Oscar Wilde once said ‘The revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.’ Now, what happens if you apply that to the marketing transformation efforts of the last few years? Marketers everywhere are adjusting their strategy in a bid to do more with less, but are their efforts being lost in translation?
Richard O’Connor, CEO of B2B Marketing and Propolis, fears that may be the case, and says it’s crucial that marketers become bilingual.
‘What I mean by that is that the language that happens within the marketing function, that everybody understands, everybody knows, and everybody kind of rattles out as if it’s a collective understanding, is not the same [language] that’s required at board level or with sales, product, or other parts of the business. Because they don’t care,’ he says.
‘I mean, arguably sales care about the leads they get. But they don’t care whether it’s an MQL or SQL. They understand what those phrases are. But is the customer ready to buy? Is it a lead? A hot lead? That’s what they actually care about.’
However, it’s not the sales team that marketers need to focus on integrating with. Richard says that the most important language barrier to break is that with the CFO, because what your finance function cares about, the CEO cares about. Broadly speaking, they tend to care about growth and the execution and delivery of strategy above all else — something that’s frequently lost in the daily whirlwind of different departments doing their thing.
‘What often happens in organisations is that there’s just too much navel-gazing,’ says Richard. ‘The strategy is set at the start of the year. Then there’s a roadshow that happens perhaps over a period of a month where the CEO or their plus ones go around and talk about the strategy. And then that strategy remains the same.’
‘The CEO is thinking about it. The CFO is probably thinking about it. But then sales, marketing, and other functions go off and start to do their own thing. And over time, actually, I think those functions get further and further away [from the original strategy] unless they’re constantly looking back and making sure that what they’re doing aligns.’
‘I think that’s where the challenge lies about what a really good CMO does, coming back to the board or to their senior leadership team and saying “Right, okay, where are we with the strategy? Is there any deviation from the strategy?” and “I know what the overarching objectives are, and this is what we’re doing to make sure that we’re delivering on that strategy.” Not talking about MQLs and SQLs.’
Unfortunately, this can feel easier said than done when you’re under pressure to deliver strong quarterly results. CMOs can find themselves misaligned by incentive programs that are only measured by MQLs. Eventually, marketing becomes a means unto itself where your sales team doesn’t find the MQLs useful, but you have no choice but to keep producing them. In time, this means that entire departments are working on campaigns without knowing the objectives behind them, why they’re even worth doing, or how they align to the business’s broader strategy.
‘If you’re not pursuing strategy and aligning to it, nobody will notice until you get much further into the year because everyone’s busy,’ says Richard. ‘You’re a functional head, there’s an expectation that you are going to be following strategy and not going down a slightly different path. Nobody’s really going to notice in large organisations because everyone is getting on with their own job.’
‘Unless you’ve got a really diligent manager or leader who is keeping a really close eye on the day-to-day, which frankly nobody has time to do, then over the course of a year it doesn’t get noticed. So you can very steadily get further away from the overall business objectives. And I think that’s where some of the challenges come with the credibility of sales and marketing.’
And the consequences of the language barrier don’t end there. Marketing means different things to different people, so it’s hard to tell whether someone is referring to the practice, the discipline, or the department at any given time. It sounds like small potatoes, but over time this definitional blurring has led to the attitude that marketing entails ‘colouring in PowerPoint presentations in the basement’, in Richard’s words.
The strongest, best marketing leaders are the ones who manage to break free from this. An emerging trend is a new kind of marketing transformation that’s proving successful for some: centralising brand and strategy, while decentralising the activation of it at the same time.
In doing so, practitioners are able to ensure that every marketing effort is fully aligned to strategy (as that’s the centralised element), while enabling local and field marketers to get on with what they do best.
And for everything else, there’s learning your CFO’s hot buttons.
LISTEN: Discover Richard O’Connor’s insights on understanding the buyer journey, the ABM renaissance, and why a focus on procurement helps nobody in the full podcast.
Writer, Selbey Anderson
As well as running her own boutique agency, Duckman Copy Ltd, Ornella is house writer for the Unicorny podcast which is sponsored by Selbey Anderson. She’s happy to turn her pen to all types if content from white papers to websites, from billboards to board game instructions and contributes regularly to Unicorny.co.uk, Selbeyanderson.com and Stateofdigital.com.