Why bosses don’t listen to marketers

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: September 04, 2015

Daniel* is a marketer–and Daniel has a problem: he isn’t getting his boss’s attention. A regional marketing head of a large consumer electronics company, he often finds himself last on his boss’s agenda. Daniel isn’t alone. Millions of marketers struggle to get attention. Perhaps their work isn’t seen as critical for the company (from my cmo.com column).

How influential is marketing inside the organization? Some new US studies suggest it’s rising. A recent study by University of Mannheim found it’s shrinking. We all agree: it could be higher. According to the Mannheim research, too few marketers do what’s deemed key for the business. Executives in the study rated pricing, product development, and strategy (PPS) as the most important business functions. Unfortunately marketers aren’t seen as very involved in PPS. My latest global CMO study with Patrick Barwise paints a similar picture: just 32% of senior marketers have a stake in pricing, 56% in product development, and 39% in strategy.

On the flip side, the Mannheim study found, marketers are seen as deeply involved in communication and customer satisfaction (CC). Unfortunately company leaders in the study find CC less important than PPS. That’s unfair (and incorrect). But every marketer knows: perception is reality. If people think your work isn’t important, you won’t be seen as important.

“The marketer’s role is to help the company generate long-term organic profit growth” says Patrick Barwise, the renowned marketing thinker and London Business School professor. Here’s the good news from Mannheim: influential marketing departments are the biggest influencers of company growth. Whenever marketing gains influence, companies thrive.

Before Daniel became my client, I asked him, “What do you do?” He replied, “I look after our brand and brand communication.” Even as the Head of Marketing, Daniel had stayed away from the big profit drivers–pricing, product, or place (distribution). And when I interviewed senior leaders at Daniel’s company, many described him as a “lightweight.” No wonder he didn’t get attention.

Three Steps To Influence

To develop C-suite traction, Daniel had to get involved in what matters most for growth. As part of a six-month program, he identified three steps to increase his influence:

Find the company’s biggest growth levers. If you help the company grow profitably, you’ll be in the game. Daniel quickly figured out that distribution was a major bottleneck. Competitors were simply in more shops. Another big issue was pricing. The company adjusted prices almost daily to steer product sales in a tough market. But the process was unsophisticated, and cutting prices too much immediately hit the bottom line.

Throw the biggest stone. Once you know the big growth levers, go where you can make the biggest difference. In Daniel’s case, the Head of Sales had just hired two pricing specialists. It didn’t–at this point–make sense for Daniel to tackle pricing. Distribution was a bigger opportunity. Daniel knew the retail landscape and already had ideas about how to get products into more stores. Distribution was the way to go.

Start small, think big. As a marketer, when you engage in a new field, take small steps but have the end in mind: profitable growth. Daniel knew he couldn’t just jump into distribution. Instead, he did his homework. First, he collected the company’s distribution information. He found the data to be patchy–nobody had a full overview. His team created a dashboard, showing that distribution was at 68 percent of all stores. With these insights, Daniel got more involved. His team developed distribution ideas and even shifted the marketing budget to fund these efforts. One day he felt comfortable enough to share his vision: “Let’s crack 80 percent.” The sales team initially felt put on the spot. But with data at hand, people listened to Daniel. Eighty percent became the goal. When they reached it, a big part of the success was credited to Daniel.

It took Daniel several weeks to change his own brand from marketing expert to growth driver. Now, lack of attention, for him, is a thing of the past.

Your influence as a leader goes up when you work on the company’s biggest issues. Getting involved in what matters may take you several steps. How about taking the first step today?

Ask yourself; do you work on the right issues to be influential?

*The name and context has been changed.