How to Cultivate High-Performing Teams in Marketing

Dawn Mueller

VP Marketing and Communication, Digital Experience Group & Global Business Services at Wolters Kluwer

Learning Objectives

Build on leadership theories and the practical application of iconic concepts to create high performing teams. High performing teams are more than the sum of their productivity—they are dynamic, energetic, sought-after and even fun. High performing teams are cultivated and not just formed. Seemingly ordinary professionals and leaders can deliver extraordinary impact through the classic concepts of leadership and marketing, combined and applied in new ways. This presentation includes specific steps for marketing leaders to use to create an experience that will benefit their teams, organization, and themselves.

Key Takeaways:

  • You are what you believe - key concepts drive behavior

  • Understand the different types of leaders and team members

  • Soar higher with trust

"It's about creating an environment of trust and a tolerance for mistakes. "

Dawn Mueller

VP Marketing and Communication, Digital Experience Group & Global Business Services at Wolters Kluwer


Hi, and welcome to How to Cultivate High Performing Teams in Marketing. I’m Dawn Mueller. I am, by nature and career, a professional Marketer. Spent the bulk of my career in professional services and technology marketing. I also have a PhD in Marketing and Management from Pace University. I am an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at another university. Bulk of my time, though, is spent full time on my career at Wolters Kluwer, where I served as a Global Vice President of Marketing and Communication for the Digital Experience Group and the Global Business Services.

What I’m going to share with you today is building on some leadership theories, and some practical application of some iconic concepts. Some of these will be familiar to you, I think most of them should be, and really how our high performing teams create it in marketing. High performing teams are dynamic, energetic, sought after, even fun—I do like to inject fun on my teams. They don’t just occur, that takes some effort and some energy and some good leadership. We’ll talk about some of these things in the next few minutes.

What I’ll include in our time today is setting your destination, knowing yourself and your team, and then, leading by outcome. Let’s talk a little bit about setting your destination. You kind of need to know where you want to get to to figure out how you get there. Hopefully, everybody understood—that is fairly self-explanatory. A couple of areas that I’ll include in this is market orientation, the jury matters as much as the destination, and knowing your limits.

Market orientation was first coined by Narver and Slater Academics. Market orientation was also the topic of my dissertation for my doctorate degree, so it’s something about which I feel really passionate. Why is market orientation important? It’s because companies who have a market orientation actually realize increased profitability. We know how important that is for every place we work.

It consists of three components. One is a competitor orientation. That’s pretty self explanatory, but I’ll just briefly cover that. Competitor orientation means you’re scanning the environment, and wherever your direct competitors are, but you’re also mindful of competitors from unexpected places. That’s a whole topic on disruptive innovation and disruptive competition. Knowing what your competitors are doing, the trends in the marketplace, etc.

The second component is customer orientation. Well, this goes well beyond NPS scores and what your customers think of you. This is really about thinking about what’s affecting my customers, what’s going on in their industry, what’s going on with their customers, and how are people responding to things. I think this past year with the pandemic has really been a prime example of that because if you had a customer in the airline industry, nobody could have anticipated what was going to happen there. So really important for you to think about what’s going on, and understand your customers, understand their environment, understand their challenges. That’s something you can do as a team.

The tricky part now is the third component, and I think this is the most complicated of all of them. It’s inter-functional coordination. What that means is everybody within the company and across departments needs to be talking. That means, finance is talking to marketing, marketing is talking to IT, sales is talking to human resources. It’s that whole network. Why that’s important is because you’re sharing information, you’re staying on top of trends, you’re collaborating together. It’s not easy, and I’ll give you an example.

A large professional services firm that I worked for, we were overhauling the website. When I say we, I meant the firm, and it was a global initiative. Unfortunately, IT said, “Well, we’re in charge, we’re going to build it out.” Marketing was saying, “We should be in charge, because that’s kind of our calling card, and it’s a major customer interface.” No one was really wrong, but the problem is when IT decides how website should be designed, they’re approaching it from a technical perspective, marketing is approaching it from a customer facing perspective. You need that conversation, and that early involvement to make it more successful.

