Why CMOs Need to Be Business Strategists With Mark Donnigan

Why Successful CMOs Need to Be Smart Business Strategists With Mark Donnigan [AMP 251]

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Chief marketing officers (CMOs) typically only stay with a company for only 24-25 months. That type of turnover at the top level of marketing departments is not good for marketers in leadership roles or with leadership aspirations.

Today’s guest is Mark Donnigan, a marketing consultant. He talks about why CMOs need to think more like business strategists to better connect where marketing fits into the big picture within your organization rather than thinking about marketing as a set of tactics that are separate from what the rest of the business is doing.

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AMP 251: Why Successful CMOs Need to Be Smart Business Strategists With Mark Donnigan
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Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Why marketing leaders need to understand the business objectives
  • Gartner: Average buyer over 50% through buying journey before making contact
  • MBA Playbook: Where CMOs go wrong by following a concrete buying cycle
  • Solution: Spend time with CEO to connect with company’s strategy and revenue
  • Attribution: Avoid ROI issues by shifting from cost center to revenue perspective
  • Pitfalls: When marketing leaders focus more on building, not understanding skills
  • No Excuses: Marketing leaders need to be business-aware, business-oriented

If you liked today’s show, please subscribe on iTunes to The Actionable Content Marketing Podcast! The podcast is also available on SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts.

Quotes from Mark Donnigan:

  • “No longer is it sufficient in today’s fragmented buyer journey to just basically build your whole program around a nice funnel.”
  • “The average B2B buyer was…over 50% of the way through their buying journey before they even contacted the first vendor.”
  • “You have the marketing tools to execute. There’s no need to go to another marketing seminar, another martech seminar. Instead, spend time with the CEO.”
  • “To be able to contribute in a sales meeting, you better know about the business.”

Transcript:

Ben: Hey, Mark, how’s it going this afternoon?

Mark: It’s going great, Ben. I am so happy to be here on your show.

Ben: Absolutely. We’re happy to have you on the show. Especially given the importance and the urgency of the topic we’re going to be tackling over the course of this conversation too, which is one that I think is really under-discussed. One that might if not raise some eyebrows, but might get you some confused looks.

Mark: We’re going to be provocative.

Ben: Maybe a little bit. I could definitely see marketers who fancy themselves as creatives who might not immediately see the value in this topic, but hopefully they will by the end of the conversation.

What we’re going to be talking about is why it’s important for CMOs, marketing directors, marketing leaders, and for folks in those roles to be good business strategists and to really understand the core strategy driving their organization beyond the things that are maybe immediately under their control or under their purview as a marketing director.

To kick things off, in your view, why is it so important that CMOs know that stuff? Why do marketing leaders need to be business strategists?

Mark: Why do they actually need to understand the business objectives? That’s the question? I playfully throw back at you that way because the listeners are rolling their eyes going, and somebody thinks they shouldn’t? Like, hello, come on.

In reality, let’s just stop and examine the way that most marketing functions work. Most are oriented heavily around, like you said, the creative and the brand. Let’s pause right here and say that we are primarily today going to be talking in a B2B context and also probably in more (shall we say) differentiated startups around technology.

There certainly are certain businesses and certain business segments where there can be deviations, but I would argue that even in commoditized or even in business environments where maybe creative really does need to drive the overall corporate message and all—and by the way, not against creative. We’re going to get to that. That’s not what we’re saying.

The need to understand the business is so critical and here’s why. Because no longer is it sufficient in today’s fragmented buyer journey to just basically build your whole program around a nice funnel where I’ve got my MQLs and then I nurture them along until they become an SQL. Then magically, I throw them over to sales and sales says, oh, thank you very much. Then 90 days they close, and then we just repeat the process.

This funnel that all the MarTech vendors love to show us and love to present as this is the magic way to do marketing. By the way, demand gen, lead gen, and even sales in a lot of SaaS environments are not reality.

