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07.7.2016

Part Yoda, Part Leonardo, Part MLK – The Split Personality of Great Go to Market Leaders

Go to Market leaders in organizations are invaluable.  You recognize them because they seem to anticipate your questions, they show the way to others,  they have their fingers on both the pulse of the market, and possesses and uncanny sense of what to do next to build and grow the business.

Whether the CMO, the VP of Marketing, the Director of Product Marketing, the senior Field Marketing Manager in a geography, or even the Chief Technology Officer, Go to Market Leadership is not judged by title but by impact.  All of these jobs have a mix of strategic, tactical and even clerical work.  However, leaders rise above this to drive not only tactics, but strategy.  In doing so, they not only raise their game, but create leverage and success for their organization.

When I first joined Secure Computing as a senior leader in marketing, my then boss and CMO Atri Chatterjee, tasked me with re-building the product marketing organization.  His comments to me went something like this, “The product managers are seen as little more that data-sheet writers and Quarterly Business Review slide clerks.  This function is not strategic and is not driving the business forward.  We need to do something about this.  It is the largest group on our team, yet it is not leading.  Please figure it out.”

When I unraveled the team, I saw three things.  First, we had a mix of skills and skill level, unevenly distributed among the team.  Some were great at content creation and programs, others at packaging, messaging and channel enablement.  Second, while a few of the team had mastery knowledge of their markets, some lacked the basic customer intimacy and competitive knowledge that they needed to lead.  Lastly, none were influential and respected in the organization, perhaps their biggest challenge.  Our task as I saw it, was to build leaders by broadening their skill set, increasing their knowledge, and teaching them to influence their peers, their management and their partners.  No small task! But having identified these gaps, we re-balanced the team, put in plans for each leader, and found ways to create credibility and influence for each of them.  Over the next 12 months, we grew the team to have 3 strong Go To Market leaders, one for each of the main product lines, who were able to leverage their influence, knowledge and skills to build and execute market leading strategies, programs and tactics.

Successful Go to Market leaders have the depth and breadth of specialized knowledge like the Jedi Master Yoda, the skills of the Renaissance man like Leonardo and the influence of the Evangelistic leader like Martin Luther King.  Those aspiring to lead their product, division or product line to market, should put in improvement plans to reach mastery across all three of these dimensions.

Nearly 20 years ago, Ben Horowitz writing about the good product manager vs. the bad one said, “Good product managers are the CEO of their product”.  Great Go To Market Leaders, wherever they are title wise in the org, are perceived and viewed in just this way, as the CEO who understands and is driving their product, division or company to market leadership.In the next 3 posts in this series, I will take a look at these three key areas, knowledge, skills and influence and dissect what it takes in each of these to rise to mastery in market leadership.  Those who do, not only act like the CEO, they are destined to eventually become one!

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