Marketing’s Leadership Role in Driving Revenue


September 15, 2015

Marketing executives must walk a fine line between building pipeline, meeting revenue expectations, managing customer experience, delivering new prospects and building and maintaining a productive team with the proper skill set. What does it take to make it all happen?

That was the question at hand for a panel that Carlos Hidalgo, president of ANNUITAS hosted last week at Content Marketing World in Cleveland with Kathy Button Bell, CMO Emerson, Brian Kardon, CMO, Lattice Engines and Mark Wilson, SVP Marketing, BlackBerry and myself.

While conversations around driving revenue usually turn to technology and tactics, this wasn’t that conversation. Instead, it was a more thoughtful discussion about why, as marketers, it’s hard for us to tie the work that we do to revenue, why we need to focus on ushering change into our organizations, what challenges marketing’s facing and what lessons we’ve learned.

A group of marketing executives posing for a photo at the b2b content executives world.

Carlos put together some great questions, and I’m summarizing a lot of great information from everyone on the panel. But here goes…

As marketing executives, why is tying revenue to marketing spend so difficult?
B2B companies have long sales cycles, somewhere in the range of six months to two years. It’s tough to track who’s done what and when between marketing and sales for that long of time, much less understand what impact it had on contributing to revenue.

Sales teams have a hard time seeing what contribution marketers have on their world. One thing that helps both marketing and sales better understand the relationship is to take a sale and walk it backwards. What happened when, where and when did sales tap into marketing content or expertise, how did the lead handoff take place, how well did it go, and what did marketing do that help pave the way or what could they have done differently.

It’s hard to see things when you’re looking forward down the road. Looking in the rearview mirror adds context.

What role does change management play in marketing organizations, and in any organization in general?
Change is what business is all about today, not just marketing. But marketers are in a world of needing to drive change within their organizations but they aren’t standing on solid ground. Think about these stats from the Business Marketing Association and Forrester research:

  • 21% of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
  • 97% see a dramatic increase in the breadth of marketing skills needed
  • 97% are doing things they’ve never done before
  • 45% of companies can’t find marketing candidates with the right skills

The question isn’t whether or not we change, but rather how well we’re able to manage it. For anyone to think that a company can stay with the status quo and be relevant – much less competitive – in business today is ignorant. Marketing needs to be the voice of the customer and when was the last time that you, as a customer of any brand, maintained your behavior because the brands you buy from can’t keep up? That’s ridiculous.

The point isn’t to ping pong in response to changing buyers, but rather to build fluid processes that can evolve with the needs of your customers.

I’ve written before about how marketers can become more relevant, agile and purpose-driven. Ultimately that change has to start with ourselves. As marketers, we give away a lot of power and influence to others within our organization. It’s not the marketing and the sales VP (or any other group) who break down silos and build collaboration, it’s you. You’re the one who can walk down the hall and talk to a sales rep about their world and what matters. It’s you who decides that the current ways aren’t the best ways, and then changes conversations one meeting at a time. It’s you who decides that you want to become a continual student of the craft of marketing.

Change has to start somewhere and with someone, and that “someone” is you.

What’s the most important aspect of marketing today? What matters to you most as a leader?
I’m going to break this into two categories –

First, know your customers. Back to my point about marketing being the voice of the customer. Marketers love to say that. But when was the last time you talked to a customer? Not this week. OK, it’s been a busy week, I’ll give you that. How many have you talked to this month? None? You can see where the trend is going.

Being the voice of the customer doesn’t mean looking at web analytics and email performance. It means actually sitting down and talking, face-to-face, with a customer. I remember the first time I did this – I was horrified and embarrassed. I came to the immediate realization of how very little I knew of their world. It has changed everything I think about marketing, sales and customer relationships since then.

Know your employees. People have relationships with people, not brands. Those people are your employees. But 41% of employees don’t even know what their company stands for or what makes them different from their competitor. Are you kidding me?

If 41% of our target market didn’t know what we stood for or what makes us different, we’d be all over that stat making sure we corrected it. Why don’t we do that with our employees? Marketers have an incredible opportunity to build corporate culture. Corporate culture is about a shared purpose. Content’s how you share it. And who’s in charge of that content engine?

What lesson did you learn the hard way?

Don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. One of the most powerful ways to build influence is to lead people to a conclusion rather than telling them what the conclusion should be. Lead people through a path of discovery and know what answer you want them to give with every question you ask. Believe me, they’ll think you’re brilliant!

Creativity matters. It’s easy for marketers to use the rest of the organization as an excuse not to push the envelope. It’s too much. The CEO will never go for it. It’s too much for B2B. If that’s the conversation you’re having with yourself, then you’re thinking about it all wrong. Think your organization isn’t ready for more color? A fresher voice? A different perspective? It’s how you position it and, again, bringing in what matters most to customers. Customers don’t want boring and expected, they want you to interest them by showing up in unexpected ways. And who doesn’t want to look just a little bit more cool and hip?

One-on-one conversations are powerful. It can be hard to get consensus from a group of people. They bring their biases and they often go unspoken for the sake of not dragging out yet another meeting. But if you have conversations one-on-one with people you’re better equipped to discover their real opinions, get helpful feedback and then refine your idea. Then when you do get to the point of presenting it to the larger group, you have better buy-in because everyone has been a part of creating it.

Always be a student. I had a grad school professor who told me that the more he learned, the more there is to know. I know executives who remain constantly curious after 50 years on the job and newbies who are adamant they know it all. And I’ve met people at every level of their career who fall somewhere in that spectrum.

The ability to always remain a student give people one important gift – they leave their ego aside and have minds more open to ideas. They love learning for the sake of learning, and appreciate the fact that we have an opportunity and responsibility to awe people every day by the work that we do.


Thanks again Carlos Hidalgo and Erika Goldwater. ANNUITAS is definitely leading the conversation about where marketing’s headed and I’m honored to be a part of it.


Photo source: Flickr user Simon Cunningham

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.