Ten years ago, I started a new job as a field marketing director at ServiceMax. Today, I’m the senior vice president of marketing, managing a team of 30 in a field of 550 employees. As a result of that success, I’m often asked for advice on how to scale the corporate ladder. I’d like to share some of my story and offer guidance to those in the early stages of their career, as well as anyone who feels stuck in their current role.
NOT EVERY PATH IS A TRADITIONAL ONE
It’s safe to say the vast majority of marketers with their eye on an executive role start their careers in product marketing or marketing communications. There’s a good reason for that. The kind of deep product expertise you get in a product marketing role is invaluable. And of course, being a good communicator is an important executive attribute in any industry.
But no matter what department you’re in, take a moment to identify the skills you’re learning in that role and evaluate how those skills can help you achieve your career goals. You may be surprised.
I started my career in events. Few would see that as a first step to the corner office, but it can be. In my events role, I helped product marketing leaders set up and execute their presentations and demos. I assisted analyst and public relations teams in getting their messages out through the media and across the industry. I helped communications teams produce and distribute materials and build the company brand. I learned the importance of demand generation and how to tie important metrics back to each and every event. I managed some of the largest budgets in the marketing organization and had to learn quickly that with big spend comes even bigger scrutiny. And I benefitted from regular executive interaction.
This exposure to others across all disciplines was important because it taught me how to work with people from a variety of departments. I learned their objectives and challenges, and I learned to anticipate their needs. This prepared me to run a marketing organization with diverse objectives, numerous challenges, and various teams that need my support to help ensure their success.
Inside ServiceMax, I’ve navigated my way through several positions that groomed and prepared me for my current challenge—including corporate communications, where I was responsible for building the brand and creating and broadcasting the company message. That kind of a role can help you fine-tune your communication skills and teach you to strategically pull multiple elements together in a way that creates a brand narrative and tells a cohesive story to the world.
Here are five things that can help you move your career forward.
1. EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE BASE
Marketing is multi-disciplinary. Most marketers have deep expertise in just one or two disciplines. Don’t be afraid to dip your toe into new areas. To successfully run a marketing organization, firsthand experience, a deep understanding of all the roles and responsibilities, and insight into the challenges your teams face will be very beneficial.
2. SEEK OUT A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP
Don’t look for a job—look for a career-building opportunity where you can grow and, in return, make a difference. I accepted the job at ServiceMax because it offered me flexibility and a brilliant team of experts to learn from. I believed that the leaders cared about my growth. In return for that opportunity, I committed myself to making a substantial impact.
3. SELECT A COMPANY CULTURE THAT MATCHES YOUR VALUES
Company initiatives that relate back to your values will benefit you and keep you engaged. For me, that has included everything from employee networks, resource groups, and opportunities to participate in community development, to initiatives around diversity and inclusion.
4. LEARN TO COMMUNICATE ACROSS THE ORGANIZATION
My experience in events exposed me to virtually everyone from the shipping department to the executive team. That turned out to be an important element in moving my career forward. A former employee of mine used to say “Speak to everyone as if they are the CEO.” This sentiment ensures you don’t take any contact or relationship for granted. Let’s face it, if you find yourself in conflict with one person, function, or department, how can you be trusted to help a team of people communicate, execute, and resolve conflicts quickly?
5. MAKE THE MOST OF THE POSITION YOU’RE IN
Don’t underestimate the value of your current role. Instead, consider how that role may be the right one at the right time to get you to the next level. Strive to succeed and learn everything you can while in your current position.
I’ll end with this: Seize every opportunity. I learned early in my career that I needed to let management know when I was ready for new challenges. Waiting for things to fall into your lap will only slow your progress, so take a risk and ask for what you want. You’ll be glad you did.
Liz Carter is the SVP of Marketing at ServiceMax with experience in high tech, cloud, SaaS, and communications.