The power of peer and reverse mentoring
The power of peer and reverse mentoring in a world of marketing transformation (part 1)
By James Delves and Scott Allen
Peer to peer mentoring and reverse mentoring are currently hot topics in the world of marketing. Both can provide massive benefits for marketers - career ladders can be climbed more efficiently, mistakes avoided, and valuable business connections developed. So, why aren’t more people embracing it?
In short, it is often a misconception of the mentoring process and an uncertainty about how to take the first step. In this third article for the CIM Soft Skills series, I spoke to Microsoft’s Global Marketing Development & Strategy Director Scott Allen who shares his views on the power of peer to peer and reverse mentoring and its value to marketers.
How do you start a mentoring relationship?
Most mentoring relationships start with a question or challenge. These questions can originate from the business or the person themselves. Typical questions marketers face, which can trigger the need for some sort of mentor interaction are: ‘how can I deliver greater impact across the business?’; ‘how an organisation can stay relevant to changing customer buying behaviours?’; ‘how to leverage new digital marketing channels and techniques?’; ‘how do I jump start my career progression?’.
Reverse mentoring and peer to peer mentoring can help with a range of issues like this. Reverse mentoring pairs a younger employee with an executive team member. The younger employee can often bring new insight on topics such as technology, current trends or new ways of thinking. While the executive team member can help guide the career or development of the younger employee, helping them to avoid mistakes or introduce them to people.
Peer mentoring goes beyond two colleagues giving tactical advice to each other. It’s an opportunity for people at the same role or experience level to seek help, advice and support across a range of topics. I’ve noticed that for millennials and gen z-ers, it can foster a sense of connectedness and understanding of core values, which can sometimes be difficult when you first join an organisation. The result is a more connected diverse workforce, who often stay with you longer.
Marketers are often expected to be a source of information, bridging different departments, enabling the business to respond to market opportunities. Who exactly should marketers turn to, in order to start sourcing the answers? Can mentoring help foster important contacts?
Put simply, there is no one place to source all the intelligence and data you need, so you need to develop relationships in a number of places both within and outside of your business.
Most start by contacting their manager for suggestions or look to find the most experienced or influential person that they can. People also logically turn to someone in the same company or discipline area as themselves. I would always guard against only thinking like this and instead take a step back. There are four places I would look to foster relationships:
- If you can speak to the customers of your organisations, you will find they are a rich source of insight. If your organisation has a customer advocacy programme in place, it can enable you to quickly understand what your customers think and need – not just what you’ve been told or think they need.
- Similarly, social listening can be really powerful. There is an array of tools available which enable you to understand the conversations which are taking place online, helping you shape more effective content strategies and messages. At Microsoft, we’ve done a lot of work around what we call content resonance enabling us to understand what topics are being discussed externally and are most important across our customers and the market more accurately. This is more effective than just relying on the views from within the four walls of our offices in Reading and London.
- Research agencies are another place I look for answers. It’s good to have communications channels into both large and small research organisations if you can, as it gives you more of an accurate picture. Industry bodies like CIM are also an excellent source of information - I often use CIM reports and opinions in my conversations to underline points.
- Lastly, remember that valuable information can often be found from within your organisation. Talking to employees can provide you with valuable insight both from a corporate perspective and also from people’s opinions as consumers or business decision makers in the B2B world. Employees have come from other organisations and industries and valuable insights to provide.
Can you use reverse mentoring to gain new perspectives and opportunities?
Definitely, once you’ve tapped into some or all of these contacts you need to work out the best way to foster a relationship. Reverse mentoring can be a great way of securing the type of intelligence marketers require. For instance, talking to apprentices, gen Z's or millennials within your organisation can be hugely beneficial, as it can give you a new insight into the latest area of focus or the issues your facing. At Microsoft, we have also run what we call this our skills exchange. We do this with our customers and partners, as part of our marketing process, and have found it such a useful approach. I would take my team to meet with the marketing teams of our biggest customers and we would discuss: what marketing activities were working, new skills or technologies we thought were making a difference, how they were overcoming obstacles or if other sectors were doing things differently. This exchange of opinions and skills can really help eliminate any blind spots you might have.
Look out for part 2 of the interview, which will go live on Wednesday 30th October. The interview will tackle issues like: how to pick a mentor, progressing your career and top tips on how to get the most out of a mentor relationship.
There are free mentoring articles online and more information here. CIM offers members, a comprehensive mentoring scheme, which is accessible through MyCIM, matches aspiring marketing professionals to experienced mentors from a range of sectors.
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