcomes, what are your qualitative skills? Change management is hard, and that's a real skill set. Change management at scale is even harder to find, and is something that can't be overlooked as an important opportunity for an executive to add value.
Megan: Is there anything else you believe helps a candidate stand out in today’s market?
Kate: Lots of things help a candidate stand out, but let's just call it what it really is: self promotion. It's not just your skills. The things that help you stand out are the same things that help you move up in your career, whether that means being promoted in your own company or stepping out and taking an opportunity elsewhere. You need a combination of three things: Experience, awareness and sponsorship. Are people aware of you, and your experience? Are there powerful people who would sponsor your promotion or act as strong references as you move onto the next thing? Those three are imperative, and truly, the individual is in control of all three. You just have to recognize you're the one who has the power and not expect progress to be something that just happens to you along the way.
Megan: What’s your advice for Product Marketers?
Kate: Experience is especially important for product marketers, because they are the foundation of all of marketing. Product marketers are levers in the company who stand at the center of the three pillars that make up every company: market, sales and product. Product marketing sits at the absolute center of those three pillars, so product marketers already have wonderful stuff going for them because they are exposed to so many aspects of the company. Exposure is the name of the game when it comes to experience. Get yourself exposure, say yes to opportunities. Say yes to tough, juicy problems that might get you in trouble, but those foxholes are often where you gain amazing access to people who will be your future sponsors and references. When you’re thinking about an opportunity, consider if you will learn new things and grow and branch out to new markets or models. Say yes and embrace the exposure that's part of experience.
As far as awareness building, I don't think marketers recognize how important this is early in their careers. Later in their careers, they tend to figure it out, but if they learn this earlier, they do themselves a favor. Don't forget to market you, not just your company and your product. I'm not saying be a self-promoter in an annoying way. I’m saying you should put to work all of the wonderful assets and tools that you use every day as marketers. Speak your point of view, use LinkedIn and social media to share. Get out there, get involved. Get yourself invited to a panel or a discussion. That's why I love the Product Marketing Community. It gives product marketers a platform earlier in their careers, not just after they become CMOs. That experience gives you exposure to people like me, to other companies, to other customers and to other points of view. You don't have to be a C-suite person to have a point of view and share it.
Megan: Tell us more about how to find a sponsor. That’s not something we all think about, but it’s so critical to career advancement.
Kate: Yes, sponsorship is the last piece. There's a huge difference between mentorship and sponsorship. It’s wonderful to have mentors but your mentors help you figure out problems day-to-day. A sponsor is a person who's willing to put their own brand behind yours, to personally vouch for you, and not just act as a reference but literally promote you. You need someone who will say about you, “This person is amazing and going places.” You gain sponsorship by doing the things I just mentioned. When you get that experience, and work with lots of people, someone is going to be super impressed and be a sponsor to you.
Remember, though, they can't sponsor you well unless you tell them all the things you want. Don't be afraid and don't forget to tell people if you have a goal. Tell them and tell them early. Again, it's not about being annoying. It’s telling people that you want to be a CMO, or a VP of product marketing, or a chief revenue officer. Say that’s your goal and have your mentors, peers and sponsors help you figure out the things you need to do to get there.
Megan: Thank you, Kate. This is amazing. We’re excited to have you as part of our PMC advisory board and lucky to have you share your knowledge with us.