The place to start and where we should start the conversation is some research that I ran across. I think it’s about 2018 that I saw this. It’s from Gartner. This is what they do. They do a lot of extensive research and analysis around the sales process, specifically enterprise and marketing. What they found is what just blew my mind. It lined up with what I was feeling, but when you read it, you say, wow, this is real. This isn’t just me.

They found that the average B2B buyer was somewhere around 57%. It was over 50% of the way through their buying journey before they even contacted the first vendor. I paused on purpose because think about what that means.

If we’re building a marketing engine that is around this nondescript, oh, I’m going to attract them with my magnet, with my ebook, with my this, with my that, and I’m going to get them into some sort of a cadence. Look, I’m not talking against any of that, but all of that is devoid of the context of what is the business need that our buyer had or has to even interact with us in such a way that if they’re more than 50% of the way through the process, that means that I don’t have the benefit of engaging with them? I don’t have a sales team that’s in regular contact, that’s able to do demos, and that’s able to talk to them.

If what they see on our website and if what they see in the market are just high-level, nice, fluffy, catchy little slogans, unless somehow that’s going to help them move towards saying, hey, I need to talk to this vendor, I need to talk to this company, they’re not going to call us.

Unfortunately, many of our marketing organizations are centered around this approach—the whole idea of a funnel. We even have definitions of what the content looks like and what the content is. We even put our well, that person’s a little more of a junior marketer, so they can write the… We’ve got to stop thinking that way because the market doesn’t work that way anymore because buyers no longer really need us. All the information’s out there. Our competitors, some of them are doing really good jobs and some of them maybe are not doing good jobs. The information is out there.

This is why knowing the business objective, knowing the ecosystem, and having some command of the ecosystem we function in are absolutely critical for a marketing leader in particular.

Ben: Sure. That’s a very great and really thorough answer to open things up here. I appreciate that. For my second question, you’ve touched on this a bit, but let’s go deeper into this. Where do CMOs have a tendency to get this wrong? What is pushing CMOs to run this typical template?

Mark: The MBA playbook, I like to call it.

Ben: Yeah. That’s a great way of putting it. You’ve got this nicely illustrated, easy to visualize funnel. You have this very concrete process that you like to envision leads going through, becoming customers, and all this stuff. It works up to a point, but like you say, it’s not an accurate representation of how the buying cycle works anymore. Why are CMOs still doing this then?

Mark: It’s a great question. There’s research. If you spend some time on LinkedIn, there are plenty of articles about it. oh, the tenure in the CMO chair is the shortest of the C-suite and all these. You hear these numbers. The number’s always changing. I don’t pay attention to that, but it does get talked about. Especially in certain industries, it’s absolutely true. Every 20, 24, 25 months, there’s a new CMO that’s there to do a new rebrand until the next one comes in.

I say this almost like poking a stick a little bit because I have to be honest, and I’m not proud of this. For a while, I used to think, well, that’s because they weren’t that good and they failed. I’d read about someone and then I started to know people who were struggling. I knew these people and I knew that they were good. You could look at what they did and you would say this last campaign was brilliant, but they’re on the verge of losing their job. Then, you go, there’s something else at play here.

This is where it really connected that if we’re running in any organization—and this is true regardless of size, even if someone’s an individual contributor—the playbook from the last company that we came from, we may get lucky, it may work, and it may connect. It does happen. It can happen. But business is so dynamic, especially moving between industries or sectors of the industry. It just is not possible to do.

You asked the question, why do people keep running that playbook? I think some of it is if it worked for a certain period of time, why fix it if it’s not broken? That’s the mindset if someone begins to get into the cycle, and go, wait a second, I’m doing good work, I’m winning awards, and yet it’s not moving the business. The CEO is running me out the door. The board’s running me out the door. Or I’m always looking over my shoulder and wondering, is this the day I’m going to get a call?

Unfortunately, if we’re brutally honest—as the saying goes, over a few beers in a group of CMOs in a private setting—probably, you’d go around the table and almost everyone will say, yeah, I can relate to that. I live that reality or I used to live that reality.

