How to make the transition from technical expert to marketing manager

Becoming a manager for the first time requires a whole new set of skills but marketers often feel under-equipped as they are not given the guidance and support they need at the right time.

marketing leadership

Being promoted to manager means marketers must deliver their objectives through other people for the first time. It’s a clear step up but it often requires a completely new set of skills, quite different from those necessary to complete the operational aspects of the role.

Marketers need to learn how to inspire their team and take people with them on the journey.

TSB senior marketing manager Emma Stacey acknowledges that it can be daunting for marketers when they start managing for the first time.

To succeed, marketing managers require a breadth and depth of experience that moves away from just being a technical expert within a specific marketing discipline, to having experience of the full marketing spectrum.

“When you’re busy doing the day job this isn’t always easy, but for me it’s about finding time and license to be involved in the wider aspects of the work, and not just buried in the elements that I deliver,” Stacey explains.

She advises marketers to deepen their understanding of the commercial context, broaden their internal and external networks, and find opportunities to progress their careers in the best direction.

READ MORE: Stuck in the middle – Why marketing managers feel disconnected from the C-suite

Research from Brand Learning suggests leadership programmes are often offered too late in a marketer’s transition to management. Furthermore, these programmes are often only focused on traditional technical elements and fail to integrate the key skills marketing managers need to progress their career.

Some 63% of managers questioned say they are not involved in the design of the development programmes that directly affect them or their team, while only 24% of respondents agree that their company sees it as important that managers focus on their own learning in order to develop their careers.

This disparity between what marketing managers require to progress their careers and what brands are actually delivering is not a result of wilful neglect.

“We found that CMOs and the senior management are well intentioned. No one goes into a job thinking ‘I’m going to disconnect from my team’, particularly in marketing,” explains Brand Learning co-CEO Nevine el-Warraky.

“They go into roles like that thinking, ‘I have a team and I want it to be the best it can be’, but I don’t think they are conscious of the things they can put in practice and clearly HR have a role to play in supporting them.”

READ MORE: Why marketing and HR should join forces to drive advocacy among employees

Find the right framework for development

As CMO tenure gets shorter, companies need to put frameworks in place that support the professional development of marketing managers, which are part of the wider business culture and not dependent on any one individual.

Rachel Johnson, marketing manager at Creative England, acknowledges that working on her own personal development will filter down into her team management, which is one of the most important aspects of her role.

Rather than old school marketing training, Johnson has been undertaking one-to-one coaching sessions with an industry professional focused on team building and communication.

She is also enrolled on Pioneers, in a six-month internal course that teaches different leadership styles, emotional intelligence and the practical aspects of stepping up to leadership.

“I think the marketing training I’ve had before has been very much ‘this is how to think strategically or different models of strategic thinking’, whereas actually that’s based on personality and not everybody can think in the same way,” Johnson acknowledges.

“This [training] should hopefully help to create a culture that we want to work in and that will filter down to the relationships with the people that we manage.”

Going forward El-Warraky advises companies to do an honest assessment of their progress from a structural point of view. This audit should establish a real understanding of how clearly the company’s vision is being implemented and ensure that any intervention includes a behavioural element.