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When Numbers Fail to Convince: Why Storytelling Skills are a Must in B2B!

Posted February 21, 2024
Monique Olan, Founder & Fractional CMO at PivotalPitch, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Monique shares why marketers should apply the same skills that make them good at creating a message that resonates when thinking through what the rest of the executive team wants to know.

Monique Olan, Founder & Fractional CMO at PivotalPitch, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Monique shares why marketers should apply the same skills that make them good at creating a message that resonates when thinking through what the rest of the executive team wants to know.

You have the perfect background to speak about these particular topics – why numbers aren’t enough and why data storytelling is so important. There’s a lot of research that tells us CEOs don’t trust us, CFOs don’t trust us and they want us to become more data-driven. However, as somebody who is extremely data-driven, I have seen a lot of opposite behaviors. So maybe you can go into what you’re seeing.

“I think there are a lot of layers to that and probably the first layer is just understanding the complexity around how much data there really is now. And perhaps there’s another podcast topic on where we’re losing some of that data and what that means. Nevertheless, at this point, when it comes to marketing, there are so many different layers of the amount of data we have available. What is absolutely essential is understanding what data matters to whom. And not just what data, but creating an opportunity for people to understand why it matters to them and why they should even care. 

What it comes back to is data is nice, but the story that you weave around it and the context is king. Put context around the data that you’re presenting and be very strategic about what that data is and how you share it. Put that story around it and ultimately you are going to make it resonate and make it something that a decision can be made off of.”

I think that helps explain some of the behavior I’ve seen. So, I have worked with some very rational, data-driven people who still think that if the numbers don’t align with what they’re feeling and the pain points they see, it’s going to be a much harder sell even though the numbers are the numbers.

“Yeah. I guess that there are two kinds of complexities of storytelling. There is a storytelling of how you present it. There’s also a story that the data is telling you and that’s why you cannot force a story out of numbers. You must be able to contextualize it, understand what it is telling you. At what point is it telling you something that’s actionable for you.”

What I liked about where you’re going is what information we have, there’s so much missing. Let us start with what we should be including at the executive level specifically since I think that looks very different than where a team meeting should commence.

“It’s the metrics that matter. When you’re talking with an executive leader, the metrics that are going to matter to them are going to be a little bit more oriented around where is the growth and where is the revenue. That’s what you’re going to want to relay. Now, you can always have backup data and layers down. Therefore personally, when I work with marketing teams, I like to break them out into these categories. There’s the overarching revenue, the big picture. Within that I have the pipeline and those kinds of insights of what’s happening in the journey of the customer, their operational journey, which I’ll separate from a buyer journey we can come back to. I’m talking about the operational journey, the pipeline, and what that looks like.

“Then, there is the next layer down that I then get to which is more like the integrated campaign view. How can we look at those multiple things we do against this one particular goal or theme? Then, how does the data tell a story there? And then, you’re going to get into the nuances of the very particular channels, and tactics and that is where you see the different layers of who is involved also. If you are going to go to a meeting with your CEO and you’re going to start to talk to them about email open rates, you’re not going to get that far. Ultimately, what they’re going to care about most is going to be the top numbers. 

“You should be prepared to talk about the performance of a campaign level too because that’s what you’re doing as a marketing team. However, when you are with your team and working through where to find opportunities to improve, where did something go wrong and can we assess what happened, you should be able to go across all the layers and have that opportunity to get into the weeds.

There are so many things I loved about what you just said, but let’s start at the beginning. What I want to emphasize here is you are doing what I wish many first-time leaders understood and you’re leading with what the board and the executive team care about the most. I also loved that you started with the high-level revenue numbers even if you don’t have this detailed attribution picture and can explain all the pieces. You’re acknowledging where we are and I think that’s a step we can’t skip. 

Have you seen other leaders start with initiatives instead of revenue? Is that part of something you’ve had to do?

“I have been in those shoes too. I do work with different companies and sometimes they will come in and have particular things that they want to tackle. It’s an adventure to try to pull backward into understanding to make that happen. There are a couple of things in place, or that need to be put in place to make that understood and impactful for the business. Or did we even assess its impact to make it a priority?