Here’s the situation. The situation is it’s actually easy to fix because you have the marketing tools to execute. There’s no need to go to another marketing seminar or another MarTech seminar. Instead, spend time with the CEO.

My background is actually through sales. I found that I just had a really unique perspective on this because I was always connected to the strategy and the revenue. I came up originally through sales. My career trajectory started there. Naturally, I was wired for that. I found that as I began to take on formal marketing roles and bigger roles, I would ask those questions that maybe weren’t the kinds of questions that a marketing leader would ask, but yet they were absolutely essential to me doing better work and actually impacting the organization.

My advice as to how to break out of it is first of all, touch bases with the founder, the CEO, or whoever is the most senior—hopefully, it’s the CEO that you’re reporting to. If those never touch on business strategy, if it’s only about reporting on well, we hit our MQL number, we did this, we’re on track for the trade show. Hey, we’re over budget here, we’re under budget there. If that is your whole one-on-one, that probably needs to be trimmed back.

If you have 1 hour each week, you need to find 40 minutes to report and then 20 minutes to say, you know, it would really help me as a marketing leader drive the business forward if you could share with me the thoughts around… I am well aware of this planned acquisition. I know all about this product rollout, we’re working on it, but I have to confess, maybe I’m not 100% certain of how that intersects with our current channel—whatever the context is.

First of all, that is the surest way to gain deep respect with the CEO. They will be blown away because a lot of marketing leaders are stuck in doing what they know, so they’re not asking those questions. The CEO says, wow, I have an executive on my team who seeks to really truly understand beyond just, I’ve got to get this trade show out the door. I’ve got to launch this campaign. I got to launch this product.

We’re all busy, so this does take that extra level of attention and even time because it’s probably going to mean we’ll do a little homework at night. It’s probably going to mean on the weekend, I’m reading an extra few chapters in a business book rather than an extra episode of something on Netflix. It’s going to require that. But that is how you breakthrough and it is also how you can open your career up into some amazing opportunities because now, you will earn a seat at the strategy table.

Rather than just being a cost center, now you’re in the strategy seat at the table. It wildly changes the dynamic. Even though you’re still CMO or you’re still VP of Marketing, you still have to do all that. It’s not that all of a sudden it’s like, hey, we can let you slide a little bit. No, you still have to deliver on marketing. But because you’re thinking differently and because you’re building different campaigns and approaches.

All of a sudden, you go to the CEO and you say, we’ve gone every year. It’s a placeholder in the budget. We spent $150,000 on this show. It’s the thing we’ve always done. Everybody applauds our booth. Everybody says I can’t wait to see you next year. But based on what I’ve learned, I don’t think that’s a good investment. I’m actually proposing that we pull out of that show.

If you want to shock your CEO in a good way, say that. Not just, hey, I’m going to save $150,000, but say, I’m still going to spend $150,000, but here’s what I’m going to do with it. I am really confident that it is going to significantly move the needle more than doing the thing that is safe. Nobody got fired for going to more trade shows, generally

Ben: Not immediately.

Mark: That’s a key point, not immediately because hey, it’s safe. Hey, everybody, we need to go there. All right. CFO says, do we really need to spend $150,000? Yes. Our competitors are $350,000 and $500,000. All right, let’s do it. But you move the needle on the business and bingo.

Ben: There’s one thing in that answer—which is great, by the way—that I’d like to pick out. That’s having the ability to shift marketing’s perception from being a cost center to actually having a seat at the strategic table. That’s huge. Any CEO that looks at marketing as a cost center is going to find any reason they can to cut that cost. But if you are actually helping to drive the strategy that is helping to drive revenue, you’re very, very valuable.

Mark: Yeah. Everybody struggles with attribution in marketing. In some organizations, there are turf wars over it. No, I’ll take 60% of the attribution and I’ll only give you 40%. No, it should be up. They’re fighting over it, which is of course absolutely nuts because we should be getting business. But the reality is that all of a sudden, all of these wars over attribution and ROI just goes away.

