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Ditch the fluffy talk

NEARLY THREE quarters of chief executives think marketers lack credibility in the boardroom, according to a 2011 report by marketing group Fournaise. Given this view, it’s worrying that 69% of the marketers surveyed “feel their strategies and campaigns do make an impact on the company’s business, even though they can’t precisely quantify or prove it”.

Not surprisingly, the report sparked considerable debate in marketing forums on LinkedIn, as well as prompting Marketing Week to run a follow-up article in which marketers responded to the allegation that they weren’t commercial enough.

With marketing budgets under scrutiny and finance departments keener than ever to see a return on investment, this disconnect in how marketers see themselves and how they are perceived by the rest of the boardroom is a concern. So how can finance directors get marketers to ditch the fluffy talk and quantify the value of the work they do?

1. Remind them of the 4Ps of marketing

One of the fundamental models of marketing is the marketing mix, also known as the 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. It’s a common misconception that marketing only happens in the marketing department. But all functions are involved, and the promotion aspect is just one part of the process.

In order for a company to market strategically as well as tactically, all elements of the marketing mix need to work together. Show that you understand basic marketing strategy and you’ll get a better reception when you want to start talking numbers.

2. Get them to focus on what can be measured

Marketers’ obsession with the online world can actually be a good thing because it means activities can be measured, up to a point. Companies can track click-through-rates on banner advertisements, monitor newsletter subscriptions, and see where leads have come from in a much more meaningful way. When a marketer tells you proudly that the company’s Twitter following has grown by more than 500 in the last month, probe deeper to find out what this means in terms of traffic to the website, page views on key pages and sales generated.

There are many tools available online which can help them to track performance and ROI, and some of them are free. When Google Analytics is installed on a site, it gives you visibility of where traffic is coming from, which keywords have been used to find the site and what the bounce rate is – that is, how many people arrived on the site and clicked the back button without stopping to look further at what is on offer. It can also tell you if a pay-per-click advertising campaign on Google has paid for itself by tracking which sales resulted from it.

3. Bang sales and marketing’s heads together

“We do all the work to warm customers up and they get all the credit for the sale,” complains the marketing team. “They send us the wrong kinds of leads and expect us to thank them for it,” cries the sales team. In an ideal world, sales and marketing teams should be working together to achieve a shared outcome, but the unfortunate reality is that they often see each other as rivals for the attention of the CEO.

This can change with regular communication between the teams and a frank discussion about which customers to focus on with campaigns. A quiet word in the ear of the CEO could be all that’s needed to get him or her to take action on this rivalry. It’s not productive and the company could find political agendas creeping in unnecessarily if it is left unchecked.

4. Check their financial literacy

As unbelievable as it might sound, some marketers in charge of considerable budgets have not been trained in the most basic of accounting methods. In fact, some may not even have a professional marketing qualification, having switched career path along the way. It’s not uncommon for the CEO’s PA or the office manager to hold responsibility for marketing in smaller companies. Of course, there are senior marketers who do have financial skills, but they don’t tend to be the “fluffy” ones who need help interpreting figures.

To get marketers talking more commercially, the first step is to check that the marketing director and team have access to all the information they need. Do they know which figures and analytical tools are available to them and how to use them? Do they understand the difference between sales and profit? Do they know what margins they are operating on for different product lines? They may appreciate an hour of someone’s time to go through this with them. Or HR could arrange for them to attend a Finance for Non-Financial Managers training course.

5. Get to know them personally

Back when I was a young marketer, some of my booziest nights out were spent with the finance department. While it may not be appropriate for the finance director to be seen in the bar at happy hour knocking back cocktails, members of your team could be up for the challenge in order to get to know their colleagues in the marketing department a little better.

From personal experience, it made it easier for me to ask for – and get – help when preparing spreadsheets because I was asking a friend rather than just someone in finance. It also made me realise they weren’t the conservative bean counters I’d been led to believe they were.

Hannah McNamara is a chartered marketer and CEO of HRM Global

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