“That is a challenge for a lot of leaders and perhaps there’s a skill gap too. I’ve seen this often recently in LinkedIn in a couple of communities, the conversation around how many people are new to a marketing leadership role, even at Director and above. Realizing the skill gap that might not have been communicated to them in their rising years of how much of it is executive communications or understanding how to market your marketing. 

“An important point to make is we’re all in this place where businesses are still trying to figure out how to get to being revenue-driven. As a marketing team, it’s something that has been heavily influenced by our ability to get data. We may have a whole conversation around attribution struggles that now make it a little bit harder to play that foot at the table and how you actually interpret the data around particular things that can’t be measured in order to get to that. It’s a transition stage where you have to have a mindset shift with your CEO on understanding marketing and its impact on business.”

I completely agree and think it is hard for CFOs, people with an accounting background, even with a highly technical background where they think they know what should be possible, but oftentimes, isn’t. I had people come to me and say for every dollar I put into this channel, how many do I get out. And I replied, well you are talking about millions of interactions that no one knows. I can give you an estimate. However where I was going with that was, it is art and science. What I liked about how you structured your conversations was you’re starting with the area they care the most about. I think marketers are so good at figuring out personas and the pain points. You need to do the same thing with the executive team to be able to communicate with them.

“Not every person is going to understand the jargon we use and they shouldn’t. It’s called jargon for a reason. The story that they care about at that level is, ultimately, what is working to grow the business. Part of that growth is driving toward revenue. Now, there’s going to be some story that also needs to be narrated around what else is growing and eventually leads to that revenue. This is where the topic around trying to figure out data against the buyer journey, a journey that’s so gray and so obscured from us as brands. So as the brand themselves not owning most of that journey, the obscurity that happens in those early stages, how do you track things there? How do you tell the story of understanding this thing that we’re doing or these multiple things that we are doing are serving toward that greater growth?

“So I emphasize that, the need to understand, yes, you are going to track against revenue. I am a big fan of the custom, I am going to put in air quotes, funnel or pipeline for businesses and understanding that nuance and reporting correctly to that. If you’re going to try to force an old-school model there or try to force what you think is industry standard, it might not pan out well for your ultimate understanding of how your revenue works. But really getting that cleared out across all leadership in all departments, being able to tell the story of marketing’s impact there. 

“We own so much of what our buyers go through pre-sales engagement and post-sales. I feel like we still underestimate the value of marketing in the customer journey post-sale and especially when it’s a fight to get in front of people’s thoughts today in marketing and B2B. If you already have traction as a customer, don’t lose it.”

I agree and as marketers, we’ve to take the responsibility of learning more about how pipeline works, deal velocity, and how long it takes to close since that is the only way we are going to understand what we can and cannot impact. So, if I understand our average sales cycle is six months, I can’t do anything about missing pipeline generation this quarter, but I can next quarter. I can get a good head start. It’s important to stick our nose into the sales side of things as much as we can to understand what works when.

“I’d even emphasize on the back of that, if you and the sales leader are not friends, that should be a thing to do for 2024 for you. The lines of sales and marketing are so blurred today. Marketing is so much in the sales process. The numbers keep changing depending on who is reporting it right now. We say that 3% only are privy or ready for brand sales engagement or anything like that. So much is owned in preparing them for sales readiness and marketing.

“At the same time, there are some smart salespeople out there that are getting their hands dirty on the marketing side. If your company is still siloed in any way there, where you aren’t aligned against the same goal and not working together, that’s something you need to break this year. It’s not going to support any level of sustainable growth going forward.  

“But if you have that opportunity to get so much more in sync this year, that will give you that opportunity to have the right story around revenue in alignment with sales. Nothing sounds better than when marketing and sales are at the table and saying the same thing, in alignment and in agreement. The worst thing you could do is not have that in sync and come to the table with the rest of your leaders, talking about a story you’re trying to tell around the data and sales is saying that is not what we see.”

And we’re still talking about alignment in 2024 since most organizations self-report, not being aligned. That’s still a problem.

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.