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THIS is Why Your Board of Directors Isn’t Listening to You

Posted February 26, 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 the board tunes out sometimes and how you can reel them back in.

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 the board tunes out sometimes and how you can reel them back in.

Why is your board of directors not listening to you?

“So I look at this from the perspective of the board, but you could probably think of this as maybe your CEO. I made a mini-list as I thought about this. A lot of it is something in your own court, pretty much all of it. But there is a tiny note I have at the end. First one off the bat, I think one of the biggest things to think about is, are you aligning with business goals and articulating ROI.

We harped on this in the last conversations. If you as a marketing leader aren’t looking at how you’re impacting business objectives and are hyper-focused in the marketing space, your ability to get their attention, your ability to make them care about what you’re saying is going to go down the drain.”

Absolutely! So when you’re reporting to the board, don’t change what you’re reporting on every quarter. Have some tried and true metrics that you stick to so you can show trends. One thing that would get me is what the board is looking for. They know when you hit your number. That’s probably covered by the CEO in the closed session. 

They want to know that you understand what that means for the business and how you’re going to adjust and improve. Which means, you have to understand what positive impact you’re making and what’s not working. And, you need to speak to both of those and don’t sugarcoat anything. That was a bit of a soapbox there.

“That was one of my other points, which is the concept of being realistic and transparent. I believe you have podcasts recently talking about something similar, about the concept of hiding the ball. Your role as a leader is to tell the whole story. You shouldn’t sugarcoat, be realistic. Of course, some great wins are going to happen. You also need to raise concern around risks. You need to raise concern if things aren’t great, but ultimately, also be that solution driver. Data exists and you can put it in a presentation deck and everyone can see the numbers and where they stand. Ultimately, what you say around those numbers matters.

“That is where the number is at. It was above or below. What does that mean? Ultimately, if you can ensure you are expressing what that means for the business and the people in the room, contextualizing it for them, that’s where you’re going to get them to perk their ears up. If you’re just spitting numbers continuously without context or understanding around what they mean for the business or how you are operating as a leader for marketing, you aren’t going to get a lot of ears.”

There’s one caveat there and I am sure you are probably going to get to this in your list, but focus on the things you can control instead of pointing downstream because chances are high, they’re going to spot that on their own. If you focus on what you can control, it speaks to maturity and also there’s nothing much you can do about what other departments are doing, unfortunately.

“I find that those should be the things you should probably have conversations on behind other doors before getting in front of the board. If there’s room for needing to improve something outside of your space, 100% be the solution person in the leadership who supports other departments in making improvement. Learn how to articulate that in a way that is not finger-pointing. However, that is not what you bring to the table with the board. Talk to that leader first. If that’s not working, go to the CEO. If that still is not working, then maybe look for a different job since you’re not going to be able to change that.”

There are ways to get there, but that goes to my next point. We’re all over the map on these and some of these are ones that I didn’t actually have on my list. One thought I did have was when you’re presenting to the board, thinking about being not just short-term or long-term oriented. This a little bit about not just pushing for the things that are down the pipeline or further down the road, but there is a fine balance between the short and long term in your conversations. If you’re skewed one way or the other, that is another reason that you might lose some listening ears.

“I think there’s a constant yin and yang balance. So we were talking about this being a realistic yin or yang of the wins but also the need of the risks or the concerns and opportunities and the challenges short-term and long-term. Another thing is how you present with the board between data, but also the creative elements. This is the space I love playing in, that awkward line between being creative and having that forward artistic vision, but also being data-driven. The board does need to see both. How you tell that story and figure out how you balance between the two is important, especially as we think about the value of the brand, the brand message, and the future of where the marketing may be going in 2024 and the skills that might be needed in the marketing team. We still do have a lot of creative roles in our teams, we are not just data. There are ways we get to get to where that data is. There are ways we can create that pipeline involving creative aspects of the brand.” 