Again, inter-functional coordination is important, but it takes a lot of effort and a lot of buying from across departments. Highly recommended. It is worth the investment and the effort. Even if you started a small scale within your team, let’s start the talking in the dialogue, you may affect a really enterprise change, unless you’re in a company that already is market oriented, then kudos to you. That’s great.

Also, the journey matters as much as the destination. Set your destination, know where you want to go, so you can figure out how to get there. How you get there is just as important. A map is more than just the route you will take, it’s a series of choices, right? If I take this way, this highway, I’m going to get there a lot faster, I might take the scenic route this time, who knows? Are you gonna get there slowly? Are you gonna get there quickly? Are there landmark cities, tourist destinations, things that you want to stop along the way? These are really just metaphors for setting the standards you and your team subscribe to. I’ll get into those standards a little bit later on in the presentation.

Things to think about, though, do you want to be learning and innovation along the way, or results and expediency? Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts, but you are going to affect your team and the focus of your team based on that. If you are really just let’s drive results, let’s drive expediency, maybe learning and innovation are going to take a backseat, because again, with results, there’s a lower risk tolerance if you’re focused on results. If you’re looking at innovation, you may say we’re going to make some mistakes, we’re going to break some glass along the way, and that’s okay, too. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of you figuring out what’s going to get that outcome that you want, that we’ll also talk about a little later on.

It’s also important to know the ways you don’t want to get there. We’ll talk about that a little bit more too. What’s acceptable? What’s not acceptable? What are the rules of the road? For example, I don’t tolerate politics or backstabbing on my team. There’s a lot of different things that go into that. Again, if we had more time, I’d be happy to go into that. I do try to set that tone really upfront with my teams and the people on them.

It’s really important for you to know your limits too. You do what you can with what you have.For example, campaigns, marketing is really important in a lot of companies. If you say, “I really wanted to have a solid account based marketing approach, and I want to have one dedicated person to our top 30 accounts all over the globe,” and you only have five people in your marketing team, you can see there’s a disparity there. You really need to think about, what can I do with what I have? Will there be an investment in your budget, your skills, your corporate culture all come into play? You need to think about that. Yes, I am referring to the John Candy movie, Cool Runnings. Are you creating a Jamaican bobsled team? It’s nice. I’m a big fan of art of the possible. I think, really, a lot of things are within reach. However, I don’t like to create something that is just an incredible uphill battle. I like to be realistic and pragmatic with that, and I strongly encourage you to do that, too. It’s nice to really push the boundaries and go beyond the limits, and I do encourage that too. However, you have to be realistic about it, and know what your limits are.

Also, don’t underestimate enthusiasm versus experience. When people are building out teams. They think, if I had somebody with this many years experience in this industry, and this project skill set, then we’re going to accomplish everything I need to. I would encourage you to look at talent from unusual places, and gauge the person’s enthusiasm. Enthusiasm will cover a lot, and it motivates people too. I’ve had junior people join a team, and they lacked the experience or the direct, maybe they didn’t have the experience in a particular industry. They made up for an enthusiasm, and I can tell you it was energizing for the whole team. We accomplished a lot more than we had expected. Take some chances with that, but also know your tolerance level for that.

Something that I think is applicable especially today is success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. That is, again, your tolerance but you have to know yourself and your team. This requires introspection and reflection. Also, I strongly suggest business chemistry disk, and knowing the personalities, and lastly, the trust factor for knowing yourself and your team.

Introspection and reflection. Hopefully, you do some of this. I know a lot of people try to do this periodically, but really spend time with realistic assessments of your skills, and the environment, your organization, and the receptivity of your organization. Again, we mentioned that whole account based marketing approach, but if your sales doesn’t want a marketing person involved with their accounts at all, you’re going to have a very uphill battle because sales is generating revenue, and marketing, yes, we’re tied in revenue, we influence the revenue, but reality is that you need a group that’s receptive to your ideas.

