Why the customer is your key to leadership

Ruth Mortimer

Anyone can be a leader, argues Professor Richard Jolly of London Business School. It doesn’t have to be the chief executive; it can be anyone who takes a position of authority within an organisation and leverages that for success. The opportunity is ripe for marketers.

“Management equals control but leadership equals persuasion,” explained Jolly when he spoke recently at a lecture for The Marketing Academy mentoring programme, supported by Marketing Week. “It is your personal ability to persuade others to want to follow you. Leadership is a non-hierarchical concept.”

Jolly isn’t alone in his view. Chief marketing officers must go beyond marketing and put more focus on strategy and management to be “business leaders”, according to a report last week from Forrester Research. More than 80% of CMOs want to grow their influence on strategic development, says the report, but this will involve acting as leaders within their organisations.

One of the personal skills that CMOs believe is necessary to help them take on a leadership role is “understanding the customer voice”. Or as Luca Paderni, vice-president and principle analyst at Forrester, puts it: “The only way to have an organisation aligned with what customers want is to have a strong CMO.”

The rewards of being the person within the business who understands the customer are obvious. Jim Slater, the marketing director responsible for Costa Coffee – Brand of the Year for Marketing Week Engage Awards 2011 – was recently promoted to managing director of the Costa Express business.

Slater has been promoted because he showed leadership in his role, working closely with everyone from production to operations to ensure his marketing had impact. And by bringing Caroline Harris, the brand’s head of insight, to become marketing director of Costa Express, Slater is clearly making sure that his familiarity with customer research and feedback is not lost as he moves into general management.

The importance of marketers positioning themselves as leaders with access to consumer insights is more important now than ever before. With the UK economy shrinking 0.2% in the last quarter, marketers are under pressure to justify their worth.

There has already been worrying news from the US, where Walmart has restructured to make its chief marketing officer Stephen Quinn report to chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton. While better co-ordination between both departments is no doubt vital, I would argue that marketing has the customer vision necessary to lead merchandising. It is only by understanding the consumer that you know what merchandise will appeal to them.

The biggest enemy of marketers in 2012 is not the threat of recession or diminishing budgets. It is failing to be seen as a corporate leader within your organisation. To quote the late management guru Peter Drucker: “You have to learn to manage in situations where you don’t have command authority; where you are neither controlled or controlling. This is the fundamental challenge.”

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