Marketing is a dynamic complex industry requiring many technical skills and specific knowledge from marketers. We talk about these few soft skills recommended not so you forgo your technical training. Yes, you should know the lingo and be able to make a marketing plan, but this blog is meant to highlight a few underrated but highly effective skills every marketer should have. These vital soft skills are 1) accountability, 2) empathy, and 3) futuristic thinking.
Accountability means outlining to your client what can be done and then following up on your promise. “I’ll have it to you by the end of the day Tuesday” better mean by 5:00 pm your client has an email with “it” in their inbox.
Accountability breeds trust quickly and efficiently. You don’t have to go above and beyond to earn the client’s trust. In fact, you are doing exactly what you said, no more and no less. But by doing just that, you create an atmosphere where your client relies on you. They can build their schedule around your deadlines because they know the deadlines will be respected. Your client will not feel that they must remember to check-in or follow-up. Accountability can also help you, as a marketer, prioritize. If you told a client the brief would be to them for review by the end of the week and that you would have the designed flier to them by tomorrow, you know the flier comes first on your agenda. You are not only being accountable to the client, but also to yourself and anyone else that works with you.
How to do it
- Set realistic expectations: Only agree to what you can do. If a deadline is unrealistic, adjustments will have to be made. Explain to the client that in order to reach that deadline, an aspect will need to be cut from the project or the project will cost more (because of the overtime needed to complete it) or that their other projects will be delayed to make more time. You don’t have to tell the client “no.” In fact, many marketing professionals would encourage that you don’t use the “no” word. The alternative answer is, “here are your options; what would you prefer?” Being a marketing professional should not mean breaking your back for your clients: maybe bending over backward and getting into some contortionist-worthy positions to make your clients’ dreams come true, but NEVER a full back-break. Life is too short for that.
- Follow-through: Do everything in your power to complete the task on time. If unexpected roadblocks appear in your path, keep the client in the loop. Communication lines should be open, and your client should be aware in advance if challenges out of your control are going to affect the deadline. If this occurs to you often, there is likely a systematic error. Is your team understaffed? If your boss not giving you the support you need? Does your team struggle with planning ahead? Are there no contingency systems in place to complete work when someone is on vacation or unexpectedly sick? Is your client always giving you last-minute urgent requests? Ask yourself these questions to discover larger recurring problems that need to be addressed. If you answer “yes” to any of them, you may need to have a conversation with your boss, team, or client.
- Lean on others: Your work should not be done in a vacuum. Your team should be at least somewhat aware of the projects you are working on. That way if a coworker needs help, they may leverage what you have learned from your projects or they may know not to approach you on Tuesday when your big assignment is due. Also, it is good for your coworkers to know about your project in case something unexpected happens, like an illness or family emergency. Are your files saved somewhere where a coworker can access them? Could someone jump in on your project if you were unexpectedly out? Set up these fail-safes beforehand so you aren’t sneezing on your keyboard.
Have empathy for your clients. Try to understand their point of view. Often, marketing is not their main priority. They likely have other responsibilities to tend to, which means their marketing deadlines get missed. Also, you should try to understand their business. If you are going to market a product or service, you should know a little bit about it.
Unless you are marketing in outer space or in the year 3000, your clients are humans. And two main characteristics of humans are: they make mistakes and they want to be understood. While you should not be flexible with yourself on your deadlines, you should be flexible with your client on theirs. Not fair? Welcome to life. Especially life as a marketer. You are smart and you will find a way to make a missed deadline into an even more efficient schedule! Or maybe there was an aspect of your project that probably needed to be dropped anyway. Or maybe this is a great excuse to get more time. Also, when your client feels that you are honestly trying to understand their product or service, two things will happen. One, you will earn their respect because you have shown you truly care enough to understand them. And two, they will be excited to share their passion and their career, with you. Most people are delighted to answer questions about their topic of expertise. It makes them look and feel smarter and they get to talk more about what they love: win-win. It helps too to become genuinely interested in them, as a person. Learn about what they like to do outside of work and ask them about their day. Keep it professional, of course, but as previously established, your client is not a robot and neither are you, so your conversations do not have to be 100% task-oriented.
How to do it
- Ask questions: Ask lots of questions about your client and their business. Get to know their business like it was your own. Try to understand why they make the decisions they do to make better predictions in the future. Once you understand their business more, you can make proactive marketing recommendations, rather than waiting for their requests.
- Be human: Be conversational with your client and get to know them. Tell them a little about you too. If you are not comfortable sharing, pick certain details about yourself you don’t mind talking about. For example, maybe you do not like sharing that you do Zumba at your gym in the most uncoordinated way, but you don’t mind talking about your love of professional baseball.
- Be flexible: This will involve your creative side as you try to make all the puzzle pieces fit in a now tight schedule, but your client will appreciate your can-do attitude when they miss a deadline. Be loyal to your client’s goals with the mentality of “we are a team and we can figure this out together” rather than the Chicken Little world-ending mentality of “oh no, the schedule is ruined; this project is toast.”
Plan ahead. Get ahead of schedule if you can. Start working on next week’s or next month’s project in your downtime to give yourself a head start.
Why futuristic thinking?
Planning ahead allows your client to get a sneak peek at what is coming soon. This helps them get excited about marketing projects and helps them plan ahead too. If there is a big task coming soon, you may need more of their time than usual. It is better to tell them in advance rather than springing the news on them the week of (see empathy above). Futuristic thinking is a great tool to train out “I want this now” behaviors from your clients. Yes, sometimes urgent requests must happen, but if your client is always hitting you with last-minute requests, planning for the future can help mitigate this costly and inefficient behavior. Futuristic thinking also will help you manage your own schedule (see accountability above).
How to do it
- Own some sort of calendar: Whether digital or print, wall or desk, designed or plain, you need a calendar. Calendars help us see ahead instead of living day-by-day. Also, you can share your calendar or a calendar with your clients to keep them looking ahead.
- Think about your big goals: Talk to your client about their long-term goals. If they want to complete something by the end of the fiscal year, are you making progress toward it every month? Or have three unproductive months already passed? Thinking about the big picture can help you stay on track with your plans. If your client is having trouble thinking ahead, try framing plans into future goal parameters. For example, if you want to do a big spring campaign in April, you may want to get ahead on your regularly scheduled tasks to buy time in March.
- Utilize downtime: Slow day? Your client is out sick? Did you finish a project early? Use the extra time to get ahead. Downtime can be your golden hours for future work. Don’t waste extra time just because your current projects are in a good place.
There may be twenty or more other soft skills that you should have, but as a marketer, try starting with accountability, empathy, and futuristic thinking first. Then, build on your progress. Remember, no marketer is perfect, so missing one deadline or losing your calendar will not end your career. Mistakes will be made by you, your clients, your boss, and your team, but we hope these skills will help you out just a little… But make sure you know what KPI and CRM mean too. 😉