Also think about this, this is a loose equation, but your aspirations and your skills and your organization. If you want to achieve a certain level in the company, or if you have a skill set that you want to build out, you really need to think about is that the place that you’re gonna be able to do it. If you’re in an organization that doesn’t tolerate risk, maybe proposing that account based marketing strategy might not be well received. If you’re in an organization that is saying, “Yeah, we encourage risk taking, we really want you to do everything that you think you can, and here’s a budget,” but you owe it to yourself to really assess that and see if you can accomplish what you want with your team, and make those things happen in the environment you’re in. This also requires fluidity and flexibility. I think being able to shift and pivot, and change gears, and assessing. This is your tolerance level for these things.

Also, being able to operate in ambiguity, because things are not always going to go the way you plan. You really need to make sure that you can thrive in that, and that you can coach your team through those times of ambiguity as well. This requires honest assessment I think one of the tools that I’ve found helpful, and if you’ve ever had a sociology class, you probably have been exposed to the johari window. It’s what do you know that yourself, what do other people think when they see you, how do you think other people see you, and then, how you really are, which is the one that we all can’t answer. Think about that. Those are tools that are available online for free, you can check them out. Getting into a bit more tools, business, chemistry, disc, personality assessments, there’s all sorts of things.

I find it helpful to know the main types and build out the team accordingly. I try not to hire too many of myself, and similar types, because from the business chemistry, there’s driver, pioneer, integrator, and guardian. I am a high integrator, and also a pioneer, I am very low guardian. I’m a broad brush stroke person. I need to have people around me who are good to details, and painting in the corners, and getting all that stuff. For me is that analogy, so be mindful that and build it. They always say that good leaders surround themselves with better people. That’s what I try to do, and the ideas that come forth from that, too. Again, it’s great to have the different perspectives in the interplay, we come up with better answers.

The other thing I would say is, when you are hiring, think about and leading your teams, probably a lot of you are doing this already, but the Stephen Covey principle there of leading in the knowledge worker age is the whole person. We don’t, especially in recent times, you are not just, okay, I’m at work, and then I’m at home, and then I have this aspect of my life, and then I have my social life. It all comes together. It all converges. It’s really being aware of all the facets of a person’s life, and that they may bring a lot of that in their headspace to work. Also, this applies to your leaders, anybody that you roll up to. Knowing them, knowing their personalities. If you have somebody who’s a driver, and you’re going into pitch a new concept or something, pay a content marketing strategy, and it’s going to require this much investment, but I think the return is going to be this. If they’re a driver, they just want to know fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. And what I mean by fat is, tell me there’s going to be an investment, tell me how much it is, tell me the return on investment, tell me the time, and tell me what you need, and then, get out of my office right or get out of the [inaudible]. That does happen.

If it’s a guardian that you’re pitching this to, they’re going to say, Well, I want to know the detail, give me the assessment, how much time has lapsed, what’s the backup, have you compared it to other people out there and other companies, what’s the success rate, then? They’re going to go into that detail. Knowing your team, but knowing the leader is equally important, and will help drive your success, and then, help you get to your destination.

Ken Blanchard had coined situational leadership that also helps. It’s mainly focused on your team, how many members of your team, how much latitude can you give them, or do you need to roll up your sleeves and work alongside them, coach them? If you are effective as a leader, and apply the situational leadership, then you’re going to get people to work independently much more quickly, which also frees you up for bigger and better things too.

Last part of this section, knowing yourself and your team is the trust factor. Again, this gets back to your introspection and self reflection, but a speed of trust. Stephen Covey’s book, I think it’s worth the read. It’s classic. It’s an iconic piece of literature. Trust is a two way street, it’s really not just about believing something will get done, and people will do as they say. It’s about creating an environment of trust and a tolerance for mistakes. If somebody messes up on your team, you do take them to task over or you say, “Okay, how do we do this differently?” and then, we move forward. When you employ trust like that, it allows more time for you to be strategic. I trust my team. If I can’t trust somebody on my team, then I need to look at that and figure out what’s going on. If it’s something in me, is it something in them, and we have to try to overcome that and surmount that challenge, and then, again, reassess and reevaluate.

