Salesforce recently conducted a survey of over eight thousand marketers from around the globe representing all shapes and sizes of organizations. Overall, the message was pretty darn positive: Growth IS the agenda and marketing DOES play a substantial role in turning growth strategies into tangible, measurable reality.

Source: Salesforce State of MarketingThe study—click here to download—tracks with much of what I’ve seen in the past year. Some 90% of the Salesforce study respondents agree that 2020 upped the ante with digital engagement and three-quarters of marketers now work…and collaborate…from anywhere. For CMOs, who in the face of unprecedented change managed to weather the storm, taking a break is NOT on the agenda as 70% indicate that they plan to continue to redefine success to match company goals.

It should come as no surprise that the only thing outpacing the rise of digital channels is the rise of data sources. With 78% of marketers indicating that their customer engagements are data-driven, this data surge should be expected. Even attitudes and definitions of metrics changed due to the pandemic with 78% of marketers indicating that they have changed or reprioritized their metrics in the past year, with the big shifts in prioritization of customer acquisition costs (+26%) and content engagement (+23%) while revenue growth remains the top metric being tracked.

So why the title of this blog…why lay down the hint that things might not be awesome? Don’t get me wrong, the story told through the State of Marketing report is incredibly positive and shares what I believe is a true and honest story of just how far Marketing has come, especially through the dumpster fire of a pandemic year like 2020. We deserve to have a state of marketing that is optimistic.

But a journalist didn’t once dub me the “Debbie Downer of Marketing” for no reason.

At first glance, there is nothing really that notable about the list of Marketer’s top priorities or their challenges. Similar to their top two priorities in 2020, marketers are prioritizing innovation and engaging with customers…with their top two challenges being engaging with customers and innovating. Yes…in that order…on both counts. Now, thanks to Salesforce providing access to the survey’s data via Tableau, I decided to take a dive into these findings…because if I am being honest, I got suspicious about this whole innovation is a top priority point.

What I found was that for the CMO, innovation doesn’t actually reign supreme. Instead, the priority (and the biggest challenge) is engaging with customers in real time and creative cohesive cross-channel journeys in the second priority spot. This tracks for me as CMOs are keenly aware that as customers have embraced digital channels so too have they embraced the expectation that their digital experiences should occur in the channel of their choice in their definition of real-time. It also tracks with marketing’s understanding that while they can imagine any number of journeys…it is the customer that is wholly in charge of their own experiences. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps the CMO up at night.

So, WHO is sweating innovation? Based on the data…marketing managers. Innovation stands at the top of the priority AND challenge chart…and what subsequently pushes innovation to the top of the overarching marketing data. This isn’t just innovation for innovation’s sake. Marketing managers are pushing boundaries and looking to innovate in order to achieve their biggest priorities and solve their greatest challenges. They are looking to solve the problem of HOW we engage in real time and HOW we orchestrate cross-channel journeys. All good, right? CMOs are looking long-term at how we craft the strategies, marketing managers are innovating to turn strategies into results.

All sunny in the state of marketing once more. So why do I keep bringing up cloudy skies? CMOs might not be setting marketing managers up for long-term success.

When asked to rate employee training teams receive, 47% of CMOs rate training as excellent…41% of marketing managers agree. Not a wide swath to be sure…but shouldn’t the recipients of the training be more enthused than the leader signing off on it? When you dig into what training is being offered, CMOs say that content marketing (47%), creativity (46%), data analytics (45%), communication (43%) and collaboration (41%) top the list. Managers shuffle the deck a bit, but for the most part agree: communication (48%), creativity (43%), content marketing (43%), collaboration (39%) and data analytics (37%).

Here’s where I get concerned…remember how marketing managers said their key priority and their top challenge was innovating…and remember how it was that innovation that could solve everyone’s big concern over real time customer engagement and cross channel journey orchestration. So why is it that campaign strategy (36%) and digital proficiency (34%) are, at best, in the middle of the pack for what marketing managers say their employers offer by way of training and support. Critical leadership skills like emotional intelligence, agility and adaptability and even resiliency rank far lower…and in an age of data dependence and digital innovation skills like data science and coding are near last.

In fact, the bottom three training opportunities listed by CMOs mirror the bottom three opportunities listed by marketing managers: data science (29%), coding (23%) and resiliency (22%).

Why are we training marketers to be successful in the year 2005 when our goals, priorities and challenges are distinctly SO 2025?

This isn’t to say that marketing skills like content marketing, creativity and communications aren’t important. We need to start upskilling based on what our teams, especially our managers and the functional teams on the ground fighting the good fight, are trying to solve…we need to train and educate so they can meet their own needs and expectations. They expect to be successful and to thrive. They WANT to innovate. So how are we helping that next generation thrive?

If there is a big ah-hah moment for me from this year’s State of Marketing report it is this: there is real cause to celebrate the resilience and fortitude of marketing, but the sun sets eventually. If we expect our digital tomorrow to be better than the dumpster fire we just survived, we need to start training teams to BE the marketers of tomorrow. Let’s start training for innovation, agility and resilience. Yes, let’s make sure content and creativity are still pumping through the veins of marketing, but let’s also remove the limitations of what a marketer can and can’t do. YES! A marketer can code. It IS possible. YES! A marketer can do more than just read a visualized data set…in fact, a marketer CAN pick up data science skills. And yes, in order to fulfill on that promise of humanizing marketing and engaging with each individual customer with empathy and contextual understanding, upskilling and uplifting marketers with emotional intelligence should be on the agenda right along with communication and collaboration.

We’ve all embraced marketing’s role as growth driver. Now, let’s get marketers ready for what comes next.