What’s Missing with Marketing ROI Discussions?

Marketing leaders need competencies in two areas: relationship-building and strategic insight.

It was a crisp fall day in October 2000. I was preparing for a big presentation to the leadership team in Microsoft’s Redmond, WA headquarters. Microsoft was my only client, and I worked for Siebel Systems. I had alot at stake–I needed to prove myself quickly, and demonstrate that we were capable of driving success and high marketing ROI.

I was proud of our company and our team. I walked the client through the high quality training programs we delivered across 18 countries and dozens of Microsoft locations.

In the spirit of transparency, I felt compelled to deliver some disappointing news, too:  although hundreds of Microsoft global employees and partners had attended our programs, we had few business results to show for it.  We could only report lots of activity and good smile sheets. Those were anemic results to prove a return on their $2M investment. 

Needless to say, we were unable to secure client commitment to expanding our Microsoft relationship. Our marketing ROI discussion fell flat.

I missed the point of any initial executive meeting: to establish rapport and trust FIRST by asking them what mattered to THEM.

How many of us are also missing the point when it comes to measuring modern marketing strategies and tactics? 

In my experience, even the most seasoned CMOs are tempted to rush into a marketing ROI discussion. It’s tempting because we are seduced by marketing technology solutions that generate slick dashboards.

Anita Brearton, Founder of martech platform CabinetM, believes that this approach can also create confusion and erode CMO credibility. “With an over abundance of available metrics that measure campaign, channel, technology and cohort performance, it’s really easy to get lost, and end up tracking far too many metrics. This ultimately confuses rather than clarifies performance success.”

Brearton is a seasoned board member and technology veteran as well–so she has seen her share of good, bad, and ugly marketing performance models and marketing ROI discussions. She told me “I remember attending a marketing conference where Google’s Chief Evangelist, Gopi Kallayil, was the keynote presenter. His message really resonated with me. He said ‘the more senior the manager, the fewer KPIs they should be looking at.’ For both the CMO and their team, I recommend limiting the KPI (remember K = Key) to no more than 10.”

I agree with Anita. I also believe that every marketing leader needs to develop two competencies in parallel: relationship-building and strategic insight.

In retrospect, I wish I had prepared differently for that Microsoft meeting. I would have contacted them in advance to ask these 5 strategic marketing questions. You’ll find these “pre-marketing ROI discussion” questions in my latest blog post – go here.

Copyright 2017, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Related posts:

Why Too Much Focus on Marketing ROI Can Limit Growth

My FastCompany blog: 6 Ways Marketers Can Weather Any Storm with their CFO

ForbesCMO: Five Competencies that Enable CMOs to Effectively Communicate with Boards

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