“Organizational leadership for marketing means touching every part of the value chain and working with every function to enhance the brand and to focus on the customer.”
- Dick Patton, Chief Marketing Officer Practice at Egon Zehnder International
Effective marketing involves all stakeholders from every part of a company’s customer value chain. But all too often, marketing struggles with gaining buy-in and credibility for their functional organization. This article is the first in a series of several interviews with marketing and leadership experts conducted to help marketing leaders improve their organizational effectiveness. This series is especially designed to provide actionable insights that marketing leaders can use to improve the relationship building skills that are critical to broader organizational success.
For the first blog of our series, the following expert recommendations come from Kevin Wilzbach, a leadership veteran with 20+ years’ experience in Sales & Marketing Strategy and Product Management. Kevin’s leadership style blends internal selling skills with a solid command of numbers and strategy to quantify marketing’s organizational impact, ultimately improving marketing credibility.
Kevin currently serves as VP of Operations for HMS Marketing Services – a provider of market home/spec home listing services and market intelligence tools for home builders. As a member of the executive management team, he helps drive strategic planning, thought leadership, technology innovation, and new customer acquisition. Kevin has also held past management roles at Fischer Homes, Convergys, and Attachmate.
Build strategic partnerships
You probably know too well the scenario of marketing budget cuts. Since marketing isn’t typically a profit and loss (P&L) department, its budget is sometimes allocated from other groups to which marketing is held accountable. As a result, marketing budgets can be the first to go when there are cuts. “In a product-centric organization, it can be challenging to combat the ‘build it and they will come’ mindset of other business units which discounts the importance of marketing,” says Kevin, advising that one important key to defending marketing’s value is to build strategic partnerships with your internal customers.
“Especially if you don’t own your P&L,” says Kevin, “you really need to meet with the heads of the business on a regular basis.” Kevin suggests three quick steps for beginning a trusting partnership with other departments:
1. Treat the groups you support as your clients
2. Find out what keeps the heads of your internal business units up at night and figure out how you can help
3. Identify the revenue and cost drivers for the business units you support and work to improve them
“Most likely,” says Kevin, “your heads of business have years of experience in operations and management and know their business units extremely well, so get to know their pain points and find out where you can add value.”
From Kevin’s perspective, quick hits that build credibility may be a good place to start. For example, at one company, Kevin found out about an issue with campaign execution through his internal discussions with business leaders, so his team fixed campaign fulfillment.
Don’t do so many activities that execution suffers
“1000 new marketing campaign activities can’t be the only focus, especially if you don’t have the bandwidth to do them all well,” says Kevin. How you communicate with internal clients about campaigns builds trust, too. Kevin advises marketers to remember to define internal pre-sales and post-sales support plans before launching campaigns, including communicating with business units about the objectives of each campaign and defining how success will be measured.
Additionally, it’s essential to ensure your group has adequate bandwidth to support the campaigns you manage. “Don’t lose sight of your stakeholders. Do fewer things really well while staying engaged with your internal customers.”
Quantify opportunity costs
Because other departments may not see the link between marketing expenses and ROI, Kevin suggests looking beyond the real costs marketing incurs for core brand expenses – which can be challenging to measure in terms of marketing return – to identify the opportunity costs of missed revenue opportunities. “If you’re not looking for opportunity costs,” says Kevin, “you may not even realize the lost business opportunities that were yours to lose.”
In one example from Kevin’s experience, an outside broker was a source for leads, leads that typically averaged a 25 percent conversion rate. After researching the effectiveness of this sales channel, Kevin discovered that some leads were not being passed along or followed up on. Given that every four lost leads equaled an opportunity cost of one sale, Kevin was able to show that 100 plus sales a year, or an annual opportunity cost of $4.7 million in gross margin, were being left on the table.
“Anytime you abdicate responsibility for your sales channel to a third party,” says Kevin, “you are giving them control of the lead and may be leaving revenue on the table.” Kevin advises that it’s important to evaluate all sales channels, including internal sales departments, to assure that leads are managed properly. A big component of identifying opportunity costs is simply closing the gaps in your sales and marketing processes, says Kevin. The more these costs are quantified and addressed, the more credibility you’re able to build for the marketing organization.
