Getting board buy-in – a guide for marketing managers
You’ve requested time with the board to present your marketing strategy and to secure that all important budget.
The time and date are fixed firmly in your calendar – and seared in your mind.
But, before you pull your boots on and start prepping, these pointers will help you get the board buy-in to secure the outcome you want.
The key to board buy-in – know your audience
Very few organisations have marketing represented at board level. Board composition will vary by company size, but generally, most will include a CEO, a finance director and an operational director, and sometimes a sales director.
These people will be primarily concerned about operational efficiency, profitability and liquidity and company growth. As you would with any marketing activity, get to know your target audience – who are they and what are their objectives?
Speak their language
Get ready to speak their language, most of them will have some understanding of marketing, but they won’t know the detail. So, try to avoid using marketing terminology – instead, articulate your marketing plans within the context of long-term strategy, growth and profitability.
Learn how to read profit and loss accounts; I’m not suggesting you become a management accountant, but arm yourself with enough knowledge to talk confidently with the FD. You also need to have a clear view of the company’s financial position, and you can’t do that unless you can read and understand financial information.
A practical example
Think about this example. It’s a little tactical, but it serves as a good illustration.
Google Analytics data shows that the company’s website has a high bounce rate. You know this needs to be investigated, and fixed. A high bounce rate can indicate a number of things:
- People aren’t finding what they need – your content and/or design needs work
- Your page load time is too slow – you need to take action to reduce load speed
Whatever the reasons, people aren’t finding what they want on your site, so they are going straight back to their search results and onto another website.
As a marketer, you know this needs immediate action. But, the board don’t understand bounce rate. Why should they? That’s your job. So how do you get them to give you a budget to fix it?
Let the data tell the story
Explain the bounce rate problem using data that ties into their main concerns – profitability, long-term growth and revenue.
- Every month the company website receives 3,000 website visits, but with a bounce rate of 50%, you lose 1,500 of those visitors. The website has a conversion rate of 3%, so you generate 45 leads per month.
- By reducing the bounce rate from 50% to 30% you can increase leads from 45 to 63 per month.
- With the current lead to sales conversion rate at 33% and an average order value of £5k, this equates to an average monthly sales figure of £103, 950 versus £74,250 – or an increase of £29,700.
Put this into a graphic that shows the expected outcome – 20% reduction in bounce rate = £29.7k additional sales per month.
The Board don’t care about bounce rate.
But they will care about additional revenue.
As a senior marketer, you need to be driving not only revenue but company growth. To show you’re doing just that, you need to communicate regularly with the board and share progress. This could be in the form of a monthly report or a regular slot at board meetings (or both). Ultimately, you need to present your results in a strategic rather than a tactical way.
For example, the FD won’t care about the fact organic traffic has grown 10% from last year (even though that has no doubt taken an enormous amount of marketing effort to achieve). He or she will want to know how many leads marketing is bringing in and what the return on marketing investment is. many leads are forecast for the financial year, what’s the conversion ratio? What new markets and products/services are you identifying to achieve growth over the long-term?
One of the reasons marketing is so under-represented at board level is because marketers often struggle to demonstrate results in the right language for the board.
And it’s not easy to do. I know, I’ve been there.
But it really helps to build relationships with board members outside of board meetings. Maybe suggest a monthly catch-up with the FD or the Ops Director. Remember, information is two way – you need to understand what is happening in the business to inform your own marketing activities.
And always share progress on marketing activities. You will be judged on your performance. Keep the board updated. If something isn’t working as per your forecast, share what actions you are taking to address this.
Marketing is hard, sometimes you don’t have all the data you need. And as we all know, there is a lot of testing and tweaking before the results come in.
There are times when you just have to believe in your marketing approach and go for it. And having built a good relationship with the board helps with this.
I remember a discussion with the board of a tech company about the value of content marketing. At the time I was spending a lot of money on Google paid ads. The search terms customers used in this sector were highly competitive and therefore expensive.
I had identified long-tail keywords to chase organic traffic and needed a content marketing budget.
The board wanted a guarantee that we would be in the Google top 3 for these terms. There was no way I would commit to this, but using the data I had from Adwords, I was able to show where we could reduce our reliance on Google AdWords and roughly how much that would equate to each month.
Obviously, this plan wouldn’t yield results overnight so I put forward a 12-month plan and requested a quarterly meeting with the board so I could update them with progress. The plan worked, but I had to trust my instinct and go for it.
And in terms of getting board buy-in, my ultimate focus was the reduction of cost per lead and therefore an improvement in profitability. Not chasing elusive Google number 1 rankings!
Marketing and the Board
It is disappointing that so few companies have a marketer on the board. I’m a firm believer that building strong relationships with the board and achieving board buy-in makes your role much more rewarding.
Not only that, you’ll be advancing your own career – and the marketing profession as a whole. See it as a ‘call to arms’ to put marketers on the board!
If you are new to reading balance sheets and P&L accounts, there are some great books out there. I’d also recommend getting time with your FD and asking them to explain some of it to you. It’s all part of relationship building and you can reciprocate by taking them through a more in-depth tour of your marketing plan.
If you haven’t already done the CIM Postgraduate Diploma, I’d highly recommend it. The course content covers how to contribute to board level decisions and includes a section on management accounting.