Influential marketers tackle big issues

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: March 27, 2015

How to claim your marketing seat at the company’s top table? Many marketers work hard but struggle to cut through internally. Why? Because they don’t tackle issues that really matter for the CEO. Don’t let that happen to you (from my column).

“What are your CEO’s top three priorities? And your marketing team’s top three?” I recently asked these questions of a group of CMOs who wanted to build more presence inside their organizations. Not all the flipcharts filled up quickly. Some people could immediately name their CEOs’ top three burning issues, but many had problems saying what’s on their bosses’ minds. When we then compared CEO and marketing priorities, the answers stopped the group in their tracks. Less than half of the charts showed any overlap between the CEOs’ and the marketing teams’ priorities.

Top team misalignment is the rule—not the exception
CEO and CMO misalignment appears to be a common problem. For instance, the Economist Intelligence Unit found that just 46% of business leaders say that their companies’ marketing and business strategies are aligned. Maybe this is why many CMOs complain about a lack of influence. We have all seen the symptoms: budget cuts, slow career tracks, the last place on meeting agendas, and so on. Many top marketers fail to realize they are misaligned.

Tackle a big issue
As a marketer, your natural focus is to get behind customer needs. That’s great. But you’ll only get a seat at the top table if you align what you do with your company’s priorities.

Rule No. 1: Stay close to the company’s ever-changing priorities. Don’t assume that the top issues from last year’s annual discussion are still “hot.” They might have shifted completely. And nobody may tell you.

Rule No. 2: Tackle a big issuematch a customer issue with a company issue. In working with senior marketers, I found that the most successful ones tackle issues that matter both internally and externally. If your company issue is, for example, “profitable growth” and you have identified a new customer segment for your products, you are on to a big issue. But, if costs have spiraled out of control and your company must restructure, doing the same (or more) with less in your marketing budget can become your big issue.

Sounds obvious? As the numbers above show, the misalignment trap is a common problem.

[tweetthis]To claim your marketing seat at the top-table: tackle a big issue! (Thomas Barta)[/tweetthis]

Here are some practical tips to help you tackle a big issue:

  • Find the customers’ issues Ask yourself, “What are the top issues for our customers and how could we make a difference?” Many marketers can easily pinpoint their customers’ concerns, but you may find taking a fresh look worthwhile—perhaps jointly with your team.
  • Find the stakeholders’ issues Meet with each of your top five stakeholders and have an open discussion about their views on the company’s priorities. Enter these meetings with an open mind but also with a perspective (so you don’t appear blank). Hold off on feeling frustrated if the stakeholders’ perspectives differ—that’s normal.
  • Pick your “big issue” Once you know the customers and stakeholders’ priorities, choose your “big issue”—one that tackles both a top stakeholder and customer issue. Look for one where you can make a meaningful difference in, say, six months, with realistic resources. Then tell your stakeholders the “big issue” you’ll be tackling.
  • Talk “big issue” Make sure you link your communication to the “big issue” in emails, meetings, and so on. Be sure to spread the word.

As a marketing leader, find issues that matters for your customers and company. That’s when you’ll find yourself first on many meeting agendas. Tackling a big issue is your entry ticket to shaping boardroom debates—and the CEO’s agenda.

To claim your seat at the top table: tackle a big issue!