Jennifer's Frank Advice for Marketers in Forbes

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My latest article for Forbes has been published. In it, I speak candidly with CMOs and marketing leaders about how to have more influence in their organization. The perennial topic of "marketing marketing" is a key one across businesses and industries. It requires great cross-functional partnerships, communication, and, most importantly, a keen sense of self. I haven't ever done it perfectly, but has learned lessons through the years that may be of use to others. 

Check my page on Forbes for all of the recent articles.

Special thanks to many leaders, mentors, and friends who have influenced my thinking on this topic, including Steve Buhaly, Angela Dowling, Balaji Krishnamurthy, Gerry Perkel, Amy Walker Barrs, Alyssa Gasca, Wade Clowes, Sam Runco, Ben Clifton, Jerry Viera, Carolyn McKnight, Douwe Bergsma, Erick Petersen, Jerry Dawson, Steve Bryan, Mick Connolly, Tanya Young Stump, Paul Gulick, Steve Seminario, Rob Baumgartner, Adam Schmidt, Karen Howells, Samantha Phenix, Susan Clark, Rob Morton, Jon Quillard, Esther Diez, William Efird, Julie Naster, William Walker, Greg Turnbull, Jack Raiton, Zach Zhang, Victor Li, Kelly Kannwischer, Teresa Caro, Helene Lollis, Dan Bruton, Terry Trover, Mark Ceciliani, Rob Stewart, Doug Barnes, Patrick Herguth, Annie Ho, and many, many more. I am also indebted to authors Seth Godin, Patrick Lencioni, Eli Goldratt, Barry Trailer, Jon Maeda, Clayton Christensen, Danny Meyer, Ben Horowitz, Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Gino Wickman, Michael Watkins, and Guy Kawasaki  for their insights. Although I have been blessed with great counsel, the opinions expressed here are my own.


You can’t talk about sales and marketing alignment without addressing the topic of “marketing marketing.” Some companies devalue marketing, considering it sales support or the group that makes things pretty (the “arts and crafts department” as a friend once quipped). Other companies strongly value the strategic importance of marketing in branding, product roadmap, strategic planning, and industry thought leadership.  I have been blessed to work for organizations that model the latter, but I certainly am familiar with the former.

Forgive my tough love, but if you are a marketer and want to do a better job of marketing marketing in your organization (and building your own personal brand in the process), here are five questions to get you on the right path.

1. Would you having a seat at the decision-making table improve the company results?

You may be a great third baseman, knowing all the throwing and catching moves that make someone fantastic at executing this role in a baseball game, but if you don’t know how to read the scoreboard, understand sports commentary, or know how your actions impact the outcome of the game, you are not a very strong ball player. Similarly, if you don’t know how the score is kept in your business, you may not yet deserve a seat at the table to influence decision making.

You must remember you are a business person. No matter your role in the company. When you are pitching a new idea or defending your budget, can you frame the results you hope to achieve in financial terms?  Are you prepared to advise senior leadership to make strong economic decisions?

Now, this emphasis on financial results doesn’t prevent being a hands-on, servant leader who knows the technical details of the functional work and gets things done. That is required. It doesn’t prevent a business from having a strong mission, culture, and a balanced scorecard that includes giving back in the community. That is increasingly critical. But if you are tasked with allocating resources, you should be able to describe it in the language and thought process of a business leader.

Best advice: Lead with the financials. Don’t put them in the back of your deck or neglect to make a business case for the things you are doing. Tell your peers and boss what they can expect in return for the investments you are advocating, whether that be revenue, profit, lifetime customer value, or some other economic driver that your shareholders value. And if you aren’t sure how to do this, learn. Get a mentor. Take a class. Ask your CFO to lunch. Read a book. Be curious about the economic impact of your choices and let that guide your thinking.

