10 Marketing Skills You Need to Climb the Corporate Ladder

Marketing lives in a state of constant evolution. Trends and technologies regularly emerge and change the way we interact with customers, prospects, and each other. 

Still, there are essential skills that stand the test of time. Whether you’re an individual contributor with aspirations of becoming a manager, or a director forging your path to become a VP, you need to master these marketing skills to prove yourself worthy of climbing the corporate ladder.

Top Hard Skills in Marketing

Hard skills in marketing are tangible, teachable, and often improve with time and experience. Mastering these marketing skills will put you in position for a promotion.

1. Data Analysis

Data-driven marketing is an essential component of business growth. In fact, Deloitte’s CMO Survey found that data analytics was the most common area for spending by marketers in early 2022, growing an incredible 40% in one year.

Regardless of whether you work in content, product, or demand generation, you must be able to measure and analyze your campaigns to prove return on investment. If you’re looking to move up the ladder, you should be proficient in basic reporting tools such as Google Analytics or Salesforce.

If you’re applying for a new role, be sure your resume contains strong metrics. For example, instead of saying, “I improved our website’s organic traffic through SEO initiatives,” say, “my SEO initiatives led to a 70% growth in organic traffic to the company’s website year-over-year.”

2. Communication

Excellent communication skills are a must-have in any leadership position. In fact, 89% of business leaders agree that communication is one of the most underrated professional skills. Even if you’re in a role that does not require frequent writing or public speaking, you’re still communicating with your colleagues, customers, and prospects every day. 

“Understanding your audience means speaking to them in the language they want to hear,” says Patrick Baynes, CEO of Nerdwise. And if you’re not a strong communicator, the consequences can be costly.

In marketing, effective communication is about inciting action. In order to do this, ensure your audience knows the “why” behind the action you want them to take. Why should they read this piece of content, sign up for a demo, or listen to your presentation? People will only act if there’s something in it for them. Make the benefit clear.

3. Technological Proficiency

Technology continues to change the way marketers operate on a day-to-day basis. With CRMs, content management platforms, marketing automation tools, social media, reporting analytics, and more, you need to be proficient in your company’s tech stack. Not only will this help you perform better in your current role, but it will also show your manager your range of technical skills and give them the opportunity to lean on you for bigger and more important tasks.

4. Project Management

“Marketing is as much a discipline as it is an art — and nothing is as disciplined as scoping and delivering a project,” Baynes says.

You’ll be pulled in many different directions as a marketing leader and will need to juggle multiple projects at once. This means staying organized, meeting deadlines, actively listening, and problem-solving. “Be ruthless about prioritization and stay focused on what’s most important. Seek inputs from others and ask questions when you’re confused,” says Justin Withers, senior vice president of strategy at ZoomInfo.

While you may feel tempted to say yes to every request thrown your way, it’s also important to know when to say “no,” or at least “not right now.” For example, recognize when a task is “too big with too little time” and negotiate suitable alternatives with your stakeholders. Quality trumps quantity.

5. People Management

Managing people goes hand-in-hand with climbing the corporate ladder. If you’re in a role where you manage one or more marketers, their success is your success. Facilitate an environment that encourages open and honest discussions about performance, and where your direct reports feel comfortable enough to come to you with problems and triumphs. Help them set goals (both work-related and professional development), and mentor them to help achieve those goals. 

Even if you’re in a role where you’re not managing people, there are still ways to prove you have leadership potential. For example, volunteer to help new members join your team by offering yourself as an onboarding resource and showing them the ropes. On top of that, go out of your way to help your teammates (even if it’s not your area of expertise) and answer their questions when you can.

Emotional intelligence is a critical part of managing people, so make sure you have a strong handle on your emotions (stay even-tempered and don’t let stress get the best of you!) while empathizing and responding kindly to the emotions of others. 

Top Soft Skills in Marketing

Experience and abilities are important, but it’s often the more personal, human qualities that separate a decent marketer from an exceptional one.

1. Adaptability

Marketers must constantly take on new tasks and responsibilities to respond to changing markets. A team member’s initial role when they join the organization often looks very different a year (or even a few months) later.

On paper, a candidate can be a perfect fit for a role, but if they can’t quickly adapt to unforeseen developments, they’re not likely to succeed. Growth is critical to marketing success and marketers should have the ability to leave old methods behind and pick up new tactics on the go.

“The people who I have seen succeed and move up the ladder most are the ones who are constantly learning and have a growth mindset,” Withers says. “Be adaptable, take in as much as you can, and don’t be content with where you are today.”

2. Collaboration

A strong marketing team does not consist of individuals with independent objectives. Rather, marketing success relies on team members who work in unison to fulfill shared goals and achieve overall business growth. 

You should be ready to observe your teammates’ methods, share ideas, ask for feedback, and offer assistance in difficult situations. According to Grammarly’s State of Business Communication Report, employees spend a whopping 49% of their time collaborating with others. 

You need to have strong rapport not only with your fellow marketers, but also with colleagues in different departments across the organization. This will help you develop a deep understanding of how marketing fits into the company’s larger picture and allows you to get more done as a team. Plus, hiring managers want to know you’re able to work with others to solve problems and will likely ask for specific examples.

3. Curiosity

The value of curiosity is often overlooked. When you join a new company, or even when you start a new role at your current company, you bring a fresh perspective that empowers you to challenge the status quo and ask questions about why things are done the way they’re done. 

Curiosity leads to change, so continue to dig deeper — even when you’re no longer new. Venture outside your comfort zone, study up on industry trends, observe competitors, and speak up during team meetings. Look to test new ideas and ways to improve. Don’t just think of yourself as a marketer, but rather as a scientist or researcher. This will make you a valuable asset to any marketing team.

4. Work Ethic

Having a strong work ethic is necessary if you wish to move up in any role. Your manager will notice if you’re diligent, focused, and willing to go the extra mile — and it will show in your work, too.

Alison Dennison, a talent acquisition specialist at ZoomInfo, has been recruiting marketers for the last eight years. She finds the candidates who succeed are typically those willing to push themselves. “It’s about believing in doing more than the status quo,” Dennison says. “Be a difference-maker. Have a one-team, one-dream mentality. Anyone who works hard and can think outside of the box is invaluable.” 

When someone asks you to do a task that doesn’t fall in your wheelhouse, think about how you can help before saying no. Can you figure it out or do you need to direct them to someone else? Regardless, a can-do attitude will go a long way in climbing the ladder.

5. Storytelling

Storytelling is a pillar of marketing. It’s easy to forget that “business-to-business” still means “person-to-person.” Regardless of where you sit in the marketing org chart, it’s important to build connections and inspire action through storytelling.

“People don’t want facts. They don’t want bullets. They want a story,” Baynes says. “It’s the fabric that’s woven through our collective culture. Storytelling makes you the most interesting person in the room.” The goal is to engage a prospect or customer’s emotions, such as their fears or aspirations, through words and design. This is difficult to teach, which is why it’s an invaluable soft skill in marketing.

Final Thoughts

If you want to get promoted, observe what your boss is doing and follow their lead. “The people on my team who I see as ready to be promoted don’t just do their day-to-day job,” Withers says. “Understand what your boss’ objectives are and raise your hand to jump in and support those different areas. Oftentimes, the work precedes the promotion.” 

Prove to your manager that they can count on you. This will lead to more opportunities and more visibility within your organization. If you’re still not up for a promotion when you believe you should be, talk directly with your manager or HR. Advocate for yourself, and above all else, be passionate about your work. It will show.