Over the years, I have honed my craft to be a highly qualified web strategist. I learned the hard way… I failed many times. I'd love to say that all my failures were early in my career. But, I am smart enough to know that it's important to fail to improve. I have been fortunate to have many great people on my team that have picked up my slack.
I see companies (agencies, corporate America, and nonprofits alike) hiring for strategists. The problem is that most who call themselves strategists are content to simply work on a few tactics. I am confident that strategic thinking requires tactical understanding. However, strategists are often simply using a checklist to say they have done all the marketing they need to do.
A Qualified Strategist
If you are or want to be a web strategist, here are the top six qualifications you should exhibit. You should expect your hiring manager to build questions and tests around these skills. If they don't test you on these things then they may not know who to evaluate your skill. These aren't in any particular order and there are more to consider, but these are what I consider to be the most important.
I tend to think the best career path for a strategist starts in sales. One of the most common reasons a strategist fails is an inability to bring others to his or her way of thinking.
Very often over the course of my career as a strategist, I had to help my clients understand why what I was proposing was going to solve their problems. In addition, my job was to find other problems we could solve. As a strategist, you must look from a sales person's perspective. If you can't think like a salesperson, you will always leave opportunities on the table.
If you are a strategist in a technology field (web is technology related, in case you didn't know) then you must embrace technology. You must seek out new and innovative ways to do things. You can't just go through the motions of technology. You can't live on your 20 years of industry experience. You have to be willing to test and try new things. You can't afford to throw up your hands and say, "well, I'll make sure that someone else on my team knows how to do that."
If you've followed me for any period of time, you'll know that I try to learn everything I can. As of the writing of this article, I hold 37 HubSpot certifications. My view is that if I don't take the time to understand how things work then I can't direct a team of developers or marketers to build something amazing. I recommend checking out HubSpot Academy.
I wrote before that strategic thinking requires tactical understanding. It's impossible to develop a plan without understanding how all the pieces fit together. In fact, you have to understand more things than you will ever use.
This does not mean that as the strategist you have to specialize. As the strategist you have to be the best generalist. You need subject matter experts that can take your plan and make it work. And they need to be strategic in their thinking of their areas as well.
As a strategist you should be a leader in your agency or marketing team. People will look to you for guidance and direction. You are not a manager. Your job is to lead, guide, coach, teach, and create.
Thinking about learning technology and tactics (from above), as a strategist, you might have to learn something new for the sole purpose of teaching others. If you aren't willing to actually take the time to learn then you can't properly call yourself a strategist.
Web development and web marketing are only effective if they support business goals. As a strategist, you'll get plenty of requests that won't solve the organization's business goals. You must be business-savvy enough to be able to have a credible discussion on those business goals. You have to understand why the P&L works the way it does and your impact on that P&L. You have to know how business development and operations tie to what you do. It doesn't mean you need to have a business degree, but take time to learn and understand how business works.
You always wondered if you'd ever use math in your life. Well, as a strategist you will. You will use math every day. You'll be figuring out how budgets align. You'll be looking at stats from analytics. You'll be creating spreadsheets to evaluate data (that means you need to be awesome at Google Sheets or Excel). If you don't have natural ability in math, make sure you build those skills. You have to math things up a lot.
Wrapping it Up
We haven't even discussed other qualifications you might need as a strategist like forward thinking, ability to take complicated topics and distill them into bite-sized chunks, ability to teach, talent in writing, some level of artistic ability to create presentations and documents, and a whole slew of other skills. A strategist, after all, is a senior position requiring experience.
If you want to be a strategist, it's going to take a lot of time and effort. You have to work hard and always be up to speed on so many things. If you are hiring a strategist, know that no two will be the same. If you are replacing a current strategist, I guarantee your new strategist will approach strategy very differently and you have to be okay with a 3-6 month ramp up.
Embrace the failures. Work for the successes. It will pay off.