2. What is the perception of you and that of marketing in your organization? 

Before you would embark on a brand-building campaign, you would begin with data to identify the "as is" state and some visioning to determine "to be" state, so that the gap could be identified and closed with careful planning and execution. Often this “as is” state is determined with surveys, voice of the customer, share of voice analysis, or other tools, both formal and informal. Why not do the same thing within your organization to gauge how far away your brand perception within organization is from what you envision as the ideal?

I also know that many business people have scars from previous wounds in the battle to align sales and marketing. You may be in an organization where the marketing function is mistrusted or undervalued, and that was true long before you were on the scene. Making positive change in this environment requires more individual attention: to understand where detractors are coming from, their concerns, and how to lead the organization forward.

Best advice: Know your strengths, weaknesses, and how you are perceived, personally and as a function. Asking a few trusted advisors within the company might give you enough to know your starting place. There are organizations - like Gartner ( CEB ), SiriusDecisions, or consultants - who can assess the strength of your team across a variety of frameworks. Determine how you want to be perceived and take action to close the gaps. Build alignment with peers with by delivering results and with open communication.

3. How are you mentoring and developing your team to be better practitioners and better business people?

You are responsible for the work output and business acumen of your team. Going back to my first point, one of my best practices is to give my marketing teams a primer in reading financial statements. This includes creatives, new college grads and interns, and experienced functional experts brought in for their expertise. As I said, everyone should know how the game of business is played. This is just one example of the learning objectives you can set for your team that set you apart. Other topics for exploration might include new practices in digital demand generation, insights into changing customer preferences, or developing a point of view of how technologies like AI, bitcoin and blockchain might impact your business.

Best advice: Have a learning and development plan for each individual on your team and for the team overall. Assess your talent against your goals to make sure you have the right horsepower to get you there. Don’t be afraid to make changes or redefine roles as necessary. Think critically about what you in-source and outsource, through agencies, contractors, or service vendors to ensure you are maintaining the right amount of capability and curiosity in your organization.

4. What "marketing" does your customer really need?

This should probably be the first question, because anything that isn't seen and appreciated by customers, probably isn't worth doing (besides that which is required for regulatory, legal, or financial compliance). If the customer can’t see it, then it’s waste. What specific value does the customer perceive in the marketing you do?

  • Are your empowered customers able to make better and faster decisions because of their access to technical information?
  • Are your resellers able to reduce their costs with more accurate quoting resources?
  • Are your clients able to achieve business results because of the value proposition of the products and services you provide?
  • Are they more loyal because of your differentiated customer service approach?
  • Do you make it easy for your customers in ways they value, throughout their customer journey?

Best advice: If you can’t think of examples of adding value that customers perceive, it is time to rethink your strategies. If customers only see themselves being “sold to,” then it is unlikely that you are providing them the value that will lead to long-term loyalty and maximize lifetime customer value. If you can think of solid examples, use these success stories as a platform to build credibility and to inform your investments of time, money, and energy.

and finally...

5. What is working that is worth repeating?

If you want to answer questions 1-4 and put a plan of action in place, a good place to start is to build upon your successes. Where are some situations that have gone well, that you think are worthy of replication and celebration? Use formal employee communications and informal networks to tell the story of the wins. Remember, you serve a role in building positive momentum throughout the whole organization when you market marketing and let everyone participate in the success.

Best advice: Go back and analyze a big order, a design win, a record-setting campaign, or a successful product launch and ask everyone involved how it came to be: the touch points with the organization, what sales tools or marketing resources were used, and what made the difference. Listen for examples of cross-functional teamwork. Use that case study as a cause for recognition, a chance to tell employees about how marketing is playing a role in your shared success, and as an example to replicate in future campaigns or plans. Make sure the CEO and the leadership team knows the story and ask for their help in congratulating those involved in the win.

These questions, and the follow-on discussions they have triggered, have helped develop my leadership and have been useful to leaders I have mentored. What has been your experience?  What are your best practices around marketing marketing?  Connect on Twitter or LinkedIn and let's continue the conversation.