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Think You've Got What It Takes to Switch Industries?

What You Need to Make the Leap -- and Five Tips for When You Land

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As you move up the leadership ladder, you may reach the metaphorical fork in the road that can lead to more-exciting marketing opportunities outside your current industry. Or perhaps you've already decided to forge your own path to a new industry. Either way, if you have developed a strong foundation of marketing disciplines and have mastered the complexities of multiple distribution, media and marketing segments, your skills may transfer well into another industry.

The good news for executives willing to make the switch to a new industry is that often the key marketing talent a particular company needs cannot be found inside the company or its industry. In fact, since 2000, more than 62% of Spencer Stuart marketing candidates have changed industries vs. 55% between 1995 and 1999.

Marketers who stay in one industry generally are viewed by potential employers as having narrow frames of reference. Candidates who successfully make the switch to a new industry demonstrate that they can apply their talents in a new environment. And executives who effectively transfer several times will find that the opportunities for which others are willing to consider them increase exponentially.

Getting an advantage
When considering a company in another industry, evaluate its market share and how the company's challenges will play to your strengths. Seek situations that will allow you to directly leverage your experience. Also consider such factors as company reputation, anticipated company growth and opportunity to build something new.

Marketers who successfully jump industries often exhibit traits such as high intelligence, tenacity, adaptability, ability to deal with ambiguity, willingness to listen, patience, and persuasion and influencing skills.

Good candidates also are effective networkers -- they need to be. Marketers who are new to an industry may not know all the major influencers and thought leaders, so they need to have interpersonal skills that will build bridges. And marketers are likely to make successful transitions if they are able to learn, adapt and influence in new settings.

Once you've secured a leadership role in a new industry, there will be challenges. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

LEARN THE COMPANY'S BUSINESS.

Before imposing your own ideas, know the industry, the competition and the distribution channels.

DEVELOP NEW WORKING RELATIONSHIPS.

Understand key personalities as early on as possible.

IDENTIFY THE POWER STRUCTURE.

This will help you understand the hierarchy of decision making as well as the culture you are walking into -- who is and is not supportive, and where the real influence resides.

BUILD CREDIBILITY.

Part of this process is explaining, selling, justifying and teaching when presenting new strategies. This will help your reporting team and other leaders buy into your plan.

MANAGE CHANGE.

Use fact-based decision making, incorporating strategic perspective and analytical skills, to persuade the organization of the need for change.

Most of these challenges can be expected, but you also need to prepare for unexpected challenges. Many inter-industry marketers report that they weren't expecting their new companies to resist change. To manage this setback, first understand the organization's level of commitment to change before tackling new efforts. Entrenched cultures can be difficult to change, so keep an open mind during the early meetings and be conscious of how you come across to certain groups of people -- especially those who have been with the organization the longest.
Chris Nadherny is a senior consultant with Spencer Stuart and leads the firm's direct- and interactive-marketing practice. He has conducted searches for presidents, CEOs, general managers, chief marketing officers, and top sales and client-services executives.
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