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How to Sell Your Exec Team on Marketing Data in the B2B SaaS Industry

Posted February 29, 2024
Eric Holtzclaw, Chief Strategist and Principal Partner at Liger, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Eric shares why it’s important to speak the language other executives share and how to build trust in marketing data.

Eric Holtzclaw, Chief Strategist and Principal Partner at Liger, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Eric shares why it’s important to speak the language other executives share and how to build trust in marketing data. CEOs don’t see eye-to-eye with their CMO and what he’s done to bridge that gap.

Let’s get into today’s topic, which is how to sell your executive team on marketing-specific data. Why is this so important?

“Well, your executive team is data-driven. So if you think about all the parts of the business, they all have to deliver some type of measurable results. For example, revenue, profits, number of people we’ve hired, what are the cost benefits? Everything is number-driven and numbers are hard to argue with. Marketing is often subjective. However, if I start to see something in the numbers. It is either true or it isn’t. It’s very black and white. It is a thing that everybody can rally behind regardless of whether or not you get the squishy part of marketing. If the numbers support that, then you realize the numbers say, I am right. It’s a common language.”

Two thoughts. One is that most other departments have standardized metrics across companies. I don’t see that yet in marketing and I think that’s something we need to work on as marketers. The other is that sales is known for being data savvy and so much of what they do is entirely subjective in measuring engagement and relationships. Can we acknowledge that as the executive team?

“Right, the percentage down the pipeline that you’ve made up these numbers as to how well you think it’s going to close or not. That is all made up.”

They are in proposal.

“And so now we are going to assign 70% of the value because of it or whatever you decide to do internally. That’s still very subjective”

Exactly! 

“You made a good point. In your accounting department, they close the books every month and there’s a way they are going to close the books. If they need to change things, if they really need to change things, then probably someone is stealing from the company. That is not good. In marketing, I think of it as a stock portfolio. So this month I may need to invest more heavily, in this part of it, and next month, I need to invest in this part. I am making these objective decisions about where I’m going to place my bets. That is, honestly, the way I think about it most of the time. If I go to my stockbroker and I give them a sum of money and say, I am not going to micromanage you. I’m going to pay you a fee. But my expectation is that this portfolio is going to move up into the right, and that mix of things you’re doing needs to move it up into the right.

“In some cases, I think marketing departments and teams try to report too many of the numbers. I lost on this stock, but I made it up on this other one. I just want you to know you made it up. So if you made up for whatever reason, that’s your job. That is where you have to have a leadership team that trusts you to do the right things with it and give it a little bit of time. You may not know in a 30-day window that a thing is or isn’t working, but you should within 60. And you should be making adjustments within that 60-day window. And, if you let it continue to dive, then perhaps you’re not being a good steward of the resources available to you.”

There are a couple of key things. One is to acknowledge bookings and pipeline, or whatever your goal is. If it’s ARR, you need to acknowledge it. Even if you know the CEO has gone over it, just start there acknowledging we missed our number. Don’t hide the ball as a previous guest said. And report on the same metrics consistently. Then, be able to speak to how your programs are hurting or helping and how you’re going to adjust things accordingly. That’s what they’re looking for and we don’t always deliver that, if instead, we are reporting on other metrics or initiative-based temporary metrics. 

“It does need to be reported more as a combined thing. I’ll run into companies where they start keeping up when the customer shows up at the door. No no no, there was all this stuff that happened before that. We had to get them there. You’ve got to make sure you are measuring at the right place and the right things. Some of the stuff that you think isn’t a touchpoint is a touchpoint. If your sales team is hanging out at the office and not going to things and not using the sales enablement tools that you’ve given them, then they’re not really getting full credit for the stuff that marketing is putting in place to drive that customer to the ultimate conversion. This is what everybody wants. Everybody wants the conversion to happen.”

It really benefits marketers to know which tactics work when and how long your deal cycles are. If you know people who are engaged enough to actually want to attend a webinar, convert quickly, maybe you can influence pipeline in a quarter or the next one. Knowing what works, how long it has taken. That’s very critical.

“What levers to pull? I talk about changing it from being a slot machine to being a vending machine. Most marketing is a slot machine. You put in a dollar in and you might get money back, or you might not. The ultimate goal is to turn it into a vending machine. I put a dollar in and in some predictable period of time, I am going to get a hundred dollars back. That’s the goal. I’m going to get what I expect once I have made that input. If you’re at square one and you’ve never done it right, you don’t have a good rigor and that can be a mess for a period of time. You get it all worked out and you realize, what works or what doesn’t work. This makes easy decisions. But then, you cannot keep following the same playbook over and over again. That’s where I see marketing departments get compared with financial departments. It’s not that. A platform could fall out of favor, an approach could fall out of favor. You as a marketer have to be smart about moving it around because you’re reading the tea leaves and you’re seeing things change and realizing that you are not getting the same return that you once got from a category..”

A lot of that has to do with learning early indicators and signs, and setting goals at a tactical level. Now those aren’t things you are going to bring up in the boardroom necessarily. But, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been asked how I knew when a certain campaign influenced something, or how I knew which tactic worked when. That’s because we built over time, trust in our own company. They explained exactly how we knew these things and what we were looking at and what was gut-based and needed to stay that way. I think reporting on the same metrics, speaking the language of the rest of the business, that goes a long way and being able to explain if a number changed because they’re going to notice why.

“If you’ve got a reasonable client you’re working with, then there’s an expectation that things are going to, but what’s the adjustment and how quickly did we adjust for it such that we made up for it in another place or whatever? So knowing those levers and being able to pull them and you don’t set it and forget it. Marketing isn’t set it and forget it. And that’s what companies hope that it is set it and forget it,”

Early in my career, I learned the hard way you are going to be strong-armed into doing something that they’ve seen work somewhere else. Set goals and guardrails. So, you can say, okay, but if we hit this or we see this conversion rate dip below here, we need to stop.

“And, just because it worked, will it work over the long run? And are doing something detrimental to our brand? Are we only paying for traffic vs. driving organic? All those things are like tricks and they only last for a period of time and then you have to come back to reality.”

This is definitely the wrong podcast to tune in if you’re looking for a growth hack or quick trick.

“I don’t believe in those. Those are short wins. Long-term, you end up hurting yourself as there are so many things that are inappropriate to what you would do as a company anyway. Why are you even approaching it that way?”

Agreed. There’s nothing that replaces just really good practice of things.

“Good old work.”

Any other tips you would give folks there who have a leadership team that is skeptical of any data coming out of marketing?

“Well, I do think that you have to understand the skillset of your marketing team. My Creative Director is not a numbers person and that’s okay. However, we are pairing her with people who are. So, she understands the visual that is the creative and then the other person understands the data and there is a balance between the two. One is protecting the brand in the way it looks. The other is protecting how it performs and it gives them avenues that they are responsible for. Something that is like a long-term asset that is going to represent the brand. Keep that on the squishy side.If it is something that’s supposed to begin driving traffic and move the needle, then give that to the team that can kill it or cut it immediately if it isn’t working the way that you would expect. They should have their own sandboxes to experiment and allow them both to speak into the conversation. When an executive gets a squishy person only then they don’t always talk squish.”

Self-awareness is hard but good to know where you have a deficit, particularly when it comes to data and measurement, which the rest of the company cares about. It’s really important to get that resource.

“And the person who loves numbers is probably going to do some terrible creative, to be perfectly honest, and so you need to ensure there’s a balance between those two.”

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.