Monday, April 28, 2008

CMO Influence at the C-Level: Executive Coaches Weigh In

A few weeks ago while at an event I had the fortune of being assigned a dinner table with a number of executive coaches. During the dinner the topic of CMOs and influence at the C-Level came up. Below is a recap of our discussion on this topic. I thought this might be of interest and value to CMOs in the Club.

Pete Krainik:
Let’s quickly go around the table. Please introduce yourselves and tell us a little of what you do. Lesley, why don’t you start.

Lesley Everett ( I’m Lesley Everett. I’m a personal branding coach and speaker. I help executives create a branded profile, which enables them to have a higher impact in their current role. I help individuals connect with who they really are and how to differentiate themselves. Once we arrive at this understanding, I help individuals to package this “essence” and project it consistently. So, it’s a slightly different approach to executive coaching. It’s all about creating a personal brand and building value.

Debra Forman ( I’m Debra Forman of Pinstripe Coaching from Toronto, Canada. I’m a certified executive coach who works with senior executives, helping them realize their goals by focusing on business development, targeting strategic markets, and increasing productivity through leadership.
Dena Moscola ( I am Dena Moscola, and I have a training and coaching company focused on management and leadership development. We coach executives on all aspects of leadership. We work with conflict management, team building, communication, all kinds of assessments, basically anything under the soft skills of leadership development.

Richard Allen Canter ( I’m Richard Allen Canter. I’m an executive leadership coach. I work with C-level executives who want to move to the next level in their organization or take a leap in their career. , Besides the one-on-one coaching, I also do a lot of organizational development for executive teams and team building.

Windy Warner ( I’m Windy Warner and my company is Pro Coach, Inc. I’m out of Dallas, Texas. I’m an executive life coach, and I work with C-level executives and business owners on getting out of their own way, so that they can excel at what they do and have a great life.

Misty Locke ( My name is Misty Locke. I am the president and co-founder of a search marketing and interactive agency out of the Fort Worth, Texas area. I am actually leading and growing a team that needs all of these services, and needs team building and learning how to manage the next level. The people we speak with and do business with on a day-to-day basis are the CMOs, the CTOs, and the CFOs. We have a young group of twenty year olds on a day-to-day basis working with CMOs.

Pete Krainik: When I talk with CMOs, what comes up many times is the critical need and desire for CMO influence at the C-level. This goes from being taken seriously to actually having that appropriate seat at the table, and even more importantly, ultimately setting the customer engagement agenda. CMOs cannot just be marketing leaders, they have to be business leaders, so why don’t we start there. What is a true business leader and how can a functional leader cross the chasm and become one?

Windy Warner: I’ve worked with a lot of CxOs and the key for them is to stop talking in technical terms, and stop talking about what their organization can achieve and really translate it into the bottom line for the business, and start using the terminology that the top executive uses. Take your measurements, however you’re being measured, and translate them into how the top executive is being measured and really think of yourself not as a marketing person, but a member of a greater team. Focus on the goals of the whole organization and then have your organization really align to those goals.

Richard Allen Canter: I’m particularly thinking of people I’ve seen today, supply chain and logistics people, who are also struggling for a place at the table. From an organizational standpoint, they are at the C-level, but they feel that they’re the person when they are in an executive meeting and it’s there turn to speak, the president or the CEO has a reason to leave the room. The concern they present is, “How am I going to teach them what I do”. They have no appreciation for what I do, This is first and foremost in their minds almost to the point of keeping them from stepping up to the table.

Pete Krainik: Is this the right way to approach it?
Windy Warner: The top executive doesn’t care how they get it done as long as it’s ethical and legal and within budget.

Dena Moscola: What they need is to learn the right terminology to talk to people. They also need to learn the right presentation style, so they can present to their CEOs in a way that CEOs are going to actually hear them.
Richard Allen Canter: Everyone is so enamored with what they do; they fail to develop the needed skills to connect with other executives.

Debra Forman: There has to be a balance, because there will be a time you will have the floor and the reason for you to talk is to talk about your area. So, yes you are talking about your brand and brand awareness; you are talking about generating the demand for the product; you’re talking about the program campaign, but when you want influence at the C-level, and you want to be the business leader, you’ve got to look at it more holistically. That is when they get stuck because they get siloed and then they think, “I am the CMO guy” or “I am the IT guy”, and the CEO or President does leave the room because they don’t want to hear that.

Dena Moscola: So, it’s more like CMOs need to improve their sales skills and negotiating skills. They need to look at the people they are trying to influence as their customer and learn what their needs are and speak to them in a way that serves their needs, which in the end serves everybody’s needs.