I cannot tell you in the last 10 years I’ve had virtually zero serious conversations where I’ve been challenged and where my work has been challenged by the CEO or the CFO in terms of ROI. I’m not saying that we haven’t had a lot of discussions around is that a good investment? We thought it was. That didn’t prove. Those are good, you have to have that.

Where you’re being forced to be like, hey, look, you tell me you need $100,000 for that. Where’s our pipeline? Where’s my $300,000–$500,000 and my 3X–5X return on the investment in the pipeline?

Many marketers struggle with that. The reason is because marketing is just a cost center. When you’re at the strategic table, now, even just the anecdotal, even just the feeling when the sales leader comes, reports back, and says, look, I can’t quantify but I can tell you now, when my salespeople are making calls, people know us. They know us. That’s it. Is it the podcast? Is it this? I have no idea, but I’m telling you that people know us and it’s getting easier. We pick up the phone and it’s not as hard as it was last year.

When you have trust and when you’ve been sitting at the strategy table, all of a sudden—I laugh because a few years back, I don’t know why I felt I wanted to do this, but it was me driving. I said, I really do want to put an analytics dashboard in place. I really do want it because I believe in instrumentation. I started an initiative around it and I remembered telling my CEO, yeah, I’m working on this. […] I want to show you.

I remember his reaction was like, that’s fine but I don’t understand why you’re doing that. I’m thinking, wow, other CMOs would be listening going, what do you mean? Usually, you’re just pushed on that. It’s just an example where there was trust. At that time, especially in our business, we had a ton of anecdotal feedback. Sales were coming back and reporting exactly the kinds of things, like hey, I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing more of it.

Ben: We touched on this multiple times during our conversation, but it’s worth making it a point of emphasis once again. Marketing leaders need to show that their departments are revenue drivers and not cost centers. If you can’t do this, then nothing else matters because as soon as your finance department or your CFO starts looking for areas to cut costs, marketing budgets absolutely will be on the chopping block if you can’t show a return on investment.

In order to prove marketing’s value, you need to be able to connect actions to results that influence customer behavior that leads to revenue. In order to do that, you have to be able to do the one thing that this entire episode is all about. Think like a business strategist and not just like a marketer. Now, back to Mark.

I think that’s great. When your team members who are closest to revenue or closest to driving revenue like your sales team are telling the CEO that you’re doing a good job, that’s really illuminating with regard to how powerful that is. Obviously, if your sales team’s hyping you up, then great.

Mark: It’s a good place to be.

Ben: I wonder if you make that big picture a goal, at least as far as top-of-funnel stuff, you’re just trying to grease the wheels. That’s got to be a pretty powerful indicator that what you’re doing is moving things in the right direction.

Mark: For sure. We started this conversation by just laying it out there. First of all, the old campaign-based MBA marketing playbook, I don’t want to say it no longer works, but it absolutely is not as effective and its effectiveness is declining month over month. If something’s declining, I better find that thing that’s not declining. We started making that statement. Then, we said, understanding the business behind our business—the company’s business—is absolutely critical and is really job number one.

I read a book a couple of years ago that just really absolutely changed my life in terms of how I approach marketing. It’s called Play Bigger written by Christopher Lochhead. He has some co-authors as well. Just an absolutely phenomenal book. I cannot recommend it enough. Go get it and read it. If you’ve read it already, read it again. I’ve been through it I don’t know how many times. Play Bigger.

I’ve heard Christopher say in interviews that he’s out talking a lot about marketing. He said, when I was a CMO, my goal was to be the number one person that sales invited to a high-level sales meeting. I wanted to be out of the executive team out of everybody, even the CEO. When the CRO said, hey, this is a big enterprise deal and we need to really show strength, I wanted to be number one on the list, not just because of my title but because of the value that I brought.

I’m a geek. I discovered my school’s Apple II when I was 12. That also shows how old I am. I started my college career in computer science. I ended up not finishing my computer science degree and went to music school. See, I am creative. I’m not against creatives.

