This article was written for The Marketing Transformation Leadership Forum on Customer Experience Management
“Getting the Board on board”. Practical suggestions for securing top level support for investment in building marketing capability and overall organisational fitness.
Among the lessons learned in 20 years running marketing departments and leading change in a diverse range of businesses and market sectors, one stands out above all others:
A prerequisite for sustained, significant and successful change is unified support from the very top.
And as marketing is so often the main instigator of change in an organisation, I believe it’s critical that CMOs understand and figure out how to address this challenge. The reasons are simple:
1) Dependency: Marketing’s work invariably impacts many other functions, so successfully changing the way marketing operates usually depends on other departments changing too.
2) Investment: Whether it’s restructuring, staff engagement, training or new procedures, change is usually expensive and requires a sustained commitment to investment.
3) Leadership: Getting people to change their behaviour is tough at the best of times. Any cracks in unified and visible leadership from the top create wriggle room to avoid change.
Whether the objective is to enhance the role played by marketing, to create an academy to develop marketing competence or to build overall organisational performance, the requirement for top level understanding and endorsement remains essential. So here are some practical suggestions for successfully winning top level support drawn from my experience with Hilton, ScotRail P&G and J&J.
1) Align the Objectives: Good ideas often fall at the first hurdle because they’re not seen as relevant to the company’s wider objectives. Typical board meeting response: “Great idea but now’s not the time”. The challenge is therefore to show an indisputable link with the company’s ability to achieve its commercial objectives – the stuff that gets discussed at the top of the board agenda. For example, the case for a marketing academy might well be based on demonstrating the inability of the current team to deliver the company’s revenue and share targets. This is best presented using robust evidence such as performance reviews, benchmarks studies, campaign results etc and preferably independently endorsed by the HR director.
2) Prove The Business Case: Key to success is being able to show credible financial returns from the required investment. This kind of quantification is often difficult but rarely impossible and without it what major investment proposal has a chance? Returns may be rooted in business gain (e.g. sales performance, market share gain), reduced loss (e.g. improved service resulting in lower customer defection) or synergies and efficiencies (reduced cost base and improved ROCE) – all quantifiable and measurable. I’ve found the best allies in developing this kind of case to be the finance team. Their early involvement builds credibility and often helps secure support from the CFO.
3) Show How It Will Work: The knock on effect of marketing related initiatives can be far reaching for all parts of a company. How credible is a board presentation that hasn’t considered and addressed the potential implications for other departments? Such implications might include organisation structure, roles & responsibilities, prioritisation of workload and budget control. Some of the potential implications may not be obvious so a team-based approach engaging all the key functions is often vitally important. Better to flush out the issues before standing up to present!
4) Plan For Change: Implementing any form of significant change, such as the evolution of a marketing team’s role within a company is complex. It takes time and ties up resources that might be deployed elsewhere. So often, projects stall because sufficiently detailed project plans are not prepared and agreed in advance with all those who have a role to play. The inclusion of even an outline implementation plan significantly strengthens the business case and limits anyone’s ability to inhibit the progress of the project at a later stage.
5) Roll The Wicket: It’s likely that the different members of a board or management committee will react to the same proposal in quite different ways for a variety of reasons including their personal relationship with the project sponsor, their understanding and view of marketing, the way in which they grasp new concepts and assimilate information, their professional background and skill set, their specific business responsibilities and of course, the way in which the proposal is likely to affect them. It therefore makes sense ‘pre-sell’ key board members before a meeting. This has the advantage of tailoring the case to address individual interests and flushing out key objections in a more manageable setting, thereby making the final case a water tight as possible.
6) Prepare and Rehearse: No matter how much ‘wicket-rolling’ is undertaken, success often depends on being able present and debate an idea persuasively within board or management committee meetings. Effective persuasion rests on the audience believing something is important, understanding how it will work and seeing the benefit of doing it. People respond better what they have confidence in the presenter and when they’re stimulated, inspired and even entertained. Getting a presentation to this level takes careful preparation and plenty of rehearsal, preferably in front of a live, hostile audience. The best ‘ad lib’ presentations are painstakingly prepared well in advance!
Big ideas that have the potential to transform company performance need to be nurtured, protected and given the best chance to flourish. In my experience, time spent securing 100% top-level understanding and support from the outset is time well spent.