Perhaps we take a second to give an example. One that’s popping to mind is a website redesign can be expensive. You might be challenged on that if you’re in a small company. There are data points you can point to that show our conversion rates are X behind industry standards. Our bounce rates off the page are ridiculous. There are a lot of things you can do to point to data, to justify that, but at the same time, I understand we are driving everybody to the website, and that needs to be good. Nevertheless, you cannot stop doing all the other activities like in-person events, webinars, and all that stuff to drive leads while you are doing that. 

“That brings me to a case example. One of my clients was in the PowerGen space. This was a while ago. We were working with the CEO in order to present to the board. We were doing a brand refresh. The way we could get to that and understand the value, but then also ultimately, measure the impact later, was by pre-planning that thought process. Therefore, we aligned on understanding a little bit better about what the key value differences were between them and competitors, getting that understanding and nuance. We did that through customer interviews, through actual data and through tribal knowledge. Combining all of that to understand where their differentiators lied, knowing how they can stand out in a very saturated market.

“We leaned in on that from a brand positioning and message standpoint. That led to an entirely different shift in the way we presented the brand visually. They got a little bit warmer, stood out from their competitors as being this more approachable brand. We ended up leaning in on their ability for customer service, even though it is a very price-competitive space. Eventually, we ended up rolling out a long, big-picture term with some short-term gains that we reported on across the time with the board on how we impacted the revenue growth.

“Ultimately, we ended up with significant growth and longevity of their clients. We ended up with loyalty and that’s not very common in their market. The way we did that was we pre-planned where we could find data on things that are very creative at the front. And, that was how we impacted the change in the website. How did we impact, even at the time when digital ads were significantly powerful, but how did we even see shifts in our messaging at the different stages of our lead gen into pipeline? 

“That also served into how people are perceiving us after they close. So that is an important point there. When you’re talking to a board about a lot of little minuscule things that were happening across a six month period. Very detailed. A lot of things are very creative, some things are metric-driven later on. Getting that understanding of how to present that to the board from the beginning of why we were doing this, updates in between and then eventually getting to where the metrics are there in the pipeline. And being able to envision that before getting into it, is a really smart play on how do you keep them listening as you go through this journey over six months?” 

I love how you prioritize setting expectations which is probably also on your list.

“100%. I come back to just that word, realistic again. Don’t be unrealistic about what is going to come out of something. Definitely set expectations. Also, clarity on where things could go different ways, what are the potentials of different results? That understanding and being able to express that where you’re going through, what are we focused on, and what we are trying to do is going to make a lot more trust in what they’re hearing from you. That kind of approach and particularly when they’re having good months can pan out, even better when you might be having a low-performing month. That trust building can have a big difference and even when you do have, maybe a less than ideal month to report on or anything like that, there’s still trust in what your vision is.”

I’m having flashbacks to the time the CEO walked over to my CMO at the time and asked how much revenue we generated from the event that happened two weeks prior and we had a six to nine month sales cycle.

That’s a whole other conversation and a struggle. You should be really in sync with the rest of your team leaders on where you have an impact and when. That sales cycle is such a huge one. I’ve been in that moment. We just had a webinar. How many sales have we gotten off of that? 

Okay, remind me what is our average time to close. Okay, how many days has it been? Yes, usually they’re saying, okay, well, I’ll come back in thirty days and they come back next week. It’s fine. There isn’t trauma there. 

“That’s a good point. We are constantly struggling with this. I need to give it time to work, but then at the same time, I need to know when to pull the plug. And if you’re not clear about that from the beginning, look, this initiative here will take this long to get in action. We need at least this amount of time to get true metrics available against these things that we care about, these points of metric that we care about at this stage. We need to all agree and align on the timeframe to get there. And, of course, also as the leader, ensure that when you get to that timeframe, you’re reporting it back. 

Yes, close the loop. That drives me crazy. Great points.

