Relevancy and Accountability Count Most for CMOs

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Photo by Shane Kislack
Photo by Shane Kislack

Too many CMOs do too much hand-wringing when it comes to the topic of sitting at the senior decision-making table: Why don't I have a seat at the table? they wonder. The CMOs and marketing VPs asking themselves this question are just not relevant to one or more of the following constituencies: the customer, the channel, the business. By relevant I mean delivering results and growth. Instead of focusing on delivering results in those areas, these marketing executives spend too much of their time justifying their role, their budget, and why they should have a seat at the table.

Accountability is another common shortcoming. According to IDC's 2013 CMO Barometer Survey, marketing functions cost anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of a company's revenues to operate. Too few marketing functions can show what companies gain or get as a return on this investment in terms of growth.

Strategy is tough, execution is tougher

In addition to overseeing the marketing function at Mitel, I—along with our CEO and CFO—also led this year's companywide strategic planning process and the implementation of our strategy throughout the enterprise. Since I fulfilled a similar role at Danaher recently in my career, it was a natural fit for me to lead strategic planning and implementation at Mitel.

Strategy is difficult, but operationalizing strategy is even more challenging. At Mitel we feel confident that we have the right strategy, but we also believe that we hadn't done a good job of execution. That has changed, and will continue to change.

Mitel just moved from a quarterly strategy and operations review to a monthly review. We begin each review with a look at our customers. That review is followed by a deep dive into our operations, where we examine our strategic initiatives and look for gaps between actions plans and performance by comparing our actual results to our strategic KPIs.

Our operational reviews are based on many of the tools, principles, and insights featured in The Toyota Way workbook series. Other companies, including Danaher and GE, also use these lean tools, with their emphasis on improvement and elimination of waste. These two giant industrial companies' continuous improvement is evident in their sustained growth (both top and bottom line) and increasing market share.

This year we'll conduct 12 strategic deployment and operations reviews at the company level. Additionally, I will conduct a further 12 reviews for my marketing function.

Each company-level review takes six to eight hours to complete; a functional operations review typically requires two to three hours. One of the lessons I brought with me from my Danaher experience is the discipline of standard work. Each monthly review follows the same format. We review the prior month's actions to ensure that we have followed up on previously assigned actions. Next, we look at our core value drivers—the metrics that we run our business on. Then, we review our strategy, conducting a deep dive on each of our strategic initiatives, their associated action plans, and KPIs.

Finally, we conduct our review of sales regions, looking at our top accounts and top partners to determine how we're doing in terms of actual versus plan, by product. The reviews are focused on continuous improvement, driven by data, and designed to stimulate robust conversations about our relentless pursuit of growth.

When we spot a gap in a strategic initiative or a KPI, we seek to identify the root cause of the discontinuity. Doing so helps us stave off the tendency to focus on a symptom as opposed to truly understanding why that symptom exists. For example, a gap may be a missed sales target. The problem may be “not enough sales leads.” In most cases, however, there is a deeper root cause to this type of problem; for example, the cause of “too few leads” might be that we are not targeting enough new accounts. Addressing the issue at its root tends to lead to more relevant resolutions.

The power of relevancy

Our annual partner conference in late June represented a key demonstration of marketing's relevancy to the business. The theme of the conference was “Outside-In, the Power of Putting the Customer at the Center of Your Business,” which we lifted directly from the title of a book written by Forrester Research analysts Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine. (Bodine herself was on hand at our conference specifically to speak about the research findings in the book.)

We chose the theme to drive home the relevancy of our company's argument for customer centricity. In the past we sometimes fell into the trap of putting our channel, our products, and even our brand at the center of our business. By doing so, we neglected our number one constituency: the customer. Yes, this should be intuitive and its logic is impossible to argue with; yet many companies forget this logic amid the busy pace of daily activities. One of our goals for the conference was to remind Mitel and our partners that we're in business, as Peter Drucker put it, “to create and keep customers.”

Our Business Partner Conference attracted about 1,100 people; attendees included our channel partner principles and senior leaders, Mitel sales and marketing staff, independent consultants, and industry analysts. Given its theme, we designed the conference to center on the customer. Most of the conference presentations and related content focused on training, equipping, and motivating our sales teams and channel partners to know:

  • Who our customers are
  • How and why our customers buy
  • What's important to our customers, and how we solve their problems

The conference also featured the rollout of our new sales process, which is based on the buyer's journey as opposed to how we sell (which largely defined our previous sales approach).

Customer centricity redux

Our ongoing marketing activities also reflect a desire to ensure that we're basing our work on the customer's journey and perspective. For example, we realized that as a communications company we weren't doing a good enough job at making it easy for our customers and partners to contact us. As a result, we're in the middle of completely revamping our customer contact center, moving from six disparate centers to one, our own MiContact Center. We also realized that we had created far too many toll-free numbers for customers over the years. So, we are winnowing those numbers to just a few.

Language represents an important and often overlooked signal when it comes to monitoring your organization's commitment to customer centricity. Think of what you call your products. Think of how you label your product categories. Now, think of how much sense all of these terms make to your customer.

When I joined Mitel last year I felt as if my new colleagues were speaking a different language: Mitel-ese. It was a morass of acronyms and industry speak that a pith-helmeted corporate anthropologist could easily dig up at any company. This sales- and marketing-centric language has a downside: It makes it difficult for a company to tell an engaging story to a customer in a quick, compelling way. Instead, the customers tend to squint as they spend most of the conversation trying to figure out what you, who are marketing to them, mean and how it translates to their challenges.

In the past six months we've put on our linguist's caps and collected feedback from customers, channel partners, and industry analysts to learn what product and category names would make the most sense to customers. We took that research and used it to greatly simplify Mitel-ese (see illustration above). Specifically, we distilled what we sell into three categories:

1. MiVoice: all our phone and communications offerings

2. MiCollab: all our unified communications offerings

3. MiContact Center: our contact center offering

All these offerings can be implemented on premise or via our cloud-based offering, MiCloud.

This also allows us to build a simple narrative to help us articulate to customers the answer to a crucial question, “Why Mitel?”

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