woman working remotely on a laptop and phone, plate glass window and high rise behind her
PHOTO: WoCintechchat // Christina Morillo

2020 was marked by a pandemic, social injustice and uncertainty at the global level. 2021 is starting off on the same note. Looking at this from a customer engagement perspective, we've not only been dealing with all of these changes as consumers, but we've also had to manage with them in our everyday work.

Quickly upending an entire year’s worth of planning because of a pandemic? Check.

Figuring out how to respond to the social injustices that were prominently on display last summer both at personal and professional levels? Check, check.

Navigating the resurgences of COVID-19, uncertain vaccine statuses, and general uncertainty as it related to the US election? Check, check, check.

The skills that were needed to execute the initial 2020 marketing plan were much different from those that we needed to make it successfully through the end of the year. My firm, Braze, asked its Bonfire customer community of more than 2,500 customer engagement practitioners to weigh in on the skills they picked up last year that will also be invaluable in 2021 and beyond. Customer engagement spans many different functions and titles, and you’ll notice an interesting theme: more technical roles needed soft skills to be successful, while marketers tended to lean towards coding and analytical skills in 2020.

Learn to Code to End Reliance on Engineering and BI Teams

Business intelligence software is becoming more commonplace for marketers, and it’s also one of the key tools needed for a successful customer engagement strategy. Reuben Raman, senior product marketing manager at cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform Splice, learned how to develop LookML code, a language for describing dimensions, aggregates, calculations and data relationships in an SQL database. The desire to learn LookML code stemmed from his desire to connect his customer engagement dataset with his product analytics dataset in Looker. Ultimately, he wanted to “be more agile and make quicker decisions with insights from data without needing to bother the engineering [or] data team.”

As a former engineer, Karan Gupta, head of CRM at “pay-as-you-go” subscription company Grover, went back to his engineering days and learned SQL. He noted the importance of making data-driven decisions ranging from optimizing subject lines to creating more advanced audience segments. He adds, “learning this language brings so much autonomy [and removes] dependencies on [business intelligence] teams while being able to execute, automate and iterate faster. Having [a product analytics tool like] Amplitude now in our stack put this goal on hold in 2020, but [I] definitely plan to conquer it in 2021.”

Barry James, a marketing automation specialist at personal budgeting company You Need a Budget started learning how to shred the bass guitar. He also honed his HTML/CSS skills and plans to expand those skills to include general web development in 2021. “Not having to wait for an engineer or developer to launch new email and in-app message campaigns has been really helpful this year,” said James.

Related Article: B2B Marketing Capabilities Evolve to Meet 2020's Demands

Connect, Listen and Facilitate

All of us can now sympathize with being completely remote for most of the year. It’s easy to feel disconnected and out of the loop. More often than not, things get lost in translation. Colleen Garrity, product manager at the all-in-one software for Amazon sellers Helium 10, took that last part quite literally. She started learning Russian. The reason? "To better connect with my remote engineering team at my new job (and make them laugh when I try to pronounce things!). It’s hard when we haven’t met in-person, and this was a great way to forge a more human relationship."

Francisco Abrego, digital communications manager at automotive media company MotorTrend encouraged people to listen. He said, “I think the best lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is to listen. Given the changes and things happening in [the US], the best way for me to help is to listen. As a father, I knew this skill was important but I’ve honed in on it in 2020. Not only listening to my children but to co-workers, to friends, and most importantly, to those who don’t have the same view as me. The only way to change things for those that are in a different situation than ours is to really listen to what they have to say.”

Finally, everyone has struggled with spicing up virtual meetings. At this point, I’ve already played COVID bingo many times, yet for some reason, I still like to be muted when I talk. Jeremy Stern, principal analytics architect at mobile innovation agency WillowTree, focused on learning how to better facilitate remote meetings and workshops. “Finding ways to keep clients (and even team members) engaged and excited while discussing goals, needs, and insights in a virtual setting can be challenging, but [it] has taught me techniques that will even translate to in-person workshops and conversations in the future.”

What about you? If you learned any new skills in 2020, please share them in the comments.  

Related Article: Whatever Happened to Your Company's Pre-Pandemic Plans?