Marketers Must Speak the Language of Business

Amanda Creger
July 31, 2018

CMOs still have headway to make to prove their value to executive management. While they sit at the executive table with the rest of the C-suite, they often lack the influence of their peers. They also have the shortest tenure of all the C-suite roles.

As a CMO, you may be doing all the right things…but you may be using the wrong language to communicate the outcomes. Business value doesn’t rest within so-called “vanity” metrics or soft marketing KPIs. Marketing leaders must be proficient in translating campaign or performance outcomes into the language of business – revenue, profit margins, lifetime customer value, retention rates/cost, etc.

Report up, with the right metrics. Don’t flood others with data. Much of the speeds and feeds that essential to your team’s day-to-day optimization are overwhelming—or meaningless—to the executive team. Communicate the metrics that matter.

In addition to “speaking the language”, it’s also critical to create alignment with key executives, starting with your CEO. Even with the best intentions, marketing often operates on its own plane. Ensure you understand your CEO’s vision and clearly articulate how your strategy aligns with his/her top business objectives. This also means ensuring the CEO’s vision is articulated down through your organization. A 2015 Harvard Business Review study found that only 55% of middle managers can name even one of their company’s top 5 priorities. If your team doesn’t fully understand the business imperative, how can they possibly execute effectively against it?

CMOS also need to build a tight relationship with the CFO. CFOs are still considered the #1 most trusted ally to the CEO, not to mention critical to getting the budget you need to execute your vision. Understand the CFO’s concerns and priorities and be prepared to address how your strategy answers them—or could, with modifications (and budget). To get in good with your CFO, consider adopting a zero-based mentality. You may not be doing true zero-based budgeting in your organization – a system in which you “start from scratch” to build a budget based on anticipated returns vs. targeting a generic % increase over the previous year. But being able to communicate the business case for the line items within your budget shows a commitment to organizational efficiency and profitability, concepts near and dear to the hearts of CFOs.

While you’re making friends, why stop here? Today’s marketing organization plays such a wide-sweeping role, from working with HR on employer branding (think “Best Places to Work” and branding that can drive recruitment) to collaborating with Operations and Customer Service to better understand the customer journey. It’s imperative the CMO understands the inner workings, top challenges, and key goals of each of their C-level counterparts and engages them to create a cohesive strategy aligned to top-level business goals.

As a modern CMO, it’s time to add one more skill to your repertoire: translator of business value. This means understanding the priorities of your C-suite peers–and aligning with them by communicating the metrics that matter.