How to get your CEO to trust marketing

And budget for it!

Here are four common tensions between the C-Suite and the marketing team. And four (fairly simple) ways to fix them.

There’s a joke marketers love to tell each other. It goes like this:

A journalist is taking a tour of a major corporation. The CEO greets him at the entrance and leads the way back to her executive suite. Along the way, they pass an office with an open door. Inside, the journalist sees a man chomping a cigar, yelling into his phone, waving his fist in the air. 

“Geez, he looks busy,” says the journalist. “Who is he?”

“That’s my COO,” says the CEO. “I pay him $200k to manage the products going out.”

Next, they pass an office littered with spreadsheets. Charts are taped to every wall. And at a desk, a woman is hunched over her laptop, frantically pecking at her keyboard.

“Wow, she looks busy, too,” says the journalist. “Who’s she?”

“That’s my CFO,” says the CEO. “I pay her $220k to manage the money coming in.”

The pair walk past a third door. Inside the office, there’s a man with his feet up on his desk, his hands behind his head, looking out the window, daydreaming.

“Um, who’s that guy?” asks the journalist.

“Oh, that’s my CMO,” replies the CEO. I pay him $250k to make sure the other two stay busy.”


Meanwhile, here in the real world…

That joke illustrates how marketers see themselves. They’re the soul of the business, the keeper of the brand, and the spark for sales. Marketing is the engine that makes everything else run.

Not every CEO agrees, however.

In fact, The Harvard Business Review found that “80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed by their CMOs. In comparison, just 10% feel that way about their CFOs or CIOs.”

And the feeling is mutual.

The same study states that 74% of CMOs say their hands are tied, and they’re overwhelmed by responsibilities that don’t allow them to maximize their impact on the business.

You’re on the same team. Now get on the same page.

At estound, we get to work with some of the top marketers in the region. Privately, many tell similar stories. They were overworked and underappreciated. Over time, however, they were able to earn the respect and budgets great marketing deserves.

So here are four common tensions between marketing and executive leadership. And ideas how to fix each one.

Tension #1

A CEO knocks on your door, announces that the annual goal is a 15% revenue hike, and asks for a new ad campaign that’ll help accomplish it. Sound familiar? From the very beginning, marketing is expected to respond to outside influences with a predetermined solution, instead of charting its own course .

Solution #1

You can get ahead of this by remembering that a marketer’s most important job isn’t to babysit an agency. It’s to optimize the ratio of Lifetime Value of a Customer to Cost to Acquire a Customer (Or LTV:CAC). (You can read more about that in our earlier article!) And there are lots of tools in your toolbox that’ll help you do it. So instead of sticking to the script, create a network of ideas that include demand generation, pricing strategies and customer success improvements. Then, present them interwoven with tactical executions.

Tension #2

There are all sorts of ways businesses try to visualize the path to purchase. There’s the sales funnel. The ecosystem. The customer journey. (Heck, somewhere out there right now, there’s probably a consultant concocting a new model as we speak!) All of these tools tend to overwhelm marketers, creating a laundry list of tactics you think you need. And blinding you to strategic solutions.

Solution #2

Instead of wasting your energy worrying how to get the best website UX or the coolest TV commercial, state an objective you want to accomplish and then brainstorm 360 degrees around it, considering supply, demand, awareness, conversion and retention. And then, go even bigger. Imagine your budget was cut by 90%. (Yes, 90%!) What would you do then? This exercise will stop you from settling for tiny, incremental improvements. And help you uncover bold, creative ideas.

Tension #3

The budgeting process is busted. Some companies fund marketing by making a list of tactics and then adding up how much they’ll cost. Others compare next year’s goals with last year’s results and adjust up or down accordingly. Either way, marketers don’t have any wiggle room. They get a chunk of change and then have to spend it. (Or risk losing it next year!)


Solution #3

Marketing’s goals need to be aligned with the business’s. So successful CMOs take the bull by the horns. Try asking your CEO for the big picture. Revenue, stock price, market acquisition, whatever. Sit down with your team and brainstorm what Objectives and Key Results (OKR) marketing can actually be accountable for. And then present a budget that funds for those OKRs.

Tension #4

When you succeed, sales gets the credit. When you fail, marketing takes the blame. There’s no sugar coating it. Sales knows the bottom line before marketing does. So they have time to bask in the applause… Or point the finger. This is one of the biggest ironies of working in marketing. You find leads, build relationships and inspire enthusiasm. And then someone else convinces the prospect to sign on the dotted line.

Solution #4

Shift the early conversations from Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL). Most salespeople – and a whole lot of CEOs – believe that any SQL is a good one. After all, if someone is engaging with a salesperson, they’re only one step from purchase. But mid-funnel leads tend to perform better in the long run. They’re cheaper to obtain. And they usually lead to customers who have a higher LTV. Show how MQLs support revenue goals, and you’ll get the credit you deserve. (And the salespeople will be happier too, once they see how an abundance of MQLs starts to pay off.)


This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.

These aren’t the only four tensions in the workplace today, of course. And there are a lot more solutions offered in estound’s Unified Marketing System. But if you begin here, you’ll build a strong relationship with the C-suite. And you’ll start getting the budgets you need to succeed.

Who knows? Eventually, maybe people will even laugh at your marketing jokes.

ready to GET STARTED?

Drop us a note and we'll coordinate a time to discuss where your marketing has hit a wall and how UMS might help you break through.

The UMS method has transformed our business. The discipline it gave us helped us survive through tough times and then thrive with years of double-digit growth. This process works and we are evidence of it.

David DeCamillis
VP Sales & Marketing, Platte River Networks