This whole idea of being able to contribute to the business at the point of revenue is another silver bullet for a marketing leader. First of all, you’re going to hear amazing things when you’re in those sales interactions and sales meetings. It’s very different, as we all know, than when there’s someone in the middle reporting back, hey, here’s what we learned at the meeting.

There are always things to get lost in, nuance, and whatever. I think that that is another approach for a CMO who’s listening, who’s thinking, or even an aspiring. If you’re a director of marketing, you’re ready to break through to that next level, and you’re like, what do I do? Let me tell you.

Find out about the business, become an absolute master of the ecosystem, and get yourself connected to sales. It doesn’t mean you’re closing revenue. What it means is that when you attend that meeting, there’s some way that you’re able to contribute that when everybody leaves and there’s the postmortem of how it went, somebody or multiple people say, wow, thank you for attending. Your contribution was so significant. I know you just only talked that one time, but what you said was bang on and it really locked things in.

Ben: Sure. Make it count.

Mark: Yeah, exactly. Again, to be able to contribute in a sales meeting, you better know about the business.

Ben: Right. Because otherwise, you’re never going to be able to move off of talking about your marketing tactics that frankly, the rest of the C-suite doesn’t care about.

Mark: Exactly. I started out saying I’m a technical guy. Based on just my natural bent, I’m always drawn to technical products, technical solutions, and technology companies. It’s happened a few times. It does happen a lot, but whenever I have been in a selling situation and I’ve gotten from the customer some comment like, wow, it’s refreshing to meet a marketing person who knows what the heck they do and what the product is.

I’m not being self-serving about me because I’m by no means an engineer. I did not try to represent myself, but just to be able to contribute, it can move your personal career forward by leaps and bounds. You contribute so much more to the company because now when you come back to your team, and now when you’re planning out your content schedule, rather than yet another 7 steps of this, 10 steps of that, and 13 reasons why, you’re just like, holy cow. All this filler stuff that nobody’s even reading adds zero value. Let’s stop doing that.

We don’t need to publish every other day or everyday like HubSpot tells us we need to. Let’s publish once a week, but let’s add real value. I just heard this customer talk about blah, blah, blah. How about we go do a little research and write 1000 words on that? Then you promote that, you get it out there on LinkedIn, your sales team promotes it, you start doing that at scale, and all of a sudden the industry pays attention when you talk. You meaning the company and marketing.

Ben: Absolutely. Again, you’ve touched on this a bit, but I think it’s worth spending at least a little bit more time on. What are the potential downfalls? What’s going to make it hurt? If you are a marketing leader, you just blow this off. You’re just like, no, I know marketing. I know my thing. If you can’t see the genius in my work, then that’s on you. If you have that attitude, where are you likely to end up?

Mark: It’s a very good question. Let me say, this is an easier trap than probably anyone would believe to fall into, but here’s how I think they fall into it. I don’t really meet too many people—they’re certainly out there—who are so egotistical as to say I’m a genius. If you don’t recognize me, I’m a marketing genius.

I don’t think as much that someone would approach you that way, but here’s what I do find. It’s really easy to over-rotate on skill-building and not on understanding. What I mean by that is that at some point on, yes, there are definitely degrees of—we can think about just like design. Yes, there is such a thing as low-quality visual design, good visual design, and great visual design, and we can go around. Certainly, depending on what role we play in an organization, we should definitely be focused on upping our game, so that’s critical. However, let’s think about growth hacking, which has been hot, or ABM, account-based marketing.

Let’s just stay focused on account-based marketing because that’s very relevant in the B2B context. Especially today, it’s super-hot. In reality, account-based marketing is just marketing. If you think about it, it is. Now, there are some very specific tactics that can be deployed, that should be deployed. It’s a very good framework. I absolutely believe in it. I’ve started to try and take the terminology out of my vocabulary because I found that as you say ABM, everybody’s heads nod, yeah, we’re doing that. We bought this tool so we have that covered. It’s so much more than that.

