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CEO’s Perspective: How marketing managers can talk so executives listen

A good marketing leader knows how to make their metrics add up, but a great one knows how to connect their figures with overall revenue and cash flow.

- By Shane Paladin, CEO - Feb 12, 2024 Digital marketing Marketing Performance

When a marketing team speaks my language, it's much easier for me to get my head around what they need and how that fits into the big picture.

My language — at least my primary one — is increasing revenue while reducing costs. When it comes to interactions between an organization’s marketing leaders and its CEO, metrics need to be front-and-center.

While it’s true that successful marketing leaders need to be strategic and creative — that's non-negotiable — they also need to be entrenched in data. To make the right decisions, I need a complete story about how a creative campaign resulted in business value; marketing analytics are the critical details in that story.

In my experience, it boils down to these four best practices:

Start with a shared understanding of how various metrics fit together

From the outset, ensure that everyone’s aligned on identifying and discussing the key business metrics that CEOs care about. From there, demonstrate how your marketing efforts can directly impact these metrics.

A good marketing leader will think of big picture metrics in terms of:

  • Brand awareness: How is the company doing in terms of market share and share of voice? How do customers rate their experience with the company in surveys? Do existing customers keep coming back for more?
  • Lead gen: How are marketing efforts like events, ads, and content doing in terms of attracting and moving potential customers down the funnel?
  • Conversion: How many leads become customers? How does this percentage change at different stages in the pipeline?
  • Cost per lead: When you bundle marketing efforts together, how much does it cost to land a lead?

Successful CMOs rally their troops around these metrics — they're the lifeblood of any marketing team. The terms should be part of everyday discussions and every objective and goal within the team. Now, a good marketing leader will ensure that all those metrics make sense to their team and are embraced, and that the metrics add up when they’re shared with their CEO (and CFO, at least at many companies). But a great marketing leader will know how to connect these figures into the CEO’s wider view of how these figures impact overall revenue, net profit margins, and cash flow.

I’ll always be impressed when I can see how those seemingly smaller metrics — the ones typically assigned to teams within marketing — keep a company profitable and growing.

Think of and present marketing as a profit center rather than a cost center

When you’re communicating how your marketing efforts are tied to core business goals and the corresponding metrics, highlight the value — the pipeline and ultimately profit — that marketing results in. Clearly show how much of the total pipeline originated with marketing, what the average cost per acquisition was, and, at a very high level, which campaigns or channels perform particularly well in terms of conversions and pipeline.

Be sure to include updates on overall performance at every stage (MQL/SAL/SQL), a recap of what your quantifiable goals are for the next quarter, and what steps you’ll take to improve and accelerate marketing in the next quarter.

Frame metrics in terms of cost efficiencies and savings

CEOs are accustomed to discussions about how much investment a team needs. But if you want to frame it in a different way that will resonate, cover how much budget you’ve saved and how.

For example, have you been able to save money through data-driven decision-making that saves time? Have you invested in a gen-AI platform that helps your content team produce engaging, credible content faster? Has a focus on cultivating content on referral platforms and earned media allowed you to reduce your advertising budget? Have you figured out how to get various AI platforms to work in concert, and if so, can you calculate savings?

Most importantly, do you have a single marketing tool that can tell you how much time and money your team has saved by streamlining data analysis and automating reports?

Never forget that new technology will often be the key to quantifiable savings, making investment in it a no-brainer.

Touch on metrics with respect to personas

We all know that the most successful marketing endeavors are often rooted in storytelling. Given that, it’s helpful to think of the various ideal customer profiles or personas as the main characters in a story — characters that have metrics associated with them.

Imagine, for example, that you’re an IT company and you’re starting your year with a focus on three ideal customer profiles (ICPs): healthcare organizations in need of digital transformation, fledgling fintech companies that need a scalable solution, and retail companies that are expanding into new regional markets.

As CEO, I’m going to want to know what performance looks like at each of those ICPs. Are we knocking it out of the park with healthcare companies but missing the mark with retail companies? Does the pipeline show that a campaign aimed at fintech startups landed 10 SQLs in a week, while a campaign aimed at hospitals has languished, with money spent on ads with no results?

These are things I want to know. The data will help me determine what, as a leader, to double down on and what to de-prioritize.

Be honest about disappointing results

CEOs can handle disappointment; our job is to turn things around when strategies don’t pan out or even turn south. Clear metrics — including those that shed light on what isn’t working — help me understand what’s really going on and support you, so be sure to pair disappointing results with a plan for course correction. We don’t need to see every little detail about less-than-ideal results (that would be micromanagement, and no one needs that!), but it does help to have some sense of where things went wrong, like poor email open rates or low signups for a webinar.

Just like in the world of Marketing, sharing metrics with your CEO is all about storytelling. The numbers are the compelling details in the story; rooted in honesty, transparency, and a sound plan for adjusting as you go to pave the way for a healthier, more profitable business. Follow that formula - combined with a set of killer metrics - and you’ll win me over in no time.