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Managing Up in B2B Marketing

Posted July 8, 2024

Amy Vosko, VP of Growth Marketing at Evisort, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Amy shares why so many CMOs and CEOs struggle to communicate, how to get your priorities prioritized, and how to think about the board.

Amy, I’m so excited to talk with you! You started in sales early, right?

“To my own surprise. I wasn’t expecting to be a salesperson, but I was young and needed some extra money. And you know what? I actually loved it. I was a salesperson for about five years. I was a good salesperson, but I ended up moving into marketing. I had that creative drive as well.”

I love that so much. I ended up marrying a salesperson and I’ve done a bit of sales engineering as the resident geek. There’s a lot of selling in that too. Having both perspectives of loving the creativity and the marketing and the sales, but also seeing how vastly different the personalities need to be is eye-opening.  We need to be touching on alignment throughout this, but we’re going to be talking about managing up, managing in, and managing out. Today’s topic is managing up. We’re going to be talking from an in-house perspective. Managing up could mean CEO, could mean the board and it could also mean you’re an individual contributor and trying to help align executives. So where would you like to start?

“That is a good question. I want to start as an individual contributor because I didn’t have an understanding about, how do I want to describe it? It wasn’t until I was a leader that I understood that your world as an individual contributor is very blindsided. You don’t understand the difficulties that a leader has. I think that there is a lot of misjudgment about leaders. I want to debunk some of those myths. Here are some of the secrets folks. I think many leaders get a bad rap. They don’t care. They’re making decisions that aren’t in my interest. They don’t think about me. They’re crossing boundaries. All those bad raps you are giving your leaders and I’m going to give you some secrets, that‘s not necessarily always the case. It’s hard to be a leader, and sometimes as a leader, you have to make hard decisions and you have to, unfortunately, think what’s going to be best for the business. That sadly doesn’t always equate to the people on your team or other teams. I think that just by looking at you, Camela, you’re agreeing with me, right?”

Absolutely!

“That’s the hard part of being a leader. I have been told many times as a leader, commiserating with other peers who are also leaders or even commiserating with leaders who are above me. Well, welcome to leadership. This is the hardest part and it’s a bit of a sacrifice that you end up making since being a leader isn’t always as shiny as you think it’s going to be. I do love leadership, don’t get me wrong. I think there are also plenty of opportunities that come with it. I think mentoring, which is one of my favorite parts about leadership, is one of those positives. However, as an individual, what you can do well to manage up as an individual contributor is to start thinking about and change your mindset and try to put yourself in your manager’s shoes.

“When you can start to try to pivot and think about what might be happening with your manager, you’re probably connected a lot better with your manager. I’ll give you one hopefully simple example and the folks who I’ve worked with really get this instinctually: your leader or manager has much going on especially if they have a very large team. Hopefully, you can take this as a positive, not as a negative, but it can be sometimes like herding cats because, now all of a sudden, you’re managing multiple people and all of the different projects that they’ve got going on. You’re managing up by yourself, which means you’re now also herding cats up. So you’re in the middle and now have multiple lanes of things that you’re trying to keep track of, even with the best management tools that you might have.

“That’s a lot to remember on top of whatever personal stuff you’ve going on. Therefore, catching your manager up on a regular basis with what you’ve got going on, keeping it simple, not expecting them to hold your hands on things that are happening, crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s and remembering that your manager cannot remember every single thing goes a long way. I think that folks who remember that and don’t expect their manager to babysit them is a super-helpful thing. That’s how you can manage up a little bit since if I have to babysit you and I have to chase you for information, that makes my job that much harder. Collaborating with me and bringing solutions. Not just coming and complaining. It’s okay to talk to me about things that aren’t working. But then also coming to me and saying, hey, I think this may be an opportunity of what we could do here. Even if it’s not going to work out in the end, that’s okay.

“Nevertheless, I think even having a thought or point-of-view about what could work is at least a chance for us to have a dialogue about it. Those are great ways as an individual contributor to at least start the conversation. I don’t know, I’m curious, if you’ve any thoughts about that?”

Mostly amen and yes. I never thought I would quote Harry Truman, but here I am. I think he said it’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one is worried about getting credit. I feel like one of the things I had to learn over time is the more I could tie what was needed and focus on what was needed to be done for the company as opposed to what I needed to get done personally, the better those conversations went and the better my focus was as an individual contributor. The more you can align what you’re doing day to day with what the business is trying to get done, naturally, you’re going to get along much better with your leader. 

