Throughout my career on the agency and in-house side of public relations and marketing, I’ve come across all kinds of agency founders and leaders. Some operate at the 10,000-foot level, focused on cultivating new business, shaping the agency brand and building a strong team. Strategic leaders, some would say, though every leader has to be strategic at some level or they won’t be a leader for very long.

These leaders spend very little time deep-diving into the space their clients operate in or understanding the products, services, technologies clients deliver versus those of competitors. Others have been more technical and hands-on; they attend client conferences and have built reputations as domain experts – while also happening to run agencies. Finally, you have hybrid leaders that fall somewhere in between and arguably make up the largest percentage.

To say one category of leaders is better than the others is too simplistic of an evaluation, as several variables factor into the equation such as: the makeup of the team these leaders have built, the personality and skillsets of the leaders themselves, and the enthusiasm each leader has for spending time on various aspects of the business.

This all came to mind after reading a recent article on the exploding volume of marketing technology (martech) tools available to CMOs, and how marketers are trying to manage them. The article points to a chiefmartech estimate that there were nearly 4,000 martech solutions available in 2016 – double the previous year and a number that will surely grow in 2017. And if you look at the top martech categories it is easy to see why the number of solutions is on the rise. The Walker Sands State of Marketing Technology 2017 survey of more than 300 professional marketers identifies social media marketing, email marketing, ad tech, analytics and content marketing as the five hottest martech categories for 2017 – each with its own solution set that CMOs must evaluate on a regular basis.

General Manager & CMO for Microsoft USA Grad Conn pointed out that martech tools have the attention of marketers increasingly charged with revenue responsibilities and needing a way to measure ROI on budget spend.

Conn notes that, “CMOs tended to be somewhat powerless in generating revenue so what you are seeing is CMOs investing in marketing technology to drive control and management of these levers so they can deliver revenue [and] keep their jobs.” So the opportunity exists for marketers to leverage these tools in a tangible way, but Conn cautions, “a lot of CMOs are being pushed into the technology space in a way that they are not comfortable with.”

And in this case, the difference between success and failure may come down to how willing CMOs are to come down from the 10,000-foot level I mentioned earlier, and get their hands dirty. For Conn, CMOs are handing off too much of the martech execution to vendors or in-house staff, thus making martech decisions without understanding how to run marketing technology. Conn states it bluntly: “It’s not a bad idea to get your hands dirty – a lot of marketers like to be strategic but it’s also not a bad idea to go and run some ads yourself. Go and see what the interface is like [otherwise] how will you have any perspective on how to leverage it.”

The ability of CMOs to strike the right balance connects to their organization’s broader digital transformation efforts. Conn likens the effort to the constant state of learning that top doctors and lawyers exist in – professions where these individuals can’t stop self-educating once they’ve attained positions of leadership. The process must continue indefinitely, and learning how various martech tools work is a big part of that. In fact, given the pace of martech innovation, one could argue there is an even greater need for CMOs to always be learning in order to stay at the top of their industry.

The lack of CMO comfort with martech that Conn speaks will only grow over time. The farther CMOs fall behind the learning curve, the harder it will be to generate revenues at a time when marketers are increasingly being asked to do so.