5 Ways CMO’s Lose Credibility with the C-Suite

This post was originally posted on July 8, 2011.  It also appeared on Forbes.com 

Here’s a hypothesis: Given the greater focus on ROI, marketing automation tools, and enhanced tracking of results, marketing is more of a science than ever. Therefore, marketers’ ability to defend and validate their value among peers should be easier than ever before.

So why does a recent study by Fournaise show that CMOs still lack credibility with CEOs?

The study points to several deficiencies with an emphasis on communication – are you sensing the irony?  Further, marketers tend to sabotage themselves in everyday interactions with the larger executive team, and in many cases, have no idea they are doing it.

Here are five common mistakes among marketers:

  1. Stumble explaining the value of marketing. Asked almost daily, and rarely answered properly. The key is to understand how the inquirer perceives the role of marketing. The question behind the question is “what is the value of marketing … to me?” According to the study, it most often relates to “revenue, sales, EBITA or even market valuation.”
  2. Limited product, service, and customer knowledge. Even the savviest marketer will arrive DOA in the credibility department if they fall short on this one.  And it is not about feature or functionality, but rather customer use and application that matter most and those factors vary by industry and size. Leave “speeds and feeds” to the product organization. Marketing’s job is to differentiate and develop compelling value propositions that sell. If products are built “inside-out,” then bring the “outside-in” perspective.
  3. Can’t Dance. Marketing comes with highly visible risk and things are going to go wrong. When they do, marketing needs to learn how to dance. Handling these situations will define how marketing is viewed. Keep best and worse case scenarios in mind when briefing the executive team. Truth is, if marketing isn’t making a few strategic and tactical mistakes, it’s not moving fast enough. As a former IBM client told me, “If you fail, and you will, fail fast.”
  4. Isolation. A favorite question from sales: What have you done for me lately? And the product team can be equally demanding. However, marketing has to build, nurture, and maintain strong relationships with these groups. For Sales, it is helpful to establish an integrated sales pipeline and hold weekly pipeline meetings; this will build rapport and create a common sense of purpose. It’s also an opportunity to put marketing metrics in a sales context. The key to a successful relationship with sales is about communication and performance. For the product group, marketing needs to clearly define points of integration for research, content, and value proposition development. The key to a successful relationship with the product team is about process and integration.
  5. Where to invest – or cut – an incremental dollar. This question is posed by the CFO at the end of the quarter when numbers are off, and by the CEO who wants to redirect budget.  It’s also used as a test. As a holder of discretionary dollars, marketing has to be prepared to answer “where” and “why” along with stating the business impact.  In talking about CMOs, 72% of CEOs say, “[marketers] are always asking for more money, but can rarely explain how much incremental business this money will generate.”

To call out the sense of irony, most of these issues are communication related. The same rigor brought to external communication needs to be applied internally:

  • Know the audience
  • Understand their needs
  • Communicate to them in their language.

While the Fournaise study states that executives think in terms of “revenue, sales, and EBITA,” most make judgments based on their emotions. Marketers are advised to use their creativity in delivering the message.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it: “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

Published by

scott.gillum

Scott is the Founder of Carbon Design Co and the former head of the Washington, DC office of gyro, the largest B2B agency in the world. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years at a professional services firm that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. Scott also writes a monthly column for Media Post and has contributed to three books on B2B Sales and Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @sgillum

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