The other piece that resonated with me is the lack of time we have. It’s not a matter of not liking the person, not wanting to see that person succeed, but the lack of time we have and the need we have for people to align with our priorities is so important. I think that’s where if I’ve got a sticking point with someone that reports to me, it’s on that lack of alignment. I need to know that you’re doing the thing that absolutely needs to be done for the business and if you’re going out in left field.

“Come on guys, this isn’t personal. It’s genuinely not personal. For me, I think back to my days as an individual contributor and transparently, I have my own days where I say, oh my God! It’s me. It’s not you. This isn’t about you. There’s a business to run. Everyone has a business to run and it’s just that we’ve got stuff to do. I feel badly, if you aren’t feeling well today, but let me know, communicate. Then we will figure it out. I think that’s the most important part about management from that perspective. Some bosses, I think generally, do have a more abrasive side than others. You can’t fix that. You are not going to. It was there before you got there and it’s going to be there after and you’ve got to know that. That’s just a choice we make.”

I mean, an interview needs to be a two-way street and you need to understand the person you’re reporting to, whether or not you’re going to mesh well, and it’s hard to do in thirty minutes or an hour, or however long the time may be. It’s important to start learning. It’s like dating, right? This is horrible, but it just is. You need to learn what you can live with and what you can’t live with is really what this is about.

“Exactly! Absolutely! You had more to the question, I feel like, did I answer it all?” 

If we could go back for just a second. There was one thing that jumped out to me as somebody in revenue operations and a constant frustration for me was a lack of ability to invest in the long-term and a focus on the short-term. When I moved to marketing leadership, it was very eye-opening. That’s why I work closely with so many people in operations and want to have this conversation. Sometimes we have to focus on the short-term to ensure we have jobs and can invest in the long-term. Would you like to build on that at all?

“Yes. I feel like lately that’s getting a little harder and harder, I do feel like it’s a bit of just the change of the times. I’m curious myself from a generational perspective, all generations, not just my generation or the younger generation, how people feel about that. Now how do you work to focus on the short-term and manage up? However, also building up for the long-term. I don’t have an answer for that, unfortunately. I’m curious about that myself.  

 

“What I can say is keep asking questions and try to think about your questions and your curiosity with a bit of bounce and a tact around where the company is going, whether you’re an individual contributor or you’re in middle management. I think even if you’re an executive and talking to your board, where do you feel we’re heading over the next twenty-four months? Do we feel like we’re heading in the right direction and keep being curious about that. I think that that is potentially a good way to not only to keep yourself grounded, but also focused and it’s a way of managing yourself and a way to continuing to manage alongside your leadership. It also positions yourself as somebody who is invested in the business that you’re in.

 

“So it’s very mixed. It’s almost like a salad dressing I would say because it isn’t a bowl. It’s a dressing of self-checking. It’s the work that I’m doing right now, the right work to be doing, the right focus on what I am doing. I think marketing, particularly, gets asked a lot to pivot constantly on what they’re doing. I have had many scenarios where I’m working on programs that get abruptly stopped mid-program, mid-plan, mid-strategy, and mid-execution since someone read an article, or we got a last-minute opportunity because pipeline, a campaign, or program got stopped. I think it’s okay to be curious and ask executives, ask a board, how does this translate to the goals we’re trying to get to?”

 

I think it’s also okay to pause and check in since I don’t mind being interrupted. If you’re asking me, whether or not something aligns or if there’s something else, that’s more urgent, please do. If it’s a big question, please do.

 

“I think I’m saying this because the concept of managing up, I think my thoughts are always, it is a feeling of confrontation, but it doesn’t have to be. I think it can be shifted in mindset around curiosity. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to make sure I’m doing what’s right for the business. I want to understand in order for me to help this business grow or continue to grow. I need to ensure that I’m staying focused on the right things. Getting back to the individual contributor and secrets that leadership doesn’t always know either is having that collaboration. We’ve all heard of hallway conversations where somebody isn’t necessarily at the top of the food chain having an idea and that’s where good collaboration happens. I think that’s why so many people have enjoyed working at startup organizations since there is that cross-pollination. Folks who work at 10,000-person companies don’t always get that and that is okay.

 

“So it’s a scary concept. I think of managing up and I haven’t always done it perfectly myself, but try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. I think that’s the quick statement and try to have some curiosity to give yourself that permission to ask questions and get some direction. I think when it comes to board conversations when you’re presenting, think of it from the perspective, they’ve invested a lot of time and money. When you’re developing your narrative of what’s working and what’s not in your organization, that’s what you need to be leaning on in terms of reporting on performance or lack of performance and have curiosity built into that.”



