How to Explain Marketing to the C-Suite (4 Things They Need to Hear)

Andrew Stanten


In today’s world, marketing is starting to look like magic, or at least smoke and mirrors. Between retargeting, DSPs, automated email, CLV scoring and about a million other things, the jargon is out of control.

That’s a problem for marketers, particularly since the messages their CEOs are getting are fraught with misaligned expectations and untruths. Here are four tips to help you explain marketing to the C-suite.

Four Things Your CEO Needs to Know About Marketing

  1. Marketing Can’t Replace Sales
  2. Marketing Isn’t All About Leads
  3. Marketing Automation Isn’t a Magic Bullet
  4. You Can’t Attribute Every Dollar of Revenue

1. Marketing can’t replace sales (and vice versa)

I’ve worked with a handful of execs who seemed to think today’s marketing can replace sales. Unless you are offering a “buy now” solution, not only is this untrue, but operating as if it is can have a detrimental effect on your sales and marketing organization. Your team can sense when you are prioritizing one effort over another. It can demotivate employees and create an environment of finger-pointing and antagonism.

For a marketing campaign to truly meets its potential, collaboration is key. When you’re launching a new business initiative (or just trying to explain marketing to the C-suite), involve both sales and marketing from the very beginning. Lay out each department’s role and acknowledge what it is each brings to the table, but hold them to the same metric of success: not top-of-the-funnel leads, not outbound phone calls, but bottom-line revenue growth.

And for most organizations, you can’t only rely on internet-generated (web, social) leads. Salespeople still need to network, hunt, cross-sell, in-sell and make opportunities for themselves. Marketing’s role in these cases is to support those efforts.

2. Marketing isn’t all about leads

When you’re launching a new marketing program, it’s important to agree on your key performance indicators (KPIs), or the metrics you’ll use to measure the effectiveness of your campaign as it progresses. Often, the first thing we hear is “We need more leads.”

But as a company, you sell a specific product to a very specific customer. Therefore, success can’t be equated to how many names you add to your database. You’re trying to attract the interest of a particular customer type: the type that will convert. What sounds better to you: 1,000 leads at a 1 percent conversion rate or 50 leads at a 50 percent conversion rate?

When you define your KPIs and attempt to explain marketing to the C-suite, don’t just focus on site traffic alone. Instead, look at how many web visitors downloaded your content or requested a demo. Don’t count up your leads; look at how many actually turned into business. And remember, numbers don’t tell the whole story. If the metrics were not what you were expecting, ask yourself why. Is it the pricing, the feature set, the messaging? Go back and look at the last three years’ numbers. Are your projections realistic given previous metrics? Do you notice any annual dips or seasonal spikes? Every number has a context and only by looking at both internal and external factors can you begin to understand how to shift them in the right direction.

I was in a conversation a few months back with a CEO who was disappointed with his marketing efforts. He kept harping on how his website had slipped to page two and three on Google searches for a handful of keywords. That said, quality of leads were up, conversions were up and average deal size was up. Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors and don’t be duped into looking at the wrong metric. What would you rather have — good keyword ranking for a term or a deposit into the company bank account?

3. Marketing and automation tools can’t replace humans

There’s no question that marketing automation programs and customer relationship management systems have empowered marketers and salespeople with valuable tools and insights. But they come at a price.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of what programs like Hubspot, Marketo, Act-On and Pardot can do. But remember — these are technology platforms. And these companies are brilliant at marketing.

Marketing automation” makes it sound like you don’t need to do anything. Truth be told it’s “marketing semi-automation.” It still takes a ton of human IP and time to make these systems worth it.

If you plan to invest thousands of dollars every month for one of these programs, ask yourself if you also have the personnel, time and resources to use it to its fullest capacity. (This is key, too, when you need to justify the expense to your CEO.)

Invest in technology, but also invest in knowledge. Teach your team to write compelling content, to target the right audiences, to leverage customer data in a way that will further your business. These skills are critical. Without a knowledgeable, collaborative and success-driven sales and marketing organization, that new “turnkey” CRM is just a Porsche sitting in the driveway of someone who doesn’t know how to drive stick.

4. Don’t try to attribute every dollar

The abundance of marketing data and performance metrics available is both a blessing and a curse. Never before have we been able to so easily test, measure and track. And this is a great thing so we can scale up what’s working, refine what could be doing better and kill what should be killed. But with all this data comes a lot of noise — and a dangerous pitfall. Don’t try to track every last action and measure its ROI. You’ll waste more time and leave opportunities on the table.

Marketing today requires you take an integrated approach that combines social, public relations, digital advertising, re-targeting, sponsored posts, email marketing and more.

I had a CEO the other day questioning his entire social strategy because he didn’t have visibility into whether or not a single tweet produced enough leads to make it worth it. A. Single. Tweet. Like I said, don’t try to connect every dot.

Conclusion: How to Explain Marketing to the C-Suite

Explaining marketing to the C-suite is really about setting proper expectations from the beginning. You – and they – are awash in information. You don’t know what they’ve read, heard or absorbed … or what resonated with them. Make sure your CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO and other C-suite members understand what you’re really trying to do, and how you plan to do it.

This post was originally written by Andrew Stanten for Need a hand with setting marketing expectations, planning your strategy or executing? We’d love to help! Contact us online or call 610-421-8601 x122 to get the ball rolling.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.