When the PerformanceIN 50 gets published each year, there is always such a remarkable range of leadership qualities on display in the profiles. We are fortunate that we have strong leaders in this industry, especially as every aspect of the consumer journey is reshaped by a changing media environment. A few years ago, consulting firm Russell Reynolds produced a study of what makes an extraordinary chief marketing officer. When I first read it, I was struck by how the essential skills and traits that are so valuable in a marketing head jibe are exactly the winning traits for an affiliate and partner marketer.
I have since made that assertion in face-to-face meetings with senior executives at leading brands. Many look back at me perplexed. Puzzled because CMOs must be generalists, whereas partner and affiliate marketers have historically been viewed as highly skilled but narrow specialists – people working in a discipline vital to the success of, by poorly understood by the larger organisation.
It’s undeniable that partner marketers have specialised knowledge. You cannot just be dropped into this world and expect to succeed in it, especially in today’s competitive landscape. But thinking about affiliate and partner marketers solely as specialists do a disservice to the transferable qualities that make them so well suited to the C-suite. Here are a few of the qualities that Russell Reynolds identified as essential – I’m sure they resonate with anyone reading this.
Imaginative /abstract thinking styles / generators of imaginative solutions
Spend 10 minutes in partnership, and you quickly realise that this is anything but a place for cookie-cutter thinkers. Affiliate and partner leaders must constantly explore new ideas and approaches to drive outstanding business results. We are long past the set-it-and-forget-it phase of this industry.
In new partner recruitment, formulation of innovative commissioning and reward programs, even in the use of data for better decision-making, partner marketers must continuously test the boundaries of what’s possible. As consumer behaviours change, so too must effective engagement strategies.
The partnerships arena is constantly at the forefront of technologies and platforms like mobile, geo-location, and customer relationship management. Yes, of course, there are some “gimme” approaches at work in the industry. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deliver a big value coupon. But those who think this is a deep-discounts-only world need to meet us here in 2019.
Persistent / Decisive / Action-Oriented / Open to New Ideas
Once again, these are core affiliate leader traits. Partner marketers know that the only way to grow is to continuously experiment. Today’s bread and butter tactics may lose effectiveness overnight – we must constantly prepare for what’s next. Further, persistence is part of every partner marketer’s DNA as they explain for the 18th time that yes, partnership is profitable, brand-enhancing, and incremental. And that we have data to prove it.
Openness to ideas is at the heart of any successful business relationship. The best partner and affiliate marketers collaborate directly with their largest partners to identify new ways to improve conversion rates, revenue, and profit. At the same time, partner marketers must demonstrate fearlessness as they stretch the boundaries of technology and customer interactions to identify new sources of growth.
Outgoing / Able to Adapt to Different Audiences / Seek to Understand Others
Good social awareness – or emotional intelligence – is at the core of success in partnership. Affiliate and partnership leaders have so many stakeholders to juggle, so many people to persuade, and so many different perspectives to internalise and address seamlessly.
A partner marketer’s morning may begin with a finance team meeting, move on to collaboration with the brand team, then a QBR with a top 5 partner, and end with responding to feedback from social influencers. That takes social dexterity, a big dose of diplomacy, and a passion for working successfully with others.
Active and productive
Unconventional / Initiative Takers / Not Beholden to Structures
Partnership rarely gets all the resources it deserves, given its astounding contribution to company revenue and profit. Historically, brands treated it as a quirky channel one-step-removed from the mainstream. When things like budget and tech resources get doled out, partner marketers often find that they need to figure out a way around barriers and bureaucracy.
Further, partner marketers that wait for process to move in their favour often find themselves waiting forever. The channel has often been so successful because its leaders run counter to brand and business conventions. Fortified with the certainty that there is a better way.
Persuasive / Inclusive / Bold / Lead from the Front
Once again, it's difficult to see the words listed above and NOT think of partner leaders immediately. People who must fight and scrap for resources, who must work with others without being limited by others, who jump in head-first and start delivering results. Affiliate and the larger world of partnerships aren’t suited to wallflowers.
Partnership hasn’t always been the first place companies look when they are scouting for their next generation of leaders. But I’m guessing that is changing as more people recognise that great partner leaders are exactly the innovative business-builders that companies need running all of marketing. Perhaps this is true more than ever today, as we hear more about CMO role being given a broader purview and, at some major companies, morphing into titles like “Chief Growth Officer” and “Chief Brand Officer.”