“We’ve covered a lot here. One that I wanted to keep at the forefront is if you want to keep your board members listening, but also respecting you as an authority, don’t remove your ear from the ground. Don’t step away from being the person who knows what’s going on.” 

Yes,. Keep your ear to the ground. You have team members on your team that are experts at what they’re doing. You should have someone who knows social media at a depth that you won’t know as CMO, unless you just fancy knowing that much.

“But you should have experts in the team who are funneling that up to you. So you can constantly be that source of truth for what is going on as a marketer in the marketing space. But not just that, you should also be very much in front of what’s happening with your competitors. What is happening in your market? Are there new trends? Are there new entries? Is there a shift in their buying perspective or what they’re doing to buy, what they care about? Has anything else impacted how you may position yourself? Freely understand that from whatever angle it is, whether it’s from internal SMEs, alignment with other leaders. Make sure the whole leadership team is in sync and understands those things and where they matter. And then bring some of that insight to the board and in contextualizing what you’re doing and why you might want to move forward with certain things is really important. Keeping them informed and aware of what’s happening is helpful to put context around why you do what you do. 

So many things just popped into my head, everything from seeing market trends before the rest of the team. I’m sure the board is seeing some things and you’re going to validate what they’re seeing, but don’t be afraid to say it. The other piece of that though, speaking of burning equity, the changes that are happening to email sender policies and how that impacts sales prospecting and protecting your domain health. Email newsletters are a very different thing since hopefully, you’ve been following opt-in policies and all of those things that our marketing automation platforms force us to do. Now, that is not the same thing when it comes to sales prospecting and if you have Gmail, it may be time to consider burning some equity. That‘s a market trend you cannot ignore. 

“No, that is something that’s been at the forefront of a few conversations and it was interesting. I actually, shout out to the marketing ops community too, I recently shared one of their surveys of going through other marketing ops professionals and other teams and where they stand right now in their readiness against that change. I haven’t seen it yet, but let me guess since this occurred with GDPR, 5%? I think we were somewhere between five, it might have been 8%. It’s sad.”

I was almost kidding.

“However, it depends on what you’re talking about too because what they did, at least in an intelligent way, was to break down those who are already below the spam threshold and those who aren’t. A really good understanding is, if you’re not already thinking about this, you probably should be. We have less than a week. But that is not what this podcast topic is about, but it’s important to be in front of that. You shouldn’t be one week out to when this change is about to occur, bringing it to the forefront of your team. It should be something that is awareness across leadership. But the practices across marketing and sales are different and how they’re going to react will be different, being in lockstep, but being in front of that ahead of time. We are still talking about the cookiepocalypse that has been delayed how many years now.

“We should all feel pretty ready. Nevertheless, if you go out there and poll most people, a lot of lack of readiness for a change that is happening this year.” 

I think they’re going to stick to it this year. 

“They’ve finally committed enough that I’m fairly confident, but we will see.” 

This email thing is going to put a lot of egg on people’s faces if it does what we think it is going to do since it’s everybody in your company that gets shut off. So think about it and perhaps do something. Well, I went off track on that one. Do you have anything else you would like to bring up before we wrap this session?

“Just on this point, we highlighted all the things that you need to do and you need to ensure you’re doing better and align with your leadership. It’s different when you’re talking to a board vs. perhaps you have a particular CEO or founder who has a strong mindset on certain things. On a board, you’ve multiple members. There may be a circumstance where you get into a situation where they just don’t want to listen to a particular topic or space that you are speaking into.

“The best you can do is determine how to contextualize it. Make it make sense as to why it matters to the business. One of the other things that I live by other than relentless prioritizing is communication. Communicating and making people aware is so critical. Having something that’s been shared and not where they say, oh, they didn’t want to hear it that one time. If it’s important to the business and its growth, you’re going to have to find your way to keep that as a relevant point. What are you doing to work best against it, even if they’re not paying closer attention to it themselves?

It seems really relevant to what we were just talking about too.

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.