But here’s the thing, we can get so focused on the latest strategy, on mastering, on maybe we should, or maybe we need to add this tool to our MarTech stack. Have you seen what this vendor is doing? I needed to go learn about that. I was in a conversation today with a group of CMOs and we were talking specifically about account-based marketing. It was basically a forum to just exchange ideas. You know what everybody in the room said, who everybody’s deploying it on some level or another? There were some major MarTech vendors there. But they’re actually doing ABM to sell their own products.

Everybody said, at the end of the day, it starts with doing what doesn’t scale. Learn who your ICP is, really learn it. Start reaching out to them on LinkedIn. Start building content that they actually would care about. It’s not 13 reasons why, 7 this, or 10 this—all this kind of filler blog posts. That’s how it starts.

You ask the question, what happens if someone doesn’t do this? The thing is that you can coast along and especially in SaaS business models. In some environments, if you’re throwing leads over the wall, you’re going to coast along for a while. In fact, you’ll still get slaps on the back high fives, and, oh man, wow, great month. Our salespeople love it.

The problem is that this is coming at the operational level. Very often, when you know there’s a problem, is when all of a sudden at the end of the quarter the company missed the number. You have to step back and say, wait a second, if I crushed my MQL and my SQL goals but the company missed the number, who’s responsible for that? It’s sales of course. I mean, they’re a little short-handed. They got some deadwood. Of course, marketers don’t think this way.

Ben: No, of course not. No one has ever said anything like that.

Mark: That’s right. The marketing team when they’re out having drinks on Friday afternoon, they never say anything like that. But if you think about it, being business-oriented, those words are impossible to come out of your mouth because wait a second team, what’s going on here? How is it possible that we as marketing can “make our number” and yet the company missed revenue? What’s wrong here? The problem is that if the marketing leader is not asking that question, guess what? The CEO is.

Now the CEO, he or she may be engaged at the level and this becomes a very active dialogue directly with the CMO. But in some cases, CEO may not even be connecting all the dots to go wait a second, marketing is throwing all these leads over the wall but they’re junk. They’re not qualified. They’re burning money. They’re buying clicks. They’re buying ebook downloads. Sure, they’re getting a form filled as a result. But our SDRs and our BDRs are calling them up and half the emails aren’t even real. The phone numbers are not real or they are just not answering. What’s wrong?

A marketer who doesn’t recognize and isn’t business aware that maybe I need to look at the process. Is it that we have the ICP wrong? Are we fishing in the wrong watering hole? There can be a lot of things. But if you don’t know the business, then it’s probably going to be pretty hard to really get to the right answer and then to fix it. Then it’s easy to point at sales.

It’s sales problem. Its product problem. It’s this problem. It’s that problem. It’s the market. It’s the time of the year. It goes on and on and on. I’ve been full of excuses in the past. This isn’t me pointing at everyone else. This is me pointing at me, but that’s also how I learned what these pitfalls are and how to avoid them.

Ben: Yeah, for sure.

Mark: I told you we were going to be provocative.

Ben: Yeah. I think you delivered on that promise.

Mark: I hope you don’t lose any unsubscribes, but anyway. No, I don’t think so. This is just really critical. This is critical stuff because the nature—and I want to make this other observation. I’m watching very, very closely the way that the in-person selling process has fundamentally just been turned on its head with COVID, with the pandemic. Look, we have returned to the office now being pushed back again into 2022, which we’re going to be coming up pretty soon on two years of not being able to do face-to-face sales.

I’m talking about for those of us who work or that’s a heavy component being able to go meet and physically get face-to-face with our customer. I think there’s still a general mindset of like, yes, this is a little blip. It’s a disruption. I sure can’t wait until everything returns to normal and we just start doing it the other way. I am not so sure and in some environments, face-to-face is going to have to return just because of the nature of the way the sales process works. I’m speaking broadly.

