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7 Tips to Rise Through the Ranks From Specialist to Marketing Leader

Advancement in any career is hard—and marketing is no exception. Many of us find ourselves in marketing without receiving any formal education in it, and then we spend years passionately mastering skills and technology to one day reach the role of “manager.”

But when that day comes, your focus becomes less “doing” and more enablement and support. The latter can feel like an entirely different role than the one you anticipated.

At this year’s Activate Summit, attendees sat down with Jeremiah Runser, Head of Marketing at Sandboxx, to learn about why this transition to leadership is difficult for so many first-time marketing managers.

Today, we’re summarizing his seven tips on how to rise through the ranks from specialist to marketing leader. That way, even if you weren’t able to attend Jeremiah’s session, you can walk away with practical advice on how to level-up your career, get out of the weeds, and lead marketing teams effectively.

Missed out on Activate Summit? Sign up for the Activate Summit Virtual to gain access to two days of content you can enjoy from the comfort of your home.

7 Tips to Transitioning to Marketing Leadership

  1. Be (really) successful at your core job. If your goal is to be promoted into marketing leadership, your first mission is to excel in your current position. It could go without saying, but it’s essential to prove yourself in the role you’re in before aiming higher. Mastering the responsibilities you have today builds trust and showcases your potential to handle more significant challenges tomorrow and beyond.
  2. Be a marksman, not a sniper. Military metaphors come naturally to the team at Sandboxx—a brand that makes it easier to navigate military life with tools for recruits to connect with their families. But in this case, when talking about being a marksman, Jeremiah emphasized that while it’s important to specialize in a subset of marketing, pigeonholing yourself can keep you from taking on more strategic roles. Marketers should develop a broad skill set that allows them to adapt and manage a wider team.
  3. Be a resource for others. Jeremiah caveated this tip as a potential hot take, but based on what he’s seen as he’s grown in his career, if marketers want to get promoted or earn a higher salary, that may require going above and beyond what’s expected of you. Leadership is all about helping others succeed, so he encouraged his audience to show they can lead by serving as the go-to resource for their teams.
  4. Focus on outcomes over outputs. A common theme at Activate Summit was the importance of prioritizing impact over effort. By focusing on outcomes rather than outputs—as CMO of Grammarly, Lena Waters, put it—you can ensure that you’re contributing meaningfully to your organization’s goals. After all, when it comes to rising the ranks, it’s not about how much you do, but the value you provide.
  5. Internal > external. Jeremiah stressed that “silence isn’t golden—it’s invisible.” Marketers need to be able to sell their ideas internally as effectively as they engage with their target audiences externally. For instance, he shared that it took him three months to persuade Sandboxx’s product and engineering teams to leverage Iterable’s Embedded Messaging in their app. Meetings and internal communication may not be marketers’ favorite aspects of their work, but they’re a critical component of collaborating with others and advocating for your team.
  6. Learn the business lingo. Marketing metrics can sound like alphabet soup with terms like LTV, CAC, AOV, NDR, and ROI. But to gain credibility and influence, marketers need to familiarize themselves with their definitions and speak the language of business. Learning the lingo will help marketers talk about their work more strategically and connect the dots between their campaigns and their company’s bottom line.
  7. Marketing is not equivalent to leading marketing. Because marketing managers focus more on enablement than the nuts and bolts of marketing campaigns, leading a marketing team can feel like an entirely different job than being an individual contributor. To decide whether a leadership role is right for you, Jeremiah urged marketers to have candid conversations with their managers about their professional goals. It’s totally valid if you decide you don’t want to manage people, so be honest with yourself before taking on the responsibility.

Practical Advice for Aspiring Marketing Leaders

If you decide to pursue marketing leadership after meeting with your manager, here are Jeremiah’s words of wisdom.

  • Be obsessed with learning. As a future marketing leader, the people you hire will look to you for guidance and inspiration, so you should always be passionate about learning—especially with how rapidly technology advances and marketing adapts to those changes.
  • Find a mentor. Marketing leaders need mentors as much as they need to provide mentorship to their own teams. Identifying those who are farther along in their careers and can offer their time and insights is incredibly valuable to accelerating your own learning and growth.
  • Look for inflection points. Promotions often don’t simply land in people’s laps, so learn to recognize when it’s time to make a move, whether it’s taking on more responsibility at your current company or seeking a new opportunity.

Empower, Uplift, and Engage

Even if you climb to the top of the corporate ladder, you may never feel like you’ve truly “made it.” But once you find yourself in a leadership role, your next step is to empower, uplift, and engage your team. Your success is now their success, so encourage autonomy and seek their advice, not just their feedback. That way you can continuously improve and achieve both your career goals and your team’s.

And if you’re looking to continuously improve, uplevel your skills, and learn the latest in marketing technology, be sure to sign up for the Activate Virtual Experience on May 14-15. We hope to see you there!

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