A CMO’s Strategy to the Highest Knowledge Level Possible

A CMO’s Strategy to the Highest Knowledge Level Possible

16th May 2014

Welcome to the Friday Commentary. In this series every Friday experts will shine a light on the digital industry. Where are we heading, what is going on and how should we approach this as decision makers? This Friday it’s our own founder: Bas van den Beld, who talks about training.

Wing Yee Lee getting attendees to do Acupuncture

My main job consists of four elements: running State of Digital, speaking, consulting and training marketers in Digital Marketing aspects.

In each of these elements consistently the same thing comes to the table: marketing teams want to learn digital, they want to increase their knowledge, but they don’t know how.

Many CMO’s seem to run into this problem: I want my team to be up-to-date on digital marketing, but what do I do to train them? Train them in house? Send them to events? Have them sign up for online training sessions? Or do we send them to different training sessions on different topics?

And what to do after the training sessions? How to get the learnings across to the entire team?

These questions I noticed play a big role in a CMO’s life, because a CMO is not just responsible for the newest campaign, she or he is also responsible for the team and their knowledge growth.

[Tweet “A CMO also carries responsibility for the knowledge growth of their marketing team”]

Events: determing the topics

When I am at conferences there are always different types of people within the audience. I could see all of them this week at SMX London again (be sure to get the ebook we are publishing on that by the way): aside from the regular bunch (speakers, conference bloggers etcetera), there are different types present:

  • the ones that want to learn new strategies and tactics;
  • the ones that want to know ‘what is going on’ in general in the industry;
  • and finally those that are there because the opportunity came to get out of the office and spent some fun time with colleagues at an event.

I will discard the last group for now. They have their purposes (they make the social events a lot of fun for example) but they don’t play a big role in this article. Let’s focus on the other two.

It differs very much from conference to conference how much knowledge you can actually get out of it. And it also depends on your own knowledge level. But if I’m really honest, most of the ‘tactics’ that are being discussed at conferences I already know about. Simply because they are not much different from what is being blogged about.

There are always a few that I hadn’t heard of yet and will definitely go and try out, but if I would attend a conference just for that reason, I think it would not be worth the money. A day of research in the office would probably bring me more.

Besides, because there are so many talks, the information is very fragmented, so you need to be in the right talk to get the right tactic (one of the reasons we are doing the e-book is exactly this by the way, we want to make sure the reader takes away the right tactics and strategies).

Ajit Sivadasan Keynote Day 1 (2)

So what does make a conference worth while going to? First of all a conference is great for networking, so as a CMO you have to think about who you send to the conference. And yes, the ‘party-people’ can help there. Every business should have ‘networking goals’ at an event. Not necessarily to sell, but to meet certain people, to get in touch with certain tools and to find other businesses you may work with in the future.

To me a conference however is mostly about getting a feel with where things are going and getting a grip on what things you should be looking into in more depth. A conference is not the place where your digital marketing team will gain the most tactical knowledge, but it can gain a lot of strategical knowledge.

[Tweet “A conference is mostly about getting a feel with where things are going and whats important”]

At an event you will always find that many of the speakers will have a similar ‘message’ they want to get across. In the case of SMX for example one of these messages was definitely ‘engagement’: you need to focus a lot more on engagement with your audience within your digital strategy. Now that’s a lesson learned and to take home.

But it doesn’t end there.

When the team members who went to the conference come back from the event, the actual work is just starting. They have to translate what they picked up into next steps on learning and strategy. Yes, they will have tactics they can try out, but from an event the most important follow up should be: how are we going to learn more about what we learned.

[Tweet “The follow up of an event should be: how are we going to learn more about what we learned”]

The ‘lessons learned’ should be filtered out and the questions which should be asked next are for example:

  • what is the main focus of our strategy based on the outcomes of the event?
  • which topics do we need to learn more about?
  • who in our team needs to know about what?
  • where can we learn more about this?

At an event you will find the direction you should be heading to, not the actual vehicle with which you will drive in that direction.

Once this is determined you can focus on the next and important steps: how do we get the knowledge about these topics?

For this there are different ways. You can do a lot of research yourself, by digging into the available blogposts online or by reading books, finding the right e-books to download or finding follow up events.

The most reliable and futureproof solution however is to find training on the different topics. You now know in which areas you need to learn more so it is much easier to find the right training instead of just sending your team to training sessions hoping they will pick up ‘something’.

Choosing the right training for you and your team

There are different types of training and based on the knowledge level of your team, the topics which came out of the event(s) and the available resources and budget you choose what fits your team best:

Internal training

When you have a group of knowledgeable people already within your organisation, you could consider having them train others. You create a ‘train the trainer’ principle in which knowledge gets exchanged between your team members.

This will require a lot of guidance but it can be very beneficial, especially if your budget is limited.

Hiring a trainer

Hiring a trainer is probably the most secure one when it comes to knowledge. You can determine the topics together with the trainer and your team will get a custom made training session (assuming you hired the right trainer ) which will address the exact right topics you filtered out of the events, the knowledge of the trainer and the blogposts you read.


Pre-fab courses

You can also send team members to ‘pre-fab courses’. Now that sounds bad, but really isn’t. These training courses usually focus on specific topics so you can choose the courses, which fit within your set goals. You probably need several different ones to get all team members to learn what they need to learn.

Online training

Finally there is online training. Even though e-learning has been around for over a decade, online training courses seem to be only just getting popular in the past few years. There are complete training courses available or you can choose to pick out webinars based on topic (and yes, we are going to offer training courses and webinars here on State of Digital!). These vary from free ones to paid ones. Just take a look at something like Coursera or academia.edu for example where you can get completely free training courses on different subjects.

The advantage of the online training is that in general it is a lot cheaper and it will take your team less time (no travel to start with), but like with other things you really need to make sure the team members actually attend the sessions and don’t let ‘e-mail take over’.

Your training strategy

So, what should your strategy be when it comes to training your team members in Digital Marketing?

Here’s the simple start:

  • make sure you always are informed yourself;
  • make sure there are always team members who look at the industry developments and trends;
  • visit events (or have team members visit them) to understand which trends are important for your strategy;
  • determine the topics you want your team (or yourself for that matter) to learn more on;
  • find the right training for your team members.

But after that, and this is really important:[Tweet “Have your team share and learn from each other. They should be teachers and trainees at the same time.”]

mandelaI am a big fan of the teach-the-teacher principle. Based on a teach-the-teacher principle Nelson Mandela set up the ‘Robben Island University’ when he was held prison. The inmates were teaching each other based on their own knowledge. It is one of the thoughts and ideas behind State of Digital as well, we want you to learn from others who also learned from others. We are all learning from each other. By combining those forces you well get a much more holistic approach to training and you will get much more knowledgeable people in your team.

So to get the best training for your team you need a three-step strategy:

  1. Understand what’s important (through events, blog posts, e-books etcetera)
  2. Find out where you can learn more on those topics and get trained (training, online courses etcetera)
  3. Make sure the lessons learned get shared with the entire team

So what’s your strategy? Let me know below!



Interested in our training options? Get in touch and find out which trainers fit your questions.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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