But I am not so sure that face-to-face is going to return and that it’s going to return “to the way it was before” and I mean in terms of selling. Now if that is true, it means that the marketers’ role is now blending and is becoming much more integrated into the sales’ role. Therefore, if we’re still basically executing just the campaign-based, the branding-based, and the heavy leaning on why are we doing that? It’s great for the brand. It’s good exposure. It’s this, it’s that. It’s not going to work and it’s not returning to the way it was. It’s not like all of a sudden it’s going to start working again, these strategies.

Ben: Yeah. There’s never going to be a switch that flips and suddenly everything is just February 2020 again.

Mark: Yeah, exactly. If we just think about it, some of this is going to come from organizations who are going to just begin to change their vendor rules and are just going to be like, we’re just not going to allow as many vendors to come into our offices. But a lot of it is just going to be like, okay fine. Those senior managers and the stakeholders, if you’re working from home three or four days a week and your only office one or two, okay, so how are you going to jam all your in-person meetings plus your vendor meetings into those one or two days when you’re in the office? Because that’s when you’re going to do meetings

Sure, I’m willing to meet with you but can we look at maybe like the third week of October? Maybe the first week of November, is that possible? You’re sitting here as a seller going, that’s 60 days away for just the first meeting. This is where marketing is really going to need to step up the game. For those marketers and those market leaders who do, it is going to be gold.

Ben: Sure. I love that inside. I personally don’t find too much to argue with on that point, honestly.

Mark: It’s hard to debate.

Ben: Yeah. Last question I’ll throw your way here. We’ve talked a lot about why this matters. What are the upsides or the downsides? Where is the industry going? Where is the world moving right now? If you’re a marketing leader and you’re listening to us right now and you want to pivot your thinking a little bit, or maybe you want to broaden your perspective and just have better awareness of what your business actually does, you want to be more involved in that conversation, how do you start?

Mark: I love it. Okay, so the very first is just go. If you need to, introduce yourself to the director of sales or CRO—however big your organization is. If it’s a bigger organization, you don’t need to and I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend going to the CRO. But depending on the size, go find somebody, even find just a senior salesperson. It should be somebody who’s been around a little while, has some pretty good experience both in the market and the company. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the top sales leader. But that’s the first step.

Just be really candid and just say, hey, you know, we support you. I have to admit that I really would like to learn more about the market and about the industry. I feel like I’ve got some gaps. Then it would be really helpful for me to better serve you and better serve the company if I can listen in on some sales calls. If appropriate or if it fits, if I can even tag along with a few. That’s probably a little harder. But just start there.

First of all, let me tell you, the relationship benefits in just taking that step will just boggle your mind. First of all, in some organizations, they’ll probably be shocked. Like, really, marketing actually cares about us? I better stop trash-talking marketing now because they actually care. But that’s the first step.

Then really, it is just as simple as getting yourself into as many opportunities to hear from the customer, listen to the customer, and understand. When there’s town hall, an all-hands, or there’s something shared and you don’t understand, rather than just go, that’s a bummer. We lost that deal. I wonder why? Going and saying, hey, can you share with me more detail? I knew a little bit about it. I was in this one meeting. What happened?

Then trying to map that back to always asking the question, what can marketing have done? What can marketing have done to support? What can marketing do moving forward? Just asking those questions, it will be shocking at how it will just open your eyes to all of the sudden going, we’re over here creating this webinar series with this particular persona because we’re doing ABM and we think… Reality is there’s this whole other area that we’re missing, we’re just in the wrong place, or whatever. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is self-education. I’m a huge fan. Again, no one’s going to argue with that. But I just really highly recommend there are so many great sales books. Let me grab one. It’s a book called The Qualified Sales Leader: Proven Lessons from a Five Time CRO and it’s by John McMahon. It came out I think just last year actually. Anyway, it’s easy to find. You can link up to it if you’d like, but The Qualified Sales Leader.

