Ten Ways the C-Level can Positively Impact Marketing and Sales (Part One of Two)

A recent report published by MarketingSherpa asked B2B marketers what the top barrier was for overcoming their marketing challenges.  17% cited difficulty in getting buy-in or support from the C-Suite.  Quite frankly I am surprised that the percentage is not higher.

Part of the reason that executives are so hesitant to buy into marketing is that they’ve not been provided a solid business case for making the necessary marketing investments that will improve their business.  Yet budget is what is going to enable marketing and sales to adapt to the changing buyer, move them faster through the buying cycle, and ultimately drive revenue.  It’s imperative that marketing gains executive support.

We’ve blogged before on what marketers can do to remove the barriers and win over “mahogany row”.  In this post, the first part of a 2-part series, we’ll take a look at what the C-Suite can do to enable their marketing and sales teams so they can improve the return on marketing and sales investments.

1.  Understand that Change Must Occur   

Earlier in my career,  I was asked to begin developing a lead management process for my employer, a $1 billion software company.  This was a new role within the organization.  Two weeks into our new endeavor I got a call from my VP asking, “What on earth are you doing?”  His question was based on concerns that his sales counterparts had brought to him, namely that my team was asking questions about how sales managed leads, and that we had extracted data from the CRM system.  I responded by saying that if we were going to develop a new process we had to first learn what was broken. Then we could make changes to fix it. And there it was, that dreaded word – CHANGE!  Like many executives, my boss’s comeback was shortsighted. He informed me that while we needed process, we could not interfere with sales. Change was not in the cards.

Too many executives envision how things can be, but they fail to approve the changes that are necessary in order to enable their marketing and sales teams.  Steve Jobs was said to have no respect for the status quo.  Executives should take a lesson.

2.  Embrace the Change

Understanding the need for change and embracing it are two completely different concepts.  In my example above, my former boss understood change was needed.  But he never embraced it.  Why does this happen?  Because change requires effort, uncertainty, and instability.  But it’s also the catalyst for moving forward.  Embracing change means enablement, support and clearing the hurdles necessary for their teams to succeed. Many executives are uncertain about the changes going on in B2B Marketing today.  But if they will live with some uncertainty, and allow their teams to change, they will see enormous benefit.

3. Keep Things Simple!

Years ago, I sat in a sales management meeting with two regional VP’s and the President of our division.  Each VP was there to report his mid-quarter sales projections.  The first VP came loaded with all kinds of data.  Half-way through what should have been a 15-minute presentation (at this point we were way beyond 15 minutes), our President stopped him, and said, “Please get to the point. Keep it simple. Where are we with sales?”

The second VP got up and in one slide showed the number of deals and revenue in the pipeline, number of closed deals and revenue to date, revenue quarter over quarter and his projected forecast.  It was clear and simple (perhaps he learned a lesson from his colleague).  After less than 5-minutes of follow up questions, we had a clear understanding of what they had already accomplished and what was to come.

Too many organizations are bogged down in trying to do too much, trying to measure too many things, or trying to be all things to all people.  Complexity often leads to ineffectiveness. So, keep it simple.  As best you can reduce your strategic plan to one page.  Make sure you can articulate your corporate value statement in less than 15-seconds.  Measure what matters.  And extend this rule of simplicity to your marketing teams. Following the rule of simplicity will clear the clutter and help your organization focus on what counts.

4.  Allow a Little Room for Error

Ever watch a sports team play as if they were afraid to fail? (Insert 2011 Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves here). Yet inevitably, that’s what happens. They fail.  Conversely, championship teams play as if there’s nothing to fear. It keeps them loose, and allows them to focus on what they are doing, instead of what may happen if they make a mistake.

It’s not much different in business.  Executives who run their businesses with a fear of failure will ultimately fail.  Fear is not a motivator. It stifles creativity, innovation and limits success.  Instead, executives should allow their teams room to move and yes, even fail.  I am not suggesting allowing a renegade culture in your organization, but I am advocating room for a little risk.  Successful marketing is a series of tests, failures, lessons learned, then successes.  Make sure you create an environment that allows for failure.

5.  Listen and Respond

Herb Kelleher, Founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines tells a story where he paid a visit to one of the baggage handling areas and how he noticed that some of the workers  seemed short on morale.  He asked them what was wrong, and they told him that they had asked their supervisor for a rope, but their request was denied.  They wanted the rope to pull carts back and forth in a more efficient manner.  Without hesitation, Kelleher ensured a rope was delivered and had the supervisor reprimanded.

This anecdote makes me wonder how many executives are depleting their employees’ morale over items as simple as a rope.  If you truly want to lead, then ask, listen and (when possible) enable your team so they can solve the problem.

We’re halfway there and there’s already much to discuss.  We welcome your feedback and comments.  Look for the second half of the blog post in a couple of weeks.

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