Eight steps to prove marketing’s contribution to business growth

Andrew Colwell, head of strategy, The Media Octopus, outlines eight steps marketers can take in order to prove their contribution to business growth

We all like to be valued. We like to be appreciated. It’s a fact. Whether it’s from your 13-year old son, eight-year old daughter, significant other, colleague peer group or board of directors, it’s always important to believe what you do is making an outstanding contribution to their development, growth and success.

The role that marketing’s contribution plays in business growth has often been a hotly debated topic at all levels within a business – whether it’s on the front line or in the c-suite, everyone has a view.

Particular observations towards marketing that I’ve heard throughout the years include:

- “You just spend the money that we make” – sales

- “You’re a significant cost centre” – finance

- “You guys wear pink” – IT

Wry smiles all-round, I’m sure.

So, if you have any interest in your or your team’s efforts being valued and securing the long-term success of marketing, you clearly need to prove what you have delivered and achieved carries some actual value to the business. Here are eight key steps to take:

1. Educate yourself – Understand what your business values as a significant contribution to business growth

Is it too simple to suggest that if you want to prove marketing’s contribution makes a big difference to business growth, you first need to be able to understand what constitutes business growth?

Open rates, click-through volumes and even pantone preferences aren’t normally agenda items in the boardroom. Sales growth, market share, pipeline value, customer value and customer retention rates, on the other hand, can be debated long and hard. Why? Because they really matter.

2. Articulate correctly - Attune marketing’s contribution to the language of the boardroom

Where possible, look to articulate the results of your marketing efforts in terms that the CEO, COO and CFO will understand.

If the c-suite can readily understand the contribution marketing is making to business growth, then they will be much more prepared to not just back marketing suggestions reactively, but proactively seek marketing’s view.

3. Eliminate fluff – Focus on demonstrable and attributable results that matter

When you understand the essential elements that contribute to your business growth it makes sense that all, not just some, of your programmes look to deliver these outputs.

Campaigns should carry a key outcome target – market share, unit sales volumes, sales revenues, customer value etc. are the obvious ones – but even the seemingly non-revenue producing programmes that look at brand development or website content should always have a potential revenue focus attached.

Will the brand development just look pretty, or persuade new customers to make a buying decision? Will new web design or content help convert more customers to your site? If not, ask yourself what purpose it serves.

4. Sleep with the enemy – Align with sales

For far too long, sales and marketing have been daggers drawn, with marketing accusing sales of not being able to score with an open goal at their mercy and sales accusing marketing of doing too much colouring in.

The point is this, if you are designing a marketing programme that is intended to contribute to business growth, many of the business objectives will only be delivered by a fully firing, professional sales engine. By working with the sales team, you can influence behaviours and, as a result, output.

5. Save money – Don’t be afraid to engage in cost reduction

In the past, the attitude of ‘use it or lose it’ was a keenly contested issue, particularly at budget year end. If you didn’t spend your full allocation of cost, there was no chance you would get it the following year. Today’s economic backdrop is somewhat different. All investment needs to make a discernible difference. Spending for spending’s sake won’t escape scrutiny nowadays.

Not every customer is profitable to your business. Unless you know this, you could be spending valuable budget on attracting or retaining customers that just won’t help you prove your contribution to business growth. A quick recency, frequency, value exercise provides you with insight into which customers make you money and which don’t, and probably never will. By jettisoning these customers you can make a valuable argument with your financial director that you appreciate value versus cost and the importance of profit rather than simply sales.

6. Highlight and amplify - Measure your success and shout about It

So, you’ve understood what is important in the boardroom, learnt the lingo, put the coloured highlighters back in the draw and even engaged in a Faustian pact with the sales guys. Now it’s time to surface your successes. In order to do this, measurement processes should be put in place. You should be measuring marketing’s contribution at every turn possible.

Having identified the marketing achievements that count towards the successful growth of the business, you would be best served having an unopposed path into the boardroom environment. This can be achieved outside of the standard board meeting platform, whether electronically via marketing-led circulars or face-to-face through presentations, the proof of meaningful contribution needs to be demonstrated.

7. Be an innovator - Look to constantly add value

Businesses constantly need new ideas. B2B marketers need to actively keep abreast of sector trends, discipline trends, best practice – be perceived by the c-suite as the team that looks forward or, at the very least, the team who recognises there is always a better way of doing things.

8. Celebrate success – Significant business contribution should be rewarded

I’m not suggesting an all expenses paid trip for the marketing team (and their partners) to ski in St Moritz, but successful business contribution is often overlooked. First of all, reward your team with a thank you (this goes further than you think), and secondly, with the simple gesture of a few drinks or a bite to eat. Not only does this help improve your team’s morale, but it will also help word travel fast across other teams in other departments. It’s never a bad thing to be perceived as the department that makes a genuine difference.