Highly effective marketers know one thing very well: build strong relationships with the C-suite to get things done.
How? Managing upwards. Essentially: managing your leadership and doing what it takes to make their job easier.
It’s not always easy, but it can help you get buy-in, solve issues faster, gain real-time feedback and more.
Here are eight ways marketers can manage upwards:
- Think like your leadership.
- Build strong allies in the organization.
- Be bold, take smart risks.
- Own your mistakes.
- Touch base regularly.
- Get ongoing performance feedback.
- Measure and share your KPIs.
- Offer to lead a cross-functional initiative.
Consider giving some or all of these a try for a month and see what difference it makes for you.
1. Think Like Your Leadership
Try to think like your immediate manager. If you’re the CMO, ask yourself what the CEO would care about in a given situation. If you’re a marketing director, what’s most important to your CMO?
Of course, you don’t want to act like your manager as that will backfire. But, the C-suite will no doubt appreciate your thinking beyond your department.
2. Build Strong Allies in the Organization
Cultivate your relationships with leaders across the organization. Nothing will please the C-suite more than you working proactively and effectively as a team.
Take the age-old complaint that sales doesn’t follow up on marketing leads, for example. That is often due to a lack of alliance between sales and marketing people.
Is it the CEO’s job? To some extent, yes, but your job is to build those relationships, too. That’s better than having to play the disempowering card of having to get execs involved.
The fewer times you ask for the C-suite’s help in breaking down silos, the better it reflects on you.
3. Be Bold, Take Smart Risks
The C-suite takes calculated risks, and you should consider trying it, too.
Maybe you want to spend a couple fiscal quarters trying a new marketing strategy–perhaps a new vertical, a new geography, a new channel partnership or a new message.
If it hits big, great. If it’s a flop, at least you tried and have some data to make improvements next time.
4. Own Your Mistakes
Balance the natural tendency to promote your wins with owning your mistakes.
Talk about what you tried and where it failed. Discuss what lessons you learned. Show how you will move forward.
Higher ups appreciate authenticity and integrity.
5. Touch Base Regularly
Set a standing meeting once every two weeks for a brief 20- to 30-minute in-person talk with your direct report.
You set the agenda for these one-on-one meetings. Aim to cover three things:
- Accomplishments from the past week. Make this a quick snapshot for busy executives. Be sure to include visuals of cool assets, campaigns, or other deliverables.
- Priorities coming up. This step has a dual purpose: 1) Gives visibility to your manager on what you will be delivering and 2) Offers a chance to “horse trade” or negotiate a new priority your manager may ask you to take on.
- Issues that need attention. If there is a risk or an issue that needs their attention, bring it up with a recommendation on how to handle it.
In-person meetings are especially key when your direct report is the CEO.
According to a study by Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, 61 percent of a CEO’s time is spent in face-to-face meetings.
This is in contrast to 24 percent of their time spent on e-communications.
From the report:
Face-to-face interaction is the best way for CEOs to exercise influence, learn what’s really going on, and delegate to move forward the multiple agendas that must be advanced. It also allows CEOs to best support and coach the people they work closely with.
You can be flexible with these meetings as things come up, but don’t allow a full month to go by without one.
You’ll want to balance in-person meetings with weekly digital check-ins.
Spend 20 minutes putting together a brief email. Include a few bullet points that cover the information mentioned on in-person meetings.
6. Get Ongoing Performance Feedback
Think of performance feedback as an ongoing best practice and one that you own.
Today, some companies create feedback loops for performance in real time. For example, debrief immediately after an important presentation. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting–just don’t wait for the higher ups to come to you.
15five is one startup that helps make continuous feedback possible.
One of 15five’s philosophies is that everyone should pause for 15 minutes at some point in the week to reflect. Then take another 5 minutes with their manager to get quick feedback.
That may be too much for some teams, but it’s the right idea: frequent, light touch and ongoing.
7. Measure and Share Your KPIs
Marketing teams don’t always have KPIs cascading down from the CEO, so be proactive in defining success.
This again requires thinking one level above your role on what’s most important to measure.
For product marketing teams, some KPIs might include:
- Cost of customer acquisition.
- Close rate.
- Average cost per lead.
- Brand recognition.
- Completeness of product launch.
- Positive press/analyst pickup and other social media metrics.
Be sure to share progress against your KPIs. This, too, builds important connections with senior leadership.
8. Offer to Lead a Cross-Functional Initiative
Offer to lead a working session with your peers on something within your organization or area of expertise.
Maybe it’s a new, exciting sales or marketing campaign, a training session on an aspect of leadership or something else.
This helps align teams, and is especially important when working on campaigns that cross marketing, sales and customer success.
According to SiriusDecisions, when B2B companies “align their revenue engine–the sales, product and marketing functions–they grow 12 to 15 times faster than their peers and are 34 percent more profitable.”
Now that you’ve learned my top tips, I’d love to hear from you. What practices do you use to build C-suite relationships?
At Aventi Group, we mentor heads of product marketing to build C-suite relationships. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Twitter if you’d like a 30-minute session for input on your own approach to managing upwards.