The key to correcting the C-suite trust deficit

Take a moment to search “CMO tenure” and you’ll find a wide variety of content discussing the short tenure of CMOs and how it’s among the shortest of roles in the C-suite. If you dive deeper, you’ll find that CEOs don’t seem to trust CMOs.

Boathouse’s CMO Insights study (registration required) noted several sobering conclusions:

34% of CEOs have great confidence in their CMOs.
32% of CEOs trust their CMOs.
56% of CEOs believe their CMO supports their long-term vision.
And only 10% of CEOs believe their CMO puts the CEO’s needs before their own.

If these statistics also apply to the CMO’s entire organization, then it’s clear we have a trust problem with marketing leadership.

If you haven’t read Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” I consider it required reading for anyone in any leadership role. In his book, Lencioni builds a pyramid of dysfunctions that need to be addressed for a team to succeed. The foundational dysfunction — with which one cannot build a successful team — is “absence of trust.” We see it at scale with marketing organizations today.

Introducing objectivity through data

In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare writes, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Each organization that makes up a company looks at the company from a different perspective. What marketing sees as positive, finance may see as negative. But who’s right? No one.

Usually, there is no objectivity because leadership comes up with an idea and we execute it. It’s like the fashion proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Unfortunately, we’re going to struggle to run a profitable organization if it’s run like a fashion show.

Therefore, we need to introduce objectivity to how we work. Leadership needs to come together to agree on goals that align with the goals of the broader organization. One element of this conversation should be an acknowledgment that this is turning a ship.

Often leaders — especially those without marketing backgrounds — are likely to expect instant gratification. It’s going to take time to turn the ship and you and your team would do well to set reasonable expectations right away.

Dig deeper: KPIs that connect: 5 metrics for marketing, sales and product alignment

Aligning goals and metrics across the organization

With goals in hand, we need to assign metrics to their progress and agree on the source(s) of truth. Once these objective measures are in place, perspective doesn’t matter. 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of whether you’re in HR or accounting.

Every public road has a speed limit and whether you’re in compliance with it has nothing to do with your perspective. If you’re above it, you’re wrong and subject to penalties. Referring to the fashion example, it’s not a fashion show where some people like a dress and others don’t.

By using data to objectively measure marketing’s progress within the organization and having the rest of the leadership buy into the strategy, we build trust through objectivity. Maybe the CEO would not have chosen the campaign the marketing team chose.

But if it was agreed that a >1 ROAS is how we measure a successful campaign, it can’t be argued that the campaign was unsuccessful if the ROAS was >1. In this example, the campaign was an objective success even if the CEO’s subjective opinion was negative.

Data-driven campaign planning

Within the marketing organization, campaigns should always be developed with measurement top of mind. Through analysis, we can determine what channels, creative, audiences and tactics will be most successful for a given campaign.

Being able to tell the leadership team that campaigns are chosen based on their ability to deliver measured results across metrics aligned to cross-departmental goals is a powerful message. It further builds trust and confidence that marketing isn’t run based on the CMO’s subjective opinions or gut decisions. Rather, it’s a collaborative, data-driven process.

For this to be successful, though, it can’t just be for show, where we make a gut decision and direct an analyst to go find data to back up our approach. This would be analytics theater, which is a perversion of the data. Instead, tell the analyst what you think you want to do and ask them to assess it.

For the rest of the organization’s leadership, ask questions when the marketing team presents a campaign. Find out how they came up with the strategy and expect to hear a lot about data — especially the metrics you all agreed would support the company’s overarching goals.

Dig deeper: 5 failure points of a marketing measurement plan — and how to fix them

Data literacy: Building credibility through transparency

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight, but a sustained practice of using data to drive marketing leadership’s decisions will build trust if the metrics ladder up to the organizational goals and all of leadership is bought into the measurement plan.

Over time, this trust will translate into longer tenure and more successful teams through building the infrastructure needed to tackle Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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