Sometimes a single blog post can’t span the breadth of what I’ve learned from a particular CMO. This is definitely the case with Steven Handmaker, CMO at Assurance, winner of The CMO Club Leadership Award who also joined me for the opening panel at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit. While the interview below focuses on his approach to leadership, it doesn’t cover what I subsequently learned about his approach to content and the highly effective marketing campaign he helped initiate for Assurance. So allow me to address that first.
Knowing how hard it is to differentiate insurance companies and the products they sell, Assurance decided to focus attention on its “quirky culture” thus putting employees front and center. With its campaign, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers,” Assurance not only found a source of highly distinctive content but also they tapped into a wellspring of goodwill both internally and externally. Assurance does many professionally-focused things to engendered this goodwill (i.e. training seminars & a “university” ) along with many just plain fun things like an employee Olympics, a casino night and sending digital high fives to top performers. These activities have catapulted Assurance to be among the top 5 places to work in Chicago and just as importantly, helped Assurance outperform many of its rivals. And frankly, that’s what I call leadership.
Drew: How would you describe / or how have others described your leadership style?
In terms of leadership style, I’m always aiming for inspirational. I work hard to have those I lead understand our ultimate vision and allow them the freedom and flexibility to use their talents to help us get there. Beyond inspiration, I’m a big believer in consistently showing appreciation.
Drew: Do you have any role models that you’ve admired over the years and if so, what did you pick up from him/her?
Personally, I worship at the altar of Bruce Springsteen. I mean, he is the ultimate Boss.I never miss a concert. Seen him in multiple cities, seen him in multiple continents — I am one of those. I could write a book (and may one day) on why he’s a great leadership role model for business. But for the purpose of this interview, let’s just say he’s a master storyteller, first and foremost, with legendary desire to connect with his audience. Something to which all marketers should aspire.
Drew: Can you talk about some of the actions you took as a leader in the last couple of years that were particularly challenging?
I work for an insurance brokerage whose primary business is B2B. When it comes to marketing technology, our industry is woefully behind the times. I’ve installed a state-of-the-art Eloqua automation system and have established an engaged audience of prospects and clients, rich with data. The challenging part is partnering with our sales people who are already tops in our industry, and convincing them to incorporate this new technology in to their process for even greater results. I’d say this work in continually ongoing.
Drew: How important is your peer to peer network to your on-going success? What are the biggest benefits of having a peer network?
Peer-to-peer for me has been invaluable. I’ve learned (stolen) so much from marketing leaders, particularly in other industries, which I’ve been able to take back and apply in my own environment. As I’ve said, nearly every industry is further along than insurance brokers – so it’s not too difficult to identify some amazing things we should have probably been doing 4 years ago.
Drew: What’s the best advice you’ve been given to guide personal / career success?
Anybody can follow a job description, do exactly what is asked, and produce positive results. If you really want to get noticed, if you really want to get ahead in your career, you need to ask yourself what else could you be doing that isn’t in your job description. What else should you just do to help those around you and the company succeed. Do that, and success will follow. If you apply this ideology to your personal life as well, you can expect the same results.
Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?
My own marketing team is growing and I’ve got some amazing talent I’d love to spend more time working closely with and nurturing. However, time management is something that ebbs and flows for me. Lately I’ve been ebbing and I’ve got to get my flow back!