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Align Your Data Reviews with Strategy

Posted May 11, 2024
Revenue Marketing Report CaliberMind Podcast Align Your Data Reviews with Strategy

Ian Michels, Sr., Technical Account Manager at Adobe, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Ian shares common faux pas in marketing data presentations and how to catch the attention of your CEO in a good way.

Ian, day three, you made it! We are going to be talking about taking those data reviews and coming up with a strategy that is supported by the data. So super excited! Where do you want to start?

“As we are talking about it, I think it’s data, and visualization of the data can help the story and help accelerate that within a business. I don’t think you can separate the two. I know some people are good. They can look at a chart and see the numbers. It all makes sense and they can move forward. However, the rest of the company doesn’t really think that way. I mean when you go to company meetings, they use a PowerPoint with lots of pretty pictures to tell a story and it is the same that goes with data. 

“As a marketer, if you’re trying to tell a story, we have great tools nowadays like Tableau and Power BI that  have great visuals to tell the story, but that story has to align with the company’s goals, the company’s desires and where the company is really headed. If it is just marketing, it’s like what we talked about on day one. If marketing is just showing all that it has done, I don’t care how good your visualization is or how great you are at sharing a story, it just doesn’t land. It needs to go with what the company’s story is. Where are they trying to go?”

I think two things I learned early on as an analyst; one, if you put a chart up, you have to have words to go with it. You just cannot expect it to land because not everybody sees what you see. I had to have my boss sit me down and say, Camela, not everyone is staring at numbers all day. You have to talk and I said, man! I don’t want to talk and now, I talk all the time. It is fine. I get paid for it. It is great. The other piece was, don’t show them everything. We talked about this before, not everybody cares about the same things. It is not that they don’t care about you, they just have different priorities. So giving them a bunch of information at once, if you’re working, I once worked with a CEO with a background as an accountant and he would get obsessed with any fluctuations or any kind of change that he didn’t understand, even if they were completely irrelevant.

So narrowing your slide to focus on the one thing you want them to take away, it will not come off as hiding anything if these are the same things you report on over and over. I think that my final point is if you report on initiatives and you’re changing what you report on all the time, it reads as if you’re trying to hide something, even though that isn’t your intent. The reason why the rest of the business, sales, CS, they all have standard KPIs that they are held to and report on in a regular cadence. In marketing, I don’t think we have that gold standard yet. So there is a lot of leeway and that can create friction that we don’t intend. Would you like to add on any of that? Disagree with it, debate some of it, happy to do so.

“I want to quickly make a distinction of what we started with. I opened up with PowerPoints and things of that sort, but Camela, what you’re getting to is I think very crucial. Executive sales and the rest of the organization have dashboards they’re looking at every day.  There are specific standards on the sales side, individual standards, and what they’re held to accomplish, execute, and get done. They look at those, whether it’s the CRM or a BI tool. I think you are right in that marketing doesn’t have that. 

“I see it sometimes with marketing. They have their MQL, they’ve their pipeline, and their op creation. I see that sometimes with organizations. But yeah, you’re spot on and I’m guilty of that. It’s a great call out. I got convicted when you said it. So many times I would sit there and think, oh man! This is a great metric, how do I share this? How do I get this out there? This is a brand new finding. The reality is it is a metric, it’s a finding that just benefits me. It doesn’t benefit anyone else and I don’t need to share it. I go back and try to understand what this is metric actually telling. Is it just like having your own little parade or is this a metric that is something that needs to be tied to KPIs or to a greater initiative?”

I would say those awesome metrics sometimes just look great on your resume and you can do that.

“That is right!”

By changing the marketing mix, the next month I generated $1.5 million in pipeline. That is awesome! Put it on your resume. Perhaps don’t shout it from the rooftops in the company unless it is a core focus.

“Exactly! It does come across as well, what happened to this other thing? Is this not going well? What is here? I’ve run into this when I have reported to customers or when we are running through the data, those that are a little bit more analytical quickly point out the discrepancies. If you don’t have answers for those discrepancies or if you are not as analytical, don’t go about showing those. Now be careful as you’re building those dashboards. Are the data points there? Things in which you can explain when someone comes to those and looks at that. When your VP of Marketing opens up that dashboard, can you explain everything that’s there? Try to work through each of those. I used to do that with clients where we would open a dashboard and I would say, explain all of this to me. And they would explain this and this and this, but it helped them a ton because then they presented that to their VP of Marketing or the Head of Sales and they could answer most of the questions because they thought about it. It is like when you are practicing your speech for eighth grade. You have to go through these motions, think outside of the points that you’re trying to make. What are other people thinking as they look at those things?

There have been points early on in my career where I had to elbow my way in and convince the executive to sit down with me and look at the board deck before they presented it. I think we all go through that as analysts. However, if you do that enough, they start to realize, this person is seeing things that I wouldn’t notice and this is valuable. That is important and that is a good takeaway for marketing leaders. People may notice certain things that you didn’t see. Have an analyst on your team. If they aren’t proactive and they are shy, or introverted, great! Ask them to tell you what they see since you want to hear it from them because they may see something different.