That is just one of literally hundreds. I was going to say thousands—there probably are thousands. Mark Roberge, who built HubSpot, wrote an amazing book. I mean, there are just so many books out there, but get a book. Yes, it’s important to understand the block and tackling of sales. I think that is very valuable for a marketer, but that’s not really—you’re trying to get in the mindset. It gets you thinking about business and about revenue, which revenue is oxygen for the business. I really think those are the two best ways.

Now, for an executive—so CMO, VP marketing—as I already said, if you’re not having the conversation with your CEO, start. Just start. Just showing them that you really care and that you really want to understand. Again, we’ll just open up. It may even be harder to do this for a CMO because if you’ve been in marketing for 15 years in your career or maybe 20 years, and you’ve never really ridden along with sales, it might be a little humbling to be like, can I listen in to some sales meetings, some sales calls? They’re thinking like, really, you want to listen to sales calls? Yeah, it would be really helpful. You just got to do it.

Ben: Yeah. I mean, we were talking a little bit about egos and their relative size, but you wouldn’t have to be an egotistical person to be a little bit uncomfortable with that. But if you can get over it, you’re never too big or too tenured to learn.

Mark: Correct. One other comment about, especially if you’re in a little bit of a larger organization because let’s face it, in a lot of startups or smaller companies, the executive team is maybe only five, six, eight years in front of the more junior members. It’s kind of the nature of smaller companies. But if you’re in a larger where there are people that have 25-year careers and have been then big fancy companies and titles and all.

I think in that context, especially as a marketing leader, then I would go directly to my counterpart in sales, CRO. And I would go directly to the CRO and just be like, hey, look, man, we’re already coordinating very closely and I know we’re doing some good work together, but it would be really helpful if I could just be a flight—well, however you position it, whatever the right is. But it’s for my own understanding but also so I can bring it back to my team.

They will love it and they will respect it. I’ve just never—personally, I’m speaking from personal experience—been in a situation where it’s like, what are you talking about? You should know this.

Ben: Cool. Well, Mark, this has been an awesome conversation. Thank you once again for taking the time to share insight with our audience.

Mark: You’re very welcome. It was fun for me, too, really.

Ben: Good. Glad to hear it. It might have ruffled a few feathers, but not too much. I don’t think to an extent that you’d offend anybody. What are we doing if we aren’t getting a little bit uncomfortable every once in a while?

Mark: Well, I just submit that at least consider some of this and look around at your own situation, your own company, and your own environment and just consider, hey, what would be the downside of me understanding the business more? What’s the downside? There isn’t any that I could think of.

What’s the upside? I think there’s a lot. That’s really what we’re talking about. It’s really what we’re saying is, hey, maybe instead of focusing on that latest growth hacking technique, maybe I’ll just forgo that because if anybody working in marketing today has to have some chops or else, you can’t keep your job.

I always default to that. If you’re keeping your job and if those around you are basically saying, hey, you’re doing a good job, then adding one more tool to the tool belt is not actually going to move the needle as much. But getting a whole new power tool that is not something that I’ve never even seen before and learning how to use that, and that’s what business is.

Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s really I think where things start to get interesting at that level. Well, thanks once again, Mark. I think that’s a pretty good place to wee bit. I feel like we could probably talk all day about this.

Mark: We could. We’ll have to do a part two maybe.

Ben: Yeah. I’m certainly open to it down the road. Before I let you go, if people want to find you online, where can they do that? Where is the best place to track you down and maybe get in touch?

Mark: Yeah. Absolutely. The best place is growthstage.marketing, .marketing is my domain. It’s pretty cool.

Ben: Nice.

Mark: Growthstage.marketing. On my website, I actually have a couple of presentations that people might find really interesting. I have one on category design that’s really helpful. If you’ve heard about that if you’re trying to think about what that might mean. And I have another one that is intended for technical founders who might be getting ready to launch a product, and they’re building their first marketing team or effort, or they’re just trying to figure out what can marketing do for me? How should I approach marketing? Then I have a presentation too there. It’s totally free, ungated. It’s easy to find. You’ll see it.

About the Author

Ben is the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.

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