Leadership in Marketing Q & A
Sameer Rahman - Group Director of Data Science at Edit and Chair of the CIM Wales Board.
Head in analytics, heart in marketing is the way Sameer describes himself.
His marketing career started somewhat unsually, in engineering and computer science, but that experience has proved invaluable for facing the industry's current challenges in his role at data science and technology agency Edit and as Chair for the CIM Wales Board.
Sameer's specialty is using marketing data to generate insights which genuinely change how marketing and business operates at a fundamental level. Read on to find out what has been essential to his success, what he believes is the biggest challenge facing marketers, and why today's marketers need to be 'T-shaped'.
Tell us a bit about how you got into your current role
My degree was in engineering and computer science, but then I did a Masters in business which gave me a taste for marketing. My first job was as a credit/debit officer for HMRC. I was there around 9 months, before moving to HBOS a business analyst. Then Lloyds took me on as a risk analyst. All three roles were very different.
I then fell into a role as Credit Risk Scorecard developer. I knew the analytics side wasn’t everything I wanted from my career. In my MBA I liked the marketing side, but how to get into that (type of) role was a bit of a misnomer, so when an opportunity came up for a marketing research manager I put my hand up. That started my marketing journey.
I suddenly realised digital marketing didn’t exist in a silo and I needed to learn more about marketing: strategy, planning, leadership. So that’s when I did my CIM qualification.
I was taken on by GoCompare to help them develop a marketing plan. I stayed there for 2.5 years, before taking on a newly introduced role with a London company as head of data science to try agency side. It was ideal for me. My interactions on the client-side taught me a lot about how to approach and deal with people at different levels.
What has been the key to your success?
Constantly being open to learning. I’ve never been complacent. You can’t be perfect, you can’t know everything, and you can learn from people at every level.
Also, not trying to do everything myself. As well as helping to develop others, delegating allows you to expand your own skills and widen your thinking.
Being a T-shaped marketer has also helped my career: they say start with depth, go into breadth; you’ve got to have depth of knowledge in one area, but you need the breadth of commercial awareness, leadership, knowledge of the business and to know about every aspect of marketing to some degree.
Which achievement are you most proud of and why?
My achievement as a leader is more about what other people around me have achieved. There are lots of people who I’ve mentored and coached who have gone on to senior roles which gives me immense pleasure, and others who have started as a graduate and have moved on fast within three years.
My own achievement would be more academic – being published in the Oxford University Journal without having any real knowledge of marketing or having worked in a marketing setting at the time.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Never be complacent. Always be open to learning and be open to ideas.
A big lesson for me was not to discount the benefit of experience and the little bit of magic in marketing. Data can’t dictate things; it can give you a direction, but it’s down to the individual to come up with the magic. You can’t become too rational because consumers don’t make decisions in a rational way; you need to bring out and be in touch with their emotions.
The other thing I learned quite quickly was the concept of innovation – customers can give you the evolution but not the revolution. Marketers need to look at what consumers are struggling with and find a way to solve the problem, not look for direct answers from the consumer.
Which 3 qualities do you think are most important for aspiring marketing leaders?
What do you think is the biggest challenge for marketing professionals in the workplace right now?
The profile of marketers has never been as high as say the likes of CFOS and CTOs, and with the data industry coming with the rise of CDOS and CIOs and CTOS, marketing is going to struggle more. Everything rests on technology, no one questions that. It’s the marketing they question. Internal engagement is very important; if marketers don’t make the whole organisation understand the value they bring, they’re going to struggle against the more tangible people. Retailers like John Lewis and Tesco are examples of those who do this well, and both have a marketing person at board level.
Do you think every board should have a marketing representative and why?
They should have a customer voice. Whether it’s the form of marketing, it depends. They need to have someone who’s close to the consumer and who can best bring what consumers want to the boardroom to dictate solutions, propositions and business transformation.
What advice would you give someone starting out in their marketing career?
Find out what your skills are, what you’re good at. Try and get into a job that suits them, and have the right attitude. I’m of the old saying ‘recruit for attitude, train for skill’. I look for whether candidates are forthcoming, optimistic, confident and open to learning.
Do you think the digital transformation will continue, and what impact will it have on business as a whole?
Digital transformation has the potential to change the whole business. It’s down to whether you understand what consumers are saying and the pressures they face. If you listen to them you may find the demand is still there, but they want ease of use, quicker delivery. You have to be very clever to understand what they’re saying and to develop your business in a way that suits their lifestyle. Digital transformation is allowing businesses to do that, but they need to have a vision for that transformation.
How easy is it to find the right marketing expertise for your team in this market?
The first thing I look at is whether a CV is tailored to the job. From a junior marketer perspective, I think the calibre is out there. I think what’s lacking is people giving them direction and mentoring them down the right path. So, they get lost and land up in a job that is not for them. It’s difficult, I think universities should be better at helping and mentoring.
Do you think it’s important that marketing and HR work together?
Absolutely, especially for internal comms. If marketing is working with HR, they’re doing great internal PR. HR are the voice of the employer and the ears of the employees and they have a very strategic role. This is where CMOs become important in raising the strategic importance. There are very few organisations using HR as their internal PR and that’s what marketing needs to do.
What can be done to inspire young people to choose careers in marketing to address the ‘looming talent crisis’?
I agree there is a looming crisis and people are moving towards tangible technologies, because marketing is very narrowly defined, and people don’t realise machine learning and AI can be applications of marketing. As marketers, we haven’t marketed ourselves or defined ourselves. The leaders in marketing need to open up and there needs to be more articles defining the wider scope of marketing in the modern digital world.
Like recruitment, marketing sometimes has a bad reputation. What can marketers do to combat that?
Defining what marketing is and how it brings value to the organisation. We know why it has a bad reputation, because it is narrowly defined. What we have to do is portray marketing as a profit centre not a cost centre, and in order to do that we need much more commercially savvy marketers and better communicators.