That brings me to leading by outcome. You want to know where you want to get to, but you also need to figure out what do you want to be known for? What do you want your team to be known for? You’re going to set that standard that you want to achieve. How do you do that? We’ll talk about that. Then, spell out success. You can demonstrate it. What do you want to be known for? What do you want your team to be known for?

Are you the innovative marketing team? The one with all the great ideas, and like I said, breaking glass and we pay, we make mistakes, we have some failures, but then we have some really good wins, I think that’s something we’re thinking about. Maybe you’re the cohesive, high performing team? I got such a tight knit group. They all have each other’s back, don’t like they finish each other’s thoughts. Nothing ever falls through the cracks. They’re just such a tight, high performing team. Maybe you’re center of excellence? Hey, we’ve got the best content marketing strategy, and the best success story program out there, and everybody else wants to replicate it. Depending on the size of your organization, you may be setting the standard, and other teams will want to emulate that, or your competitors want to emulate it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it’s not a bad thing to be known for that. Maybe you’re the revenue generator? Wow, that marketing group, that marketing team, that marketing organization generates so many qualified leads that our pipeline is filled, and our revenue projections, we exceed them constantly because of their contributions.

None of these have to be isolated. You can have a combination of these, and you can have things that are not even on this list. This is up to you and your team to figure out what do you want to be known for. Part of that is in the deliberation process and being prescriptive, is you have to ask anytime there’s projects or other things that are coming in, as you consider other things that you may want to work on, is this going to move us closer or farther away from being known for this?

For example, if you want to be known as the best content marketing team in the world, then maybe you don’t want to focus your energy on trade shows and events. Things to consider. You have to set the standards that you want to achieve. You set the tone and dynamic—you personally set the tone and dynamic. Are you approachable? Can people speak their minds? Can they challenge things? Can they try to bring things up? Is the environment safe? You actually decide the experience you provide.

I think I can speak for most of us when I say I’ve had good bosses and I’ve had some bad bosses. The experience under the good bosses was great. The experience under the bad bosses was poor for a number of reasons, but it was also a positive because I learned what I don’t want to do as a leader, and what I don’t want to do to my team, as a leader. Draw on those experiences, and think about the experience you want to write. What do you want people to say after they’ve worked on your team? Wow, I worked for Dawn, and I felt like I learned so much. She really allowed me to speak my mind and she pushed us creatively. Think about that. How will people view the time that they’ve spent working with you?

Excellence doesn’t just happen. It’s something you have to strive for and you have to work at personally, professionally, and as a team, and as a leader. Model the behavior you want to emulate. As I mentioned before, we’ve all had some bad bosses, we’ve all had some good bosses. The tone at the top definitely is key to modeling the behavior and setting the tone, and people will follow your lead. I don’t tolerate backstabbing. I don’t want politics. If there’s a mistake, I don’t want somebody coming to me, “Oh, so and so did this,” but just come forward. Give me the direct feedback, give me the information, encourage each other to speak up. That works well, but that’s what I have to do that myself, too, and show people that they can do that. We just covered this, but the deliberate effort.

Also, it’s really important to share the vision of the team. You want to make sure that everybody buys into it. Again, constantly reassessing. Interaction with everyone on the team, it’s really important, I think, as a leader. I know some of you have super large teams, you will have super large teams. Well, how do I find the time in the day? But as a leader, you have to make the time. In exceptionally large teams, you’re going to have people who report in to you, and you can check in with them. You can even do some group sessions with the people that reporting to them—just to do a touch base. If you can, I would say, at least once per year, on exceptionally large teams, you need to talk to everybody on the team for a few minutes, one on one. If you have a smaller team, then you can maybe do something two times a year or quarterly. If you have a very small team, then I’d suggest once a month. It’s going to be up to you. You’re going to have to gauge your time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it is valued. You will get insights that, even though you may think you know everything going on, insights that you didn’t realize that were occurring, and also some really good ideas too. The team members will really value that, especially marketing, because they come up with so many ideas, and they’re reading so much information. Strongly encourage that.