“I would also encourage marketers, the time to share unique insights is not during the big meeting. But if you are lower on the totem pole as a marketer and you have an eye for those things, take time during a one-on-one or do a skip level and say, hey can I share this with you? Can I present something to you? That will go so far. You put together a deck, you built all this and you could have done it all for the big show, but you know hey, I’m not going to do it then. Yet, that says a lot and it sets you out to be a little bit different to your point. Then they can say, hey, this person thinks differently and maybe we can bring them into different conversations and it might open up some cool opportunities.”

When I am thinking about the big review, I think back to board meetings and feel fortunate I understand that they wanted to know the outcome. They wanted to know what went right, but more importantly, they wanted to know what went wrong and what we’re going to do differently to avoid it. That is kind of your storyline, acknowledge where you were and where sales were because if you don’t say we missed our bookings, you are going to look tone-deaf.

“That is right! And then talking about everybody knows it. So don’t act like it didn’t happen. Everyone knows it.”

Yeah, don’t wave your hands and try to distract anyone. It doesn’t work. I’ve seen it tried so many times. I have come into an organization where, unfortunately, the marketer before me was in leadership, would change the dimensions on the axis, on the charts, and perhaps fudge some numbers. There was a real lack of trust. I’d love to know how you would go about mending trust in a circumstance where there’s obviously already a little bit of tension between the leadership team and marketing.

“We used to have a saying at a previous company, good news, fast, bad news, faster. I think that’s how you build trust as marketers, get ahead of it. If you’re calling out discrepancies in pipeline, you have to be cautious with it. It is not to bash sales because sales could be doing something with their ops that could be inflating pipeline this and that. Nevertheless, if you can do stuff like that and say, hey, you know what? I’m noticing this is missing from our numbers as far as marketing goes. It is great that we are getting this number, but I think it’s a little bit off. Calling those out quickly will build trust since that could be easily something you could say, all our qualified leads are leading to this pipeline, but it’s like this isn’t quite working. Bringing that up in a timely manner and in a professional manner can really help build some trust.”

The way I would coach someone to approach that is to say, our pipeline numbers look great right now. However, when we look at the average dollars per opportunity, it looks like there are a few whales in there that are distorting things. Awesome, but this may deflate over time. You’re not pointing fingers at anybody. You’re actually pointing out something that’s potentially good if it comes in.

“That is right. If it comes in, exactly! But I think that it also goes back to our day two, having an analyst on your team that can focus on those types of numbers, focus on those things while marketers can continue to do what they do is beneficial. So they can say, hey, yeah, these leads look like they’re great here. They seem to taper off once they actually close, and they can dive into that some more.

“To Camela’s point, if you’ve got a boss or had someone that was a predecessor to you around marketing and all that, that didn’t build that trust, at the end of the day, we’re all humans. So figure out what other humans do, build that relationship, and do something a little bit more casual when you talk business. If that person loves good coffee, great. We’re going to buy some good coffee. We are going to sit down and we’re going to talk about our philosophy on business. It doesn’t have to be about marketing, but see where you align, learn more about how that person approaches their business. What is their business mindset? 

“I guarantee you it is going to be different than you. I always learn more when I do that with people. I always appreciate when people do that, but then that builds trust since you know where that person’s coming from, You can then approach conversations differently. It is not even marketing at this point. It is how this person approaches how they do their current role and how can I help them do that better? How can I support them to do those things better?”

The way I ended up having to approach it and it worked well, there are a few things I did. You pick up quickly on the sore points and what they’re suspicious about. So if they are used to the lead number fluctuating over time that you achieved in the past, I had one CEO obsess over a differential of five out of six hundred leads that were reported before and it changed and we needed to, if you understand where the trigger points are, you can get in front of that, research it ahead of time and say, great question! I had that thought myself. And actually, those were conversions that took place from lead to contact and we ended up merging duplicate records. That is where they went.

“That’s right!”

So being super transparent and anticipating the touch points that are going to be a little hairy and always having an explanation like reviewing the numbers, reviewing them with an analyst, talking to the people about it, see what jumps out of them and then dig into that so you have the answers ahead of time and don’t need to go back to your analyst afterward and go through those cycles that can last weeks of discovery.

“What I love with what Camela did there is there’s no blame shifting there. There is a solution. There is a problem and a solution. There is no, oh, this is because of how we do our lead-to-contact conversion this and that. No, I’m not going to bog you down with that process. This is what it was. If it fails on you being the reason why it occurred since you’re the one bringing the news, fine, but you are also the person that created the solution and figured it out. That is going to go far better for you than, oh! It’s because of our process and we do this and that doesn’t work well with this process, we fixed it though, so it’s fine. All just bad noise, don’t do that.”

I totally agree. It never works to say somebody did this or it is because the sales team is doing that. Focus on what you can control and figure out what you cannot address and then how that needs to be positioned in a way that won’t blow things up between teams. This brings me back to Ian’s original point that I loved: bad news travels faster than good news. If you see an issue happening on the sales side that you’re concerned about, go to that team first. Do it before the big review. That is not the place to surprise anybody.

“That’s right! You don’t want bad, weird things popping up at that time. Just get it out there. It’s uncomfortable, live in the uncomfortable. You gradually become a little bit more comfortable with it. It’s still uncomfortable, but you feel a little bit better as time goes with it. But yeah, I completely agree.”

Ruthless honesty and living with the uncomfortable. We need T-shirts. That’s it. 

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