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Want Exec Buy-In? It’s (Mostly) About Soft Skills.

Posted September 15, 2021
Justin Norris

Why Good Marketing Tools Fail

If you’ve been in Marketing long, you’ve likely seen your team excited about a new application only to have it shredded by the executive team. Maybe the CFO didn’t believe the math, the CEO didn’t understand why the stats are relevant, or the VP of Sales thought Marketing was trying to claim “credit” for what the sales team worked hard to achieve.
No matter who rips apart the tool, the root of the problem can usually be traced back to a few common issues.

Lack of Clarity

Marketers are susceptible to marketing. We may not think so but think of all the times your team has purchased a tool on a whim. All of us are looking for a silver bullet to fix the mess of data we all deal with. We’re sick of spreadsheets and want a tool that will connect all of our systems, fix our data problems, and spit out insights that will help us maximize our investment. I would argue Marketing Ops is a bit more skeptical than the rest of Marketing after being burned time after time, but it’s hard to rein in the enthusiasm of our team members once they find a tool that promises to fix a pain point. It’s in Marketing’s best interest for Ops to be included in the purchase of any tool, and we have to ask some key questions to make sure it makes sense to purchase the solution. “I think ultimately, tool failure boils down to a lack of clarity on a number of fronts, even starting with a lack of clarity about why the tool is being purchased in the first place. The product marketing teams of many vendors have done their jobs a bit too well. These tools are presented as being the solution to all your problems with insights delivered out of the box. Quite often, the reality doesn’t line up with what people are expecting or what they need, or different people have different ideas about what this tool is going to produce,” said Justin. Aligning internally on what you’re trying to get out of a tool and then evaluating whether or not the tool can deliver what you’re expecting is a basic foundational step that is often missed. Misalignment within the team before the product is pitched to the rest of the organization kills your chances of success before implementation starts. “Starting with why is the most important step of any implementation. A lot of folks don’t clarify what they’re trying to accomplish, or they have some vague notion of a concept like attribution. They say, ‘I want to show marketing’s credit or prove our impact,’ but there isn’t a deep understanding of what that should mean. We need to ask basic questions like: What do we want to answer? How are we going to use this information? “When people come to the table with a vision of a final report or KPI, it’s up to MOPs to ask, what is this actually telling me? Sometimes it’s not telling you very much or at least not telling you something actionable or useful. “Once you understand what they want and if it’s achievable, you have to ask if it’s worth investing time and effort. Ask questions that clarify whether or not these new data points are going to impact business performance. Maybe you don’t need a tool. Until you ask questions, you’re not going to know what the right solution is.”

They Forgot the Basics

After you figure out what your team is trying to solve for and what they’re picturing when they ask for a certain solution, you can figure out how to get people to agree on definitions. “Maybe people agree that we want attribution, and we want to see how marketing is sourcing opportunities. But, more often than not, you’ll find that people don’t agree on what those terms mean. People have a picture in their minds that is a little bit foggy or ill-defined. MOPs has to do the groundwork of translating what people are asking for into something that can be applied to a system and agreed upon across business units. There’s no room for ambiguity. Dont paint yourself in a professional corner “If this translation work isn’t done upfront, you’ll reach a point of failure at the end of your implementation after putting a lot of effort into the project.”

Internal Selling Didn’t Happen

“Marketing gets these platforms or these reports, and if I’m the CEO or the CFO, I think it’s great that you have your nice report, but that’s not particularly interesting to me, or I don’t find them relevant.” In these cases, it’s obvious that internal selling didn’t happen. Everyone is in the business of selling, even people in Operations. To get buy-in for a tool, you need to have the ability to convince others you have a problem and that the solution you’re proposing is the right one. “Aligning on what your problem is and what information is missing to fix the problem must be done with your CMO, Sales, Finance, and the rest of your key stakeholders that could be impacted by the information you’re uncovering. During the process of internal selling, you’ll discover more requirements for the tool.”

They’re Trying to Prove “Credit”

The one word that immediately puts other teams on the defensive is “Credit.” Every department wants to be recognized as the chief contributor in the company. They want to be seen as essential. It’s human nature to seek out job security in any way possible. Unfortunately, this impulse will immediately bring out the same behavior and create conflict. “Credit is a dangerous word. Even if you have the foresight to have definitional conversations upfront, they will get bogged down by the word ‘credit.’ Everyone wants more credit for themselves or their department, and it’s a zero-sum game. There are only so many dollars that an opportunity brings to the table, and each department will try to claim their piece of the pie. So those aren’t beneficial business conversations because it doesn’t accomplish much from a business perspective. “It’s far better to have a performance optimization lens. If you approach the problem from the perspective of trying to identify channels that are converting at a higher rate or trying to make better investments as a business, that is a much more powerful and useful position to take when it comes to getting buy-in. Then you’re developing KPIs to make better decisions and not trying to take as much of the revenue pie as possible. Approach these metrics as a leading indicator that helps us, as a team, know that we are headed in the right direction. “There’s a risk to constraining marketing activities by the credit lens. If you can’t track marketing contribution with absolute precision, you risk discontinuing a tactic that works. Awareness initiatives are great examples of things that are hard to track but are still important. At one previous company I was at, we did a lot of radio advertising. That was a powerful channel for us, but not one you can track very easily. There’s a risk in saying attribution reporting is the be-all-end-all. We need to approach these subjects with common sense and find a middle ground.”

