Marketing is generally viewed as a cost center by most executives, a viewpoint that can make it challenging to sell your latest marketing plan or request for funding. And while some execs approach marketing from the perspective that it’s essential to the success of the company, there are others who definitely do not. This can lead to a disconnect between the reality of what marketing needs to move the ball forward and what executive leadership perceives is necessary and willing to agree to.
So, what’s the best way to bridge this disconnect? Well, having metrics of successful marketing efforts to back you up certainly goes a long way. But often, success hinges on the way that the plan and/or requests get communicated to senior leadership in the first place. And this can be easier said than done. Even if you are a superb communicator, executives, frankly, just approach things differently.
In general, what matters most to executives is the bottom line, which is how you’re going to positively affect revenue. You must come to them with a clear plan that shows where marketing is today and where it’s going, along with a solid strategy of how you’re going to get it there for whatever you’re asking for.
Also, when meeting with executives you must be decisive, persuasive, and concise. It is important to understand their world by taking a step back to assess the pressure they’re under and what key metrics or values are priorities for them. Taking the time to understand people’s communication styles and tailoring your approach appropriately is essential. In general, be sure to:
- Understand others’ perspectives
- Have a prepared agenda
- Provide relevant background or context
- Present your issue with several recommendations
- Be honest, direct and concise
- Keep the conversation out of the “weeds”
- Listen and be willing to be flexible
The following four groups of personality types can provide you clues as to the best way to engage with leadership (and anyone you work with as well!).
- Analytics need facts, figures and data. They will appreciate an orderly presentation supported with documentation, and being given time to review it.
- Drivers need you to present expected outcomes, strategy to implementation, risks and timing. You must keep your presentation short and get to the point quickly.
- Amiables need to understand how this plan will help employees and the organization. They will be more likely to want to collaborate on innovation strategies, so a friendly approach is best.
- Expressives want to know what is new and exciting about your plan. Ask for their thoughts, and really listen to what they have to say.
Communication Best Practices
Now that you’ve got a roadmap for handling different personality types, take into consideration the best ways to communicate.
- Treat people like individuals. Do not treat people as you would want to be treated unless they are just like you. Everyone has different needs and different personalities. Generally speaking, executives probably won’t want the same level of detail you desire, and won’t have your identical objections, passion for your field, or prefer your mode of communication. In other words, you shouldn’t ask yourself, “What would work with me?” because you are not a reliable gauge of what would work with them.
- Have the conversation in person. Everyone is busy, and it can be tempting to handle things over email. But this is a huge mistake. The majority of meaning construed in conversation comes not from the words themselves, but from the speakers’ facial expressions and body language, according to research conducted by UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian. Take emotion and gestures out of the equation, and recipients can easily misinterpret what you’re trying to say.
- Focus on what they care about. Leadership is rarely moved by how distressed and inconvenienced you and your co-workers are. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s just that they are paid to protect the business. This means your message must communicate impact on the business. This means bringing realistic solutions to the table along with their impact on the bottom line.
- Present clearly and succinctly. According to Phil Culhane of CT Labs (a company focused on facilitating collaborative transformation), “Executives are paid to make decisions. They want you to state the issue, explain the options or strategy (briefly!), and tell them what will happen if they approve, disapprove, or postpone deciding. Anything other than that is not necessary.”
- Handle conflicts with diplomacy. Put a group of different personalities and priorities in the same room for an extended period of time, add the stress of not having consensus from the beginning, and you’ll likely experience some disagreements no matter how well intentioned everyone might be. When you respond to conflicts, do so with an open mind and a nonjudgmental approach. That means absolutely no personal attacks. By asking questions and really listening to the responses so you understand how each person feels, you facilitate a resolution that’s acceptable to everyone. Defuse political power plays by conducting broad-based meetings where goals and tactics are openly discussed and introduce processes that leave little room for individual discretion. If you encounter someone who is resistant to change, try to look at the world through their eyes and listen openly and honestly to what they are saying. Examine your own basic beliefs and assumptions in light of this, as you may need to make some adjustments as well.
- Steer clear of being critical. Almost everyone will encounter situations where they become frustrated with a situation and this often devolves into becoming critical. This will definitely derail your conversation because the natural response of someone who is being criticized is to switch off and not listen, which means you’ve lost the ability to move things forward.
- Be prepared to get cut short. Executives are often time constrained. You may have allotted a two-hour time slot, but if a competing priority arises your window may shrink substantially. Be ready to abandon most of the PowerPoint presentation or notes that you so diligently put together and focus on just the most salient points.