Enlist your team in building relationships
Another effective way to build marketing credibility is by enlisting the help of your team. “Marketing is a team,” says Kevin. “You want people in other departments to know who you are and what you’re doing, and your team can play a big role in helping to build that credibility.” Kevin empowers his team to build personal relationships with department heads and frequently gives them new opportunities and challenges to strengthen their skills, including presenting to leaders above him in rank.
“Your team really needs to recognize the important role they have to play in building and maintaining credibility,” says Kevin. “Interactions aren’t limited to department heads. I encourage my team to interact with everyone in the organization, at all levels, because everyone has a strong interest in having his voice heard. You never know when a new conversation might reveal a new competitive differentiation.” Ultimately, your team can help serve as your eyes and ears in the organization and champion new ideas while their face time with department heads helps to build confidence in the marketing organization. A strong team is a reflection of a strong marketing department.
Strategically defend marketing’s focus
At smaller companies especially, it can be common for senior leaders to champion new marketing trends. In these conversations, it’s important to remember that the marketing activities you don’t do or support may be just as important as what you do. This is especially important in this new age of digital marketing given the ongoing proliferation of new marketing channels such as social media and mobile. There are a lot of dynamic changes happening, and they can be challenging to keep up with. Kevin suggests planning in advance for addressing on-the-fly recommendations brought to marketing by senior leadership. Here are three quick tips to help you prepare:
1. Develop and actively maintain a working knowledge of new tools in the marketplace and in your industry. As you are gaining new knowledge, ask yourself questions such as Is this tool a good fit? and Is it the right time to adopt this tool? Don’t be afraid to push back or defer tools and technologies that may be premature for your business or industry at this time, or detract focus from ongoing campaigns.
2. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of applying new tools within your industry. For example, a few quick calls to a sample of distributors or customers about their use of social media and a quick review of research online can serve as an effective litmus test for social media adoption in your industry. Being prepared with this knowledge in advance of a conversation about social media will demonstrate initiative.
3. Build partnerships with senior leaders so that you can guide the conversation when it happens. If your preliminary research (industry, customers) supports interest in the new marketing tool, and senior leadership wants to move forward, use probing questions to frame a features and benefits conversation about how the tool could be applied, including a discussion of the problems it will address, to determine next steps.
Internal selling is an instrumental tool for building marketing trust and credibility. The well-known adage, “People buy from people they trust” definitely applies here: Building strategic partnerships with the leaders you support is critical to improving confidence in the marketing function. Additionally, marketing professionals need to do what may already seem obvious, but is all too often overlooked: Apply the discipline of marketing to marketing yourself and your department.
To gain the trust of business leaders, it’s important to diligently manage marketing campaign execution in collaboration with internal stakeholders and to find new opportunities to add value by addressing the pain points of internal business unit leaders. Finally, anything you can do to quantify marketing’s value is a win-win for operational and senior leaders who are seeking to justify marketing expenditures with proof of return on investment.
How have you addressed marketing organizational leadership challenges? Submit a comment below or join the discussion in the LinkedIn group, “Marketing Organizational Leadership.”
Internal selling DO’s
1. DO build strategic partnerships with your business leaders to learn about the pain points that keep them up and night and to determine where you can add value.
2. DO treat the groups you support as your clients.
3. DO identify the revenue and cost drivers for the business units you support and work to improve them.
4. DO identify the opportunity costs of lost revenue and close the gaps in your sales and marketing processes.
5. DO enlist your team’s help in building marketing credibility by encouraging direct interaction with department leaders.
6. DO provide opportunities to develop the leadership skills of your team by empowering them to present to senior leaders.
7. DO strategically defend marketing’s focus by preparing for conversations with senior leaders about new marketing trends in advance.
8. DO actively develop and maintain a working knowledge of new tools in the marketplace and your industry.
Internal selling DONT’s
1. Don’t do so many marketing activities that execution suffers.
2. Don’t ignore the importance of marketing’s role in setting up pre- and post-campaign support to the business units.
** To view more articles in this series, click on the “Marketing Organizational Leadership” tag below.