Data Definitions May Be Tedious, But They Matter

Defining data isn’t difficult. Getting buy-in across business units and helping everyone adhere to those data definitions makes the work both tedious and necessary. Justin listed a few examples of data points that are often defined differently across business units, which creates many issues. He called out these examples to show how people should start with foundational concepts and focus on KPI definitions later.


“Back when I was in-house, maybe seven or eight years ago, my company was looking at how a customer was defined. You think, ‘Well, we all know what it is.’ It’s a perfect example of a data point that causes a lot of problems because people say they know a customer when they see it. But my customer might not fit the definition of your customer. Is a customer a legal entity? But then what about companies that have subsidiaries or there are multiple branches? A legal company isn’t necessarily unproblematic as a company definition. You might have one legal company, but each department could buy a different product line. So are they one or multiple accounts in Salesforce? Do you look at a customer as a buying center? “Just defining a customer takes hours to define and translate into what it means in your systems.”


Many of us in B2B wish the Lead object in Salesforce was never a thing. We see that buyers exit and enter a buying cycle many times before coming a customer, and using leads for a pre-sales process doesn’t work. The first time someone is interested enough to convert into an opportunity and then exits, your process breaks. “Leads are used in multiple different ways in multiple different businesses. Nobody has a consistent definition of what a lead is.”


You would think an opportunity is a single record used to manage a sale. Many businesses have to break up opportunities for tracking purposes or to conform with how their ERP system is configured. “Companies may have certain criteria when they can create an opportunity, but then you get into things like, ‘What about if there are multiple products involved or should a renewal be included or not included. Or inside sales prior, do you do an early-stage opportunity and then have the Salesforce?” Its all connected


How much pain could businesses save themselves if they collaborated on the definition of an MQL and consistently defined it across departments? A lot. “The MQL is a very politically fraught concept. Typically, Marketing defines and is measured on MQLs, which is like having the fox guard the henhouse. How many times have we seen marketers lower the threshold or tweak the definition to hit a goal?” Unfortunately, too many times. “It takes a certain maturity to stand up to leadership and make the argument that Marketing should be held to pipeline rather than revenue and that an MQL is driving the wrong behavior. And it takes a certain level of maturity as a business to accept that’s a better way to look at things.”


Campaigns sound like they’re a simple concept, but they’re not. In general, people should define a campaign as an offer or some sort of interaction directly with a prospect. A channel is how they find the offer and should also be tracked through UTM parameters and other means. “People get channels and offers mixed up. A lot of reports end up grouping things that are dissimilar, like paid search and social media channels.” For example, we have paid search driving people to a content download and paid social ads driving people to that same download. The download should be the campaign as a “Content” type, and the channels tracked through UTM parameters should be paid social and social.

EQ: Behavioral Psychology Meets Neutrality

“The ability to ask questions and understand the assumptions that various stakeholders are bringing to the table is critical to career growth. There’s a process used in business analysis called the Five Whys. Essentially, someone asks for something, and you ask them why at least five times to get to the root of the problem. Of course, these questions are not asked in a demeaning or confrontational way. The process is meant to encourage honest curiosity so that the analyst understands where people are coming from. “Part of understanding assumptions ties into psychology and a need for empathy. For example, you may need to get inside the head of a VP of Sales to understand the pressures they’re under and the things they’re called upon to deliver. If you’re trying to understand where the CFO is coming from, you’ll have to imagine what they care about to cultivate a rapport. Empathy enables people to build key relationships. Try First Then Refine “Understanding what motivates people and using analysis to drive people toward a common goal is a superpower that will transform your role. It’s rare to find someone who’s good at internal selling and operational analysis, but it’s transformative when you can develop those skillsets. People might even then proactively seek you out to solve problems taking place in other parts of the organization.” If people are entrenched in a position and you go out of your way to understand where they are coming from, it’s easier to suggest a solution that solves a business problem. Once you can look at issues from the perspective of what is best for the organization and communicate it in a compelling way, the sky is the limit for your career.
For more powerful advice on how to think of campaign effectiveness and make decisions on campaign spend, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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