Also, incorporate training and discussion. Right now, our team is really focused on adopting more of the agile marketing rules of the road. We use some of them, we don’t use all of them, I guess to the extent that we could, so we are engaging in training. We’ve had some new members on the team, so we’re training them on that as well. Then, discussing. What do you think of this? It’s not just me saying we’re gonna do agile marketing, and everybody do it and take the training. We have to ask them, what do you think of it? How do you think it’s working? What do you think we should modify? How do we do this? That so gets everybody invested in the outcome and success of the team, and that’s what I like to say too. Such as my team, it’s everybody’s team, everybody on the team is invested in it. Part of that means that they have to have a say, and at least be heard, at least be able to speak up on the team and what matters to the team.

I also think you need to measure what you should, not what you can. I mean, you may measure visitors to the website on a certain day, but maybe you should be looking at the identity models of who’s visiting your website. You may be saying, well, we’ve generated X number of leads, but does that really matter? It’s the quality of the leads, and maybe it’s the conversion into your pipeline, and how it progresses. Maybe it’s the return on your investment. Again, measure what you should, not what you can. I really strongly encourage. I know leadership at the senior levels really likes to see positive things, they don’t want problems—not saying you bring problems, but again, the biggest complaint a customer can have is one that you don’t know about. The biggest issue marketing can have is not measuring what really matters and making a difference. I always like to think, we’re gonna measure the things with our analytics, we’re doing this right now. We’re gonna measure certain things, and there may be a gap. Guess what? I have that information, I can fix the gap. I can also show the success of that. The team really gets enthusiastic about that, too.

I would also do an exercise with your team. Finish this, do it yourself first, but finish the sentence: Our team is a success when… It could be anything, when the CEO recognizes us for accomplishing this, or when other team teams adopt our approach, or when we generate this much in pipeline. It could be a combination of things. It could be something totally different, but identify that. Then, share it with your team and say, “I want to talk about this. We’re doing well as a team, but what’s going to make us even more successful? We’ll figure out how we want to get there, but what should that be?” You might get some surprising answers, but it’ll definitely benefit everybody. You’re getting that investment with the team, and they’re going to strive even higher. You’re going to set the bar, and then you’re going to exceed it, and adjust it higher. I’m borrowing a term from the financial markets with the trailing stop. If you have a stock, you may say, “I don’t want this, if the stock drops to this point, I want to stop and sell,” but the trailing stop as the stock improves moods and raises that bar, “I don’t want to sell below this, and it’ll adjust by percentage.” If you set the bar, you can exceed it. You can keep adjusting it higher, and your team will buy into that too.

I think it’s important that equal incremental wins should be celebrated. If you dealt with Agile training, everybody completed the Agile training, we’re doing the daily stand ups and they’ve been going really well—celebrate that. I don’t know what that looks like celebrating, sometimes it can be just something informal. We do some weekly fun activity as a team on video conferencing with different activities, and that’s a rotational responsibility. Other times, we may send something to the team, something small, something nominal, just to say, “Hey, thanks for everything, and we really accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.” Whatever it is, just celebrate the wins.

Thank you so much for your time, I’ll end with just a little reminder—if you want performance, the equation is strategy plus people and purpose times your outcomes. You can shape the equation and the balance and the changes different time. If you do that, you will get high performing teams. If you’d like to keep in touch with me, I am on LinkedIn. You have the address on the screen right there. Also, please use the Q&A. I’m happy to answer any questions and get back to anybody. Again, thank you for your time, and look forward to seeing you another time.

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