09/05/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Keep Your CMO Out of the CEO Shark Tank

In my previous post, I outlined the biggest barriers that keep marketing leaders in the C-suite shark tank, and prevent them from building their boardroom gravitas. How can you overcome these barriers quickly and effectively? Here's what my best clients do:

1. Parse your CEO-influencing strategy into smaller steps. The purpose of communicating a compelling message in the CEO's language is to generate interest; interest generates a meeting; meetings create trusting relationships; and relationships drive conceptual agreement. You need a conceptual agreement to define objectives, measures of success, and value to the organization, customers, employees, shareholders, and community. The conceptual agreement fuels the business case and facilitates the approval cycle.

2. Align your executive meeting reports, reporting cadence, and language with your Sales and Finance peers. Report on your annual and quarterly progress against key metrics first. Ensure you report on demand creation activities in the early portion of meetings. Downplay highlights on tactical issues, such as a logo design, Twitter campaigns, or live customer events. They can be reported on a "need to know" basis or email summary.

3. Avoid a "one size fits all" report across all product lines. Ensure the marketing KPIs you select align with the life cycle of each product in your portfolio. Let's face it: Not all marketing initiatives are capital investments. They may be expenses attributed to your company's P&L, not the balance sheet. This is especially true when you are developing a brand-new product or creating a new market. When you are 18-36 months away from launch, building your early marquis customer list, signing up name brand partners, and generating PR traction will be more critical than tracking contribution margin or revenue against plan. Those early market programs are essential to fuel your growth engine and diversify your product portfolio.

At Digi International, executive chairman Joe Dunsmore recognizes that the KPIs needed for tracking performance within their newer Etherios business unit are dramatically different from their traditional offerings.

Dunsmore stresses that one way to increase market penetration for their well-established wireless radio frequency products is by consistently delivering compelling content at "On this site, Digi creates content that is exclusively designed to celebrate customers' innovations. Instead of focusing on our product features, we create a sense of community around the brand."

4. Ask the CEO what she wants to see on the reports. Create a custom report that reflects her biggest priorities as well as your progress against your top three performance goals. Set your ego aside and put her KPIs at the top of the report.

5. Stay agile. Sometimes the numbers will not tell the entire story. Dramatic market shifts, new competitors, and team attrition may drive the need for a CEO-CMO huddle.

6. Tell the bad news first. Transparency drives trust. Former Eloqua CEO Joe Payne reminds us that "If I know that you know, then I can trust you will solve the problem. Tell me the bad news immediately, and show me a way you are going to fix it. If you don't talk about your plan and your progress, then you are in a bad place. And I will assume you don't even know you are in a bad place. That's when I need to find someone else to fill your shoes."

Once your CEO recognizes that you care about the pipeline and can speak her language, you will earn respect. In the long term, you will also escape the clutches of the man-eating sea creatures lurking in the boardroom.

Related Posts:

Why Today's Marketing Planning Models Fail To Deliver In The C-Suite

Why CMOs Also Have To Be Thought Leaders

6 Questions All CMOs Need To Ask Themselves

[Image: Flickr user Ross Garner]


Copyright 2013, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

This post originally appeared in FastCompany.