CMO Insights: Forget Mentors, Get Sponsors

an interview with
Sydney Seiger CMO, TXU Energy

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Admittedly, I’m a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions and an even bigger fan of following through on them.  Writing a book had been on my list for several years and finally, 2015 was the year I checked that one off.  Yeah for me!  As for you, especially those of you who are not at the latter stages of your careers, here’s a big item to add to your 2016 list and perhaps one to scratch off it — win over a sponsor and forget about finding a mentor.

What? Forget about finding a mentor?  You thought mentors were the ticket to success, right?  Well, I have news for you or more accurately put, Sydney Seiger, the CMO of TXU Energy, has a big idea for you — get a sponsor at your current job who can and will support your career development.  As Seiger notes in our interview below, “Sponsors are advocates and the relationship feels like more of a two-way street.”  And just in case it isn’t obvious, sponsors are earned not wished for.  Sponsors are generally the result of working for an incredibly demanding boss, seeking criticism, responding to it and then exceeding his or her expectations.

For more startling insights from the winner of Rising Star Award by The CMO Club read on:

Drew: Can you talk about one of your marketing initiatives in 2015 that you are proudest of?  

I’m most proud of the new perspective I’ve brought to my new role and to the entire TXU Energy enterprise – not just the marketing department.  Specifically, this year, I’ve championed the importance of the customer experience in everything we do – from the way we create products and offers, to the way we communicate with and service our customers and prospects.  By creating and introducing ‘The X Factor’  to the organization, I’ve repositioned the X in our brand name (quite literally the center of our brand) to represent the customer eXperience that everyone – from the front office to the back office  – plays a critical role in shaping.  By organizing our efforts and communications around persona segments, implementing shared customer-based outcome metrics with our internal and agency partners, and starting and ending with the customer experience, we have fundamentally changed the way we approach our business and our customers and our prospects.  The results?  We are having a record breaking year – the strongest company and marketing performance in nearly a decade.

Drew: You’ve achieved quite a bit in a short period of time.  To what do you attribute your success thus far?

Hard work, a background in advanced analytics, an inquisitive approach, an ability to find actionable insights in data, and building a strong network of internal and professional relationships.

Drew: If you were addressing a bevy of marketers at the beginning of their careers, what advice would you give them to help them reach the CMO position? 

Be positive – and active – about learning, growth, and change.  Read more.  Ask for complex job assignments.  Go beyond your original area of expertise.  Understand business drivers and implications.  Look outside of your industry for ideas and inspiration.

Drew: Do you have a mentor or is there a person in your career that has been particularly helpful? How important is having a mentor?  

I have had several ‘informal’ mentors – several that didn’t realize they were at the time!  I’ve also been fortunate to have had sponsors in my career; I’ve found that sponsors are more impactful than mentors. Formal ‘mentors’ feel a little forced and one-sided to me. Sponsors are advocates and the relationship feels like more of a two-way street. A former boss and (now retired) CMO, Dan Valentine, comes to mind as a sponsor.  Dan was almost impossible to please, offered me stretch assignments that took me out of my comfort zone, and provided me with his broad perspective and critical feedback.  I worked my hardest to make him look good, and in turn, he championed my career.  Julie Cary, another former boss and CMO at La Quinta, is another sponsor that comes to mind.  She is whip smart, articulate, insightful, full of energy, and most importantly, she always made me feel that she cared about me personally and professionally.  While I worked for her only a short time, I frequently find myself asking: “What would Julie do?” I strive to make my team feel the way she made me feel whenever I had an interaction with her.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome? 

Continuing to stay ahead of the competition and relevant to the customer in a category that is incredibly competitive (60+ active competitors with over 300 offers in the market at any given time).

 

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