As a marketer, have you ever heard you or your department referred to as “arts and crafts” by others in your organization? If you have, how does that make you feel?
All too often, marketing departments in small to mid-size companies are thought of as the people who make things look pretty and sound nice. And it does have some truth to it. Graphic designers do create beautiful things and copywriters can make some boring topics sound exciting. But true marketers know that marketing done right brings significant value to an organization…more value than just the pretty stuff. The trick is helping everyone else understand that value.
I’ve heard colleagues express their frustration with their organizations about this topic many times. I’ve heard a lot of “it’s not fair,” “leadership doesn’t understand marketing,” and “why does sales get all of the credit.” While I sympathize with the frustration – I have felt it myself – these perceptions will not go away on their own. It’s up to us to change the perception and get marketing a seat at the table.
Here’s where we begin:
1. Business acumen
If you graduated with a degree in marketing, you probably had to take some basic/introductory business courses including accounting, finance, operations and maybe even business administration 101. If you graduated with a degree in communications, you probably didn’t have to take any business courses unless you added a business minor.
To make the impact we all want to on our organizations, we need business acumen. Some things you can learn as you go. Others, you may need to take a refresher course or your first course to understand them better.
Leaders in all organizations want to see sales grow and profits rise. At the end of the day, marketers need to understand how their roles fit into the big picture. Without business acumen, it is very hard to figure out how and where marketing can make the biggest and most valuable impact.
2. Speak their language
Once you have a better understanding of business as a whole, you need to start speaking the language that will get the attention of leadership. Show how marketing contributes to solving business problems. Identify areas where marketing can make a direct impact on revenue – and then prove it.
One of my past positions was with a small manufacturing company. The owner of the company was not fond of marketing. In his experience, he felt like it was a necessary evil. He believed he needed it to succeed but was always a hard sell on making improvements to marketing-related initiatives.
One of my responsibilities was lead generation. From day one, I realized that the status quo approach was ineffective, at best, and it needed to change. Over several months, I worked with the Director of Sales to propose multiple approaches – all of which were rejected by the owner. We brought in more than one marketing firm to assist us and propose different options - that didn’t help either.
I felt like my hands were tied. I knew, without a doubt, that the approach to lead generation had to change but I couldn’t get the owner to recognize that. Where was I going wrong?
Looking back on the situation now, I realize that I was not speaking his language when it came to lead generation. And neither were the marketing firms we asked for help, nor the Director of Sales. While our presentations made perfect sense to us and the decision seemed like a no-brainer, we were not speaking his language.
I think his overall distrust and dislike of marketing came from this disconnect. No one with a marketing title had ever spoken his language. He was not able to see how marketing could directly impact the bottom line. To him, it was just another expense that yielded very little as far as solid, profit-impacting results.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, analyze how you are presenting. Are you using language that gets at the heart of the issues leadership is facing? How will what you’re proposing impact the revenue or sales goals of the company? Speaking their language is a win-win for everyone.
3. Data, data, data (used in moderation)
Data is very important. It isn’t enough to speak in generalities. If you’ve identified a problem, you need to use real numbers to demonstrate where the problem is and how your solution will move toward fixing the problem.
That said, using data without context (or business acumen) can get you in trouble. Before you start a conversation, make sure you really understand what the data means and how or why it is important.
What you need to remember is that as a marketer, you need to make it your business to know the data, understand the data and be able to show how marketing can impact it. When you are able to have meaningful conversations with leadership around solid data, the arts and crafts label will fade.
If you want a seat at the table, you need to drive results. The problem with marketing has always been the inability to measure return on investment. Today’s marketing tools make measuring easy.
Let’s say that using your business acumen, business problem solving and cold, hard data, you were able to convince your organization to invest in marketing automation software. Most platforms allow you to measure everything. You can share real results with leadership. You will be able to demonstrate where things are going well and where they are not. Transparency will be achievable. Marketing costs will no longer be a black hole.
These concepts may seem like common sense however, I have spoken to many small to mid-size B2B marketers and most have not taken this approach. Remember, it is not up to the CEO, COO, CFO or even sales to change how they think about marketing. It is up to you as a marketer to change how they think about marketing. The choice is yours…remain in arts and crafts or elevate your department to the leadership role it deserves.