By: Lauren Lokker
It takes more than just a background in marketing to make you a successful inbound marketer. In fact, you might be surprised at the wide range of the soft skills you need to succeed at an inbound marketing agency.
Just over a year ago I joined Spitfire Inbound as an intern in my final year of university. While I’ve been working and studying for the majority of my adult life, this was my first job at an inbound marketing agency – and I didn’t really know what to expect.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that hard skills are just the tip of the iceberg in this industry.
In fact, while it helps to be tech savvy and have a good understanding of the inbound methodology, your hard skills alone are not enough to excel as an inbound marketer. Soft skills make up a surprisingly large portion of the job. From simple skills like time management, to having a high EQ (emotional intelligence), successful inbound marketers share a lot of common personality traits.
I asked the Spitfire team which soft skills they think every inbound marketer should have. . . and the results were unanimous. Here’s our team’s list (in no particular order) of seven soft skills that everyone in inbound marketing should practice.
#1 | Curiosity
Curiosity is often seen as a childlike quality. Children are notorious for asking 101 questions about anything and everything.
Image source: Giphy
As adults, asking questions is often discouraged, as many people see this as a sign of weakness or lack of knowledge. As a result of this stigma, we often don’t ask a question for fear of being ridiculed. However, adults actually stand to gain a lot by embracing their inner child – asking questions to find “the reason behind the reason” as Alison Leishman (Strategic Director) explains.
Curiosity may lead you down the rabbit hole to some pretty amazing discoveries. Image source: Giphy
While intelligence is important, curiosity is equally important – and often overlooked.
In fact, curiosity paves the way for many of the soft skills on this list. Without curiosity, it’s difficult to improve skills like the ability to be analytical, agile, creative or driven.
In a fast paced industry like inbound marketing, a curious mind and hunger for knowledge gives you the advantage when it comes to keeping up with trends and learning new skills. CIO magazine writes, “Intellectually curious people are typically bored with routine, they’re more willing to accept ambiguity and are rarely comfortable with conforming. These types of workers are always interested in the next best thing, and are more likely to look at how they can improve the day-to-day business.”
The benefit of having a team of curious staff is that they challenge each other to find creative solutions to any problems that arise. Curiosity breeds team spirit and collaboration, with everyone bouncing ideas off each other.
Curious staff understand the value of investing in themselves
A person with an inherent hunger for knowledge spends countless hours of their personal time researching ways to do their job more efficiently. ‘
CIO magazine writes, “Technology and the challenges that come with it change month over month, especially in mobile. Those that don’t continue to grow will become outdated rather quickly and provide less value to their teams and the company”.
Curious staff are the type of talent you want to attract and retain. Not only do these employees follow a path of constant self-improvement, but they’re not deterred by failure. Curious people understand that every failure is an opportunity to learn. They are highly analytical, and will pick apart a failed project to get to the bottom of what went wrong. This ensures that the same mistakes are avoided next time around.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions (no matter how silly they may seem)
“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” – Chinese Proverb.
Darren Leishman (Spitfire’s MD) regularly quotes this advice – in fact you’ll even find it in his email signature. Developing this highly undervalued soft skill will help your career development in any industry, but it’s absolutely crucial to inbound marketing. Read our article, Stay curious: How continuous skills development will motivate your staff, to find out how you can build a culture of lifelong learning in your business.
#2 | Agility
If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s change. No project ever goes exactly according to plan – that’s why agility is such an important skill to master.
When your whole world’s turned upside down, it’s important to be able to find your feet as quickly as possible. Image source: Giphy
There are three main aspects to agility: your willingness to embrace change, your ability to implement change and the flexibility you show while adapting to change.
People who demonstrate agility aren’t easily flustered. They’re able to roll with anything that comes their way – helping them continue to perform well under pressure. Most importantly, agility helps staff maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of uncertainty or would-be disaster.
Whether it’s filling in for an absent team member, or managing a crisis, inbound marketers need to be dynamic enough to juggle multiple responsibilities, without dropping a ball.
#3 | Creativity
No, you don’t need to be Van Gogh to be a successful inbound marketer. When we talk about creativity as a soft skill, we’re not referring to your ability to draw or paint. Creativity comes in all shapes and forms, one of which is the ability to use lateral thinking to solve complex problems.
People often misunderstand creativity, thinking that one needs to be an artist, designer or musician to be creative. Image source: Giphy
Gestalt psychologists (a school of thought which looks at the mind and human behaviour as a whole) define creativity as something that generates fresh ideas, insights, or solutions using imagination, rather than using logic or reason.
As an inbound marketing strategist, you need to be able to come up with creative ways to help your clients address their clients’ pain points. When it comes to inbound marketing, creativity (in conjunction with data analysis) is crucial to the success of your campaigns.
If you’re a good problem solver, you’re most likely a creative thinker too. Image source: Giphy
Creativity leads to innovation and this is what sets you apart from your competition.
“Creative leadership recognises the risk in trying new things and doesn’t fear failure” writes Forbes Magazine. “Creativity is perhaps the key attribute most needed and desired to address our 21st century business challenges. […] Creativity begins with an invitation and the problems we face have given marketers an invitation to lead like never before.”
#4 | Analytical
To get the most out of your marketing efforts, you need to be able to prove your return on investment (ROI). That’s what makes the inbound methodology so unique.
A talented inbound marketer will be able to tell you exactly who opened your latest email blast, how people engage with your content and why you’re struggling to get traffic to your website. But all this data is useless if you don’t know how to turn this information into actionable insights that can direct your future strategies.
