Advice for Marketing Executives During Tough Times

Harvard Business Review

September 1, 2008


by Marshall Goldsmith

Do you have any specific suggestions for marketing executives in this challenging climate?

Great question. During hard times companies often cut back on marketing budgets. As business becomes more competitive, marketing executives face increasing pressure to demonstrate the value that their function is adding to the firm.

For an insider’s perspective, I’ve asked Susanne Lyons, former CMO at Visa and Charles Schwab, to answer your question. Here are her ideas and reflections:
Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are usually under pressure because most organizations see marketing as a cost center and are not aware of how it is contributing to the bottom line. This can lead to a crisis of credibility and a loss of power for the marketer. CMOs have a very high turnover rate. Here are a few suggestions that may help CMOs gain credibility and make a positive difference for their firms:

1. Have a thorough understanding of how the business runs. Many marketers are creative or have deep functional expertise but lack general business training. Set aside time to learn the ins and outs of your businesses – for example: revenue drivers, influences on profitability, corporate vision, and budget. To earn credibility, you not only need to keep track of your own budget, but also understand exactly what the marketing function is doing to drive bottom-line results.

2. Speak the same language as other executives. Chances are your peers talk in terms of revenue, cash flow, and profitability – they don’t have an ear for the soft language marketers grew up with like “brand awareness.” Listen to how your peers are talking and adopt their lingo. Think of how you can explain your activities and results using terms that resonate with them.

3. Align yourself with the rest of your executive team. Driving revenue hinges on alignment of marketing with sales and other functions. For example, you don’t want the CEO and CFO coming to you and saying, “You never justify why we’re spending so much money, so we’re cutting your budget.” Having meetings to discuss methodology and the types of metrics the other executives are looking for, such as what the VP of Sales thinks of as a “qualified lead,” will align your role with theirs.

4. Find the right reporting tools. Arm yourself with tools that let you say: “here’s the proof that we really helped drive these results.” These tools generate hard numbers such as how many leads were brought in and how many of those leads converted, and you need them in order to demonstrate a firmer business case.

5. Measure your way to a seat at the table. The only way to prove your impact is to make measurement your mantra. Whether it’s measuring response to offers, Web site click-throughs, or lead quality, those measurements will justify how you spend your money and prove that you deserve a seat at the executive table.

Thank you, Susanne.