Yes. I mean we want to acknowledge the results, but ultimately, we’re talking about what worked, what didn’t work, and what we are going to do differently to improve that. That is what they really want to know. Are you being a good steward of the budget you’re being given? However, I wanted to go back a little bit and talk about, as an executive or someone who wants to move into that position, the dynamics you need to have with your CEO because, a lot of us, especially in tech, are working with people who are coming from a very technologically-based background or they’ve been in sales. So the outlook is very different and it takes a ton of communication. I love Amy's point that managing up doesn’t need to be confrontational. It’s usually not. It’s usually developing a communication cadence and figuring those things out. Could we just talk a little bit about that?

“For me, it’s been interesting. I’ve been in tech startups, now for a little over eleven years. I’ve been able to have a very close connection with the CEOs. Every one of them has different personalities, but I think what’s remained consistent is there’s been a bit of they’re very close to keeping an eye on trends that other companies are doing, other founders are doing. CEOs read a lot. I don’t know how and when they’ve got the time to read much. I don’t. I know that not all watching this are marketers, but CEOs tend to not be as knowledgeable in the marketing  space. I think this is your opportunity to help educate them and help them understand what they need to be focused on.

“This isn’t time for you to pull the one-on-ones, unless they’re curious about that, but get to the point of what you’re there to do to help deliver to the company what it needs and focus on that first. Then also deliver whatever education they’re looking for, but you’re there to also be the steward, the consigliere, I don’t know if I am saying that correctly, but you’re there to help them with trends. You’re there to also guide them and wear a lot of different hats. And so it doesn’t have to be scary. There could be a relationship that is developed very quickly, you need to get to know them, give them that guidance for sure, not to step on toes. They’re a leader for a reason, for sure. But wear a revenue hat at the end of the day. This isn’t necessary, they may be very interested in building the brand, but always make sure you’ve got revenue in the back pocket since guess what? The board is very interested in revenue at the end of day. I guess what I‘m saying here is there are a lot of hats you’re going to need to wear but these are things I find consistent with each CEO that I’ve worked with at tech startups.”

Yes. It’s interesting because I feel like in the larger companies, you’re probably getting someone who has a lot more experience. They’re a first-time Founder-CEO, they’ve been at multiple companies. They’ve seen what worked at those firms and that tends to come with a slightly different flavor of struggle since as we know in marketing, what works changes so often. Have you found any way to say there are no hacks? Is there a communication strategy you use to show how trends have changed?

“This is an interesting topic. I think if you’re at a startup, especially, this is my personal opinion, I’m saying it because of my experience, it’s very easy to go in and show trends. However, I personally go in and take a look at what the company needs since you could walk into a startup and they might be at a certain point in their trajectory and they’ve a good brand awareness scenario. So they’ve got a lot of hand raisers. I’ll give you an example, I was at one startup that had zero problems with getting leads. We were drowning in  leads. So brand awareness wasn’t the issue. They needed to corral everything internally and start to scale everything. So for us, it wasn’t about brand awareness or anything like that. We needed to get to the next level in terms of how we get all of this internally and start to build out the partnership and build out all of those other things. 

So I wouldn’t need to go in there and start giving them the trend analysis on that piece. I’ve been at other startups where they didn’t have any of that in place. I guess my point is going in and having a backpack full of, all right, here’s the trend analysis and, this is where the marketplace is going can work. But if in this particular company, no one even knows who they are, then we need to examine and meet you where you are. I’ve been at other startups, where they’re saying we want to do ABM. It’s not going to work for you right now. The reason is that you don’t even have leads coming in right now.”

You need the infrastructure too. 

“You’re not even clear yet who your ideal customer profile is. An ABM program is something that is meant to take a while to build, a very deep strategy, create a, it’s meant to take awhile and kind of create influence and engagement over time. I love ABM, believe me, but that’s something that’s going to take a bit of time to grow. You don’t have that kind of runway. You need to know how to get moving and start to blend that as you go. So I guess my point is that a strong marketing strategy needs to meet you where you are and have a good blend of recommendations based on what you need.”

Sometimes feelings and what we know worked in the past as a CEO for anybody, any human we get an attachment. And sometimes, the emotions outweigh the rationality and the numbers. So putting up guardrails and saying, we’ll try this, but if we see this change, we need to go differently, can be helpful.

Amy, thank you so much.

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.

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