Navigating your way through all the data, to optimise your client’s account for conversions, requires a combination of logic and creativity. Image source: Giphy
It’s not enough to be a creative thinker alone. One of the most important skills you need as an inbound marketing strategist, is the ability to analyse data and translate this data into a story which illuminates your buyer’s journey, and helps you drive conversions.
You need to combine your creativity with sound logic, to be able to overcome any challenges that come your way.
Logic (and the ability to be analytical) goes hand in hand with observation. Image source: Giphy
Successful inbound marketers are highly observant
To fully optimise your campaigns, you need to be highly observant and pay attention to even the smallest of details.
This means looking at your campaigns in real time and retrospectively, to establish whether or not they’ve met the goals outlined in your initial strategy. You need to be able to critically identify any weak areas of your campaign, so that you can optimise your future marketing efforts for success.
#5 | High emotional intelligence (EQ)
The ability to empathise with others is linked to a high EQ. Empathy is critical in marketing as you need to be able to understand what motivates people. Not only do you need to be able to understand what makes your buyer personas tick, but you need to be able to understand your clients and colleagues too.
Inbound marketing is all about building relationships – and you can’t build strong relationships unless you understand (and can communicate effectively with) people.
“Workers with high EQ are better able to work in teams, adjust to change and be flexible. No matter how many degrees or other on-paper qualifications a person has, if he or she doesn’t have certain emotional qualities, he or she is unlikely to succeed,” writes Entrepreneur Magazine.
What is EQ, and why is it important for career development?
Take a look at HubSpot’s short video on the importance of EQ in business:
People with a high EQ possess the following key qualities:
- You’re able to admit when you’re wrong or at fault
- You’re able to park your ego – gracefully accepting constructive criticism
- You’re able to remain professional in a conflict situation
- You’re open to (and welcome) feedback
- You’re a skilled negotiator, and can easily come to amicable resolutions
Unless you learn to park your ego when receiving feedback, you won’t be able to work collaboratively with your team. Image source: Giphy
Self-awareness and introspection are critical to developing your EQ
If you’re wanting to improve your ability to empathise and develop your EQ, you need to practice introspection and self-awareness.
“Self-awareness is a critical element of career success. People who know their own strengths and weaknesses perform better on average than those with any of the other skills. A Cornell study found that accurate self-awareness was the greatest factor in predicting leadership qualities and career success” writes Employee Connect, HR software provider .
Your ability to understand your own shortcomings (and work on them) will enhance your ability to work collaboratively with others.
People with a high EQ are extremely collaborative
You’re probably familiar with the saying “many hands make light work”. In a business, this couldn’t be more true. A cohesive team that works together will ultimately deliver better results.
Successful inbound marketers know when to ask their team for help (and when to offer an extra pair of hands to their colleagues). Image source: Giphy
Being collaborative is the ability to share ideas and work together for the greater good of the business. This means that sometimes you need to be willing to step outside of your role. Whether you’re helping a colleague set up for an event or taking something off a busy friend’s plate, you need to keep your client’s goals top of mind at all times.
Some of the key qualities which make a person collaborative include:
- Being a team player
- Being sociable (not necessarily an extrovert, but you’re a people person)
- Being an active listener
- Having excellent communication skills
Working collaboratively increases creativity
Brainstorming together as a group challenges your team to view things from different perspectives, allowing you to come up with holistic strategies. Collaboration also allows everyone a chance to voice their opinions. This encourages your team to make meaningful contributions because they know their input is valued by their colleagues.
Here at Spitfire Inbound, we believe that working collaboratively is the key to delivering the best results for our clients. So much so, that it’s actually one of our core values as an inbound agency.
#6 | A positive attitude
What sets successful inbound marketers apart from the rest, is their ability to always look at the bigger picture.
Always look for the positives. A positive attitude will not only serve you well in business, but it’ll enhance your life in general. Image source: Giphy
Having a positive attitude means that you’re self-motivated, driven and persistent.
You approach everything as a learning experience, and you’re not deterred by failure. This makes you uniquely qualified to turn even the most dismal circumstances into an opportunity.
A positive attitude can increase your productivity and motivate your team
“Your attitude is a form of expression of yourself. You can choose to be happy, positive and optimistic or you can choose to be pessimistic and critical with a negative outlook on your workday. […] positive thinking and a good attitude help better your psychological well being and help you cope better under stressful situations at work. If you display a good attitude, your co-workers will as well, making it easier to communicate and get along in the workplace,” writes Livestrong.
People who approach life with a positive attitude are naturally more productive. They know what needs to be done to succeed, and inspire others to do the same.
#7 | Disciplined and organised
Inbound marketers need to be disciplined and organised.
Marketing is a fast-paced, deadline oriented industry. Although it’s a collaborative role, inbound marketing strategists need to be able to work independently, without solicitation. This requires staff to be consistent and conscientious in everything they do.
Proper planning prevents poor performance – these are the five P’s of success. Image source: Giphy
Some of the key qualities of discipline and organisation include:
- Excellent time management
- Being both deadline and detail oriented
- Having a good work ethic
- Having a good memory (and writing things down if you don’t)
- Having the ability to self-manage
- Using your initiative to preempt delays or stumbling blocks
As you can see, it takes a dynamic set of soft skills to succeed in inbound marketing. However, you don’t need to panic if you don’t have all of these skills just yet. Soft skills come with experience. You can learn and practice many of the skills on this list, all you need is the drive to learn. In the wise words of Darren Leishman, stay curious!
Spitfire Inbound offers a wide variety of continuous skills development programmes, teaching your team all the hard and soft skills they need to successfully implement inbound marketing and sales.
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