CEOs and executive leadership teams of startup companies are typically smart and dedicated. Of course they are! They figured something out, or solved a problem in a new way. But there’s a flip side to that feeling of accomplishment: They know something, but they don’t know everything. That’s why they hired you as a marketer. The challenge arises when leadership can’t see the value in marketing, either because they’re focused on sales (near-term), product development costs, funding, or they just don’t see why they should have to work to draw attention to their terrific new thing. So, how do you get them to see marketing as a worthy investment instead of another line-item cost?
4 things you can do:
1. Make it clear your marketing goals are aligned with the company’s business goals
Have a sit-down with your CEO and pick his brain about what his vision is for the company in the long-run, as well as this year and this quarter. Listen with big ears to what he is saying, and what he is not saying. Pay attention to what his problems are like as a CEO, and create a marketing strategy that solves his business problems and makes his life easier. Each business problem should be addressed with a marketing solution. Your strategy should come to life in the form of a printed document that he can read over and sign off on.
Once your CEO feels like you’ve heard him clearly and have developed a plan based on his business needs, he will be much less likely to view your suggestions with skepticism and more likely see you as a trusted partner. Update this document frequently (with your CEO) and don’t be afraid to reference it when questions come up about the value of what you’re doing.
2. Use language leadership can grab onto
Marketers and CEOs often speak totally different languages. Break it down in plain English and always include the why. Don’t assume your CEO knows what you know. Don’t use a $10 word where a $1 word would work. Avoid acronyms when you can. Stick to high-level strategy where your roles overlap rather than specific marketing tactics, which would open the door to your CEO steamrolling you in your own wheelhouse.
Think about your CEO’s background. Unless she has a marketing background, she’ll probably be uncomfortable with terms like “brand awareness”, which have meaning to a marketer but just conjure questions and doubt for most everyone else. You’ll be heard more clearly if you frame marketing discussions within a context that she knows. If she knows finance, you can talk about marketing’s return-on-investment and how to measure it. You can talk about branding pieces as durable assets with compounding interest. Use your marketing expertise and speak to your audience — your boss — on her turf.
3. Report on your own progress
Don’t wait for your CEO to ask you how things are going or for a financial report. Create a predictable reporting schedule where you present your current projects, the effectiveness of the various programs you have in place, and where you want to go next based on those results. Use quantitative metrics such as website visitors, likes, sales-qualified leads generated, and ads viewed. Other metrics could include changes in customer feedback, inquiries from the press, or trends you notice in social media that are relevant to your brand.
Self-reporting does three things: Keeps the C-Suite informed and on board with your efforts, proves your value to the organization, and unlocks more budget for marketing. Remember, the best predictor of increased marketing budget is proven past marketing success.
4. Align the marketing budget with sales expectations
Unrealistic expectations are poison to your career. It’s key for you and your management to understand the value of a customer and what it costs you to acquire one. Talk with your executive team about growth goals for the business and decide if the marketing budget has a reasonable chance to get there. How does your current marketing cost of customer acquisition compare to your customer’s potential lifetime value? Should that ratio move up or down to align with your growth goals?
As a marketer, you’ve developed the ability to put yourself in the mindset of your target customer. Apply those abilities to the thinking of your CEO, and everyone wins.
Next Week: Making order in the midst of chaos