Lesley Everett: I’m going to take this to a slightly different perspective because I deal with just CMOs. One of the key things to get noticed and to get heard is to move from generalist to specialist and being seen as that expert in those particular skill sets and abilities and strengths. So, I bring this back to the personal brand of the individual.

Richard Allen Canter: So, you’re saying that from market leader to business leader does not mean that you’re a generalist necessarily.

Lesley Everett: Exactly, I think that’s how you get noticed. You get recognized as an expert in your particular area. Okay, you’re a marketer but you’ve got to move from generalist to specialist. It’s almost like having your own model of how you do things, drilling down into what your brand is. There was an example I had recently of a lady who specialized in mergers and acquisitions within the retail sector. People saw her as a generalist in this area. They didn’t really know what her skill set was until we drilled down to her brand. What she actually does is to sort out chaos, and she creates vision from chaos. That became the brand and that’s what she’s known as: She has an ability to create this absolute vision out of a mess. If we can get that, then we’ll become a business leader.

Richard Allen Canter: So, I think if you’re piecing these two together, it’s combining the ability to say I have this set of expertise, this is what I’m really good at, with now here’s how it fits into the broader business objectives. So, it’s both. Something else that Lesley identified was that unique personal quality at the C-level that you bring to the table.

Lesley Everett: So you get heard.

Pete Krainik: So, the challenge is how do you do what you’re talking about without falling into that trap.

Dena Moscola: I have a former client. It was the same thing. He wanted to sit at the table; he was CIO, and he was really, really frustrated. We worked on that and on developing relationships, dropping the lingo, and talking in business terms. The other thing that he did, he was very good at what he did and his organization really delivered, and when he talked about what they delivered, he talked about bottom line results to the company.

Misty Locke: I think there’s a lot about your personal branding and how you accomplish that, but you are either in a position because you tactically do something well, you manage people well, or you have a knowledge and experience to fill that position. As an overall group, for someone that tries to listen to a bunch of different VPs in marketing and CIOs and CTOs, the successful ones are living it and elevating their team as well as their personal brand and living it across the company, not just at that moment at the seat. They are trying to continuously give a voice at the table.

Dena Moscola: Great point. That visibility will make the difference.

Misty Locke: The visibility makes the difference. The appearance, the perception of what you’re doing across the company to help multiple people. It seems everybody’s efficient and growing at the same time, but it’s how many are you helping and not just because you’re smart enough to say something very well at this point in time, but are you living it when you walk out of this room?

Dena Moscola: Another suggestion, take the initiative to go and really develop relationships with your peers, with the other functional areas, whether they think they have anything to offer or not. What are your measurements? What’s the most challenging thing? Because you never know when you might have an idea or there might be something in your organization that they could benefit from. Then everybody starts seeing you not only as an expert in your area but also bigger than that.

Windy Warner: That’s huge. I’ve also seen that with the CIOs. They have similar challenges, actually more than similar. It’s almost insane.

Dena Moscola: It’s interesting to me to hear this discussion about CMOs. I work with a large number of CIOs that think the marketing people have the seat at the table and the voice that is listened too.

Pete Krainik: A growing number of CMOs have become more aggressive in changing this perception. When we get together at our CMO CLUB dinners it’s not about whining; it’s not about woe is me. One CMO stated recently, “You know what? Just be a better CMO. Forget about all that other crap, just be a better CMO”.
Let’s shift gears, when you coach different executives, how often is how the individual is perceived way out of whack with how they think they are perceived?

Lesley Everett: The more senior they get, the worse it is.

Pete Krainik: So what are some of the techniques or what are some of the things you recommend they do to help understand that?

Lesley Everett: The more senior they get, the less feedback they get so step #1, solicit feedback from your peers.

Pete Krainik: What would you suggest CMOs do to get a handle on that gap?

Dena Moscola: Learn about different behavioral styles on the job and learn about what their style is and the styles of others and learn how people perceive them when they think they’re being viewed as effective, but in actuality, they’re being viewed as ineffective.

Lesley Everett: Ask your colleagues or your clients, “What is it that I give you? What do I do for you? How would you describe what it is that I do? What am I great at? What am I not good at?” Those are really direct questions. Ask the negative as well as the positive stuff. You’ll be amazed at what you get back.

Debra Forman: I would take a different path because in thinking of the people that I talk to, a lot of the time they don’t know what the perception is, and they are afraid to find out. So, make sure that they have more contact with the person with whom they report to, whether it’s the CEO or the CFO, because sometimes they don’t keep that line of contact or communication open. Either they’re in their silo or it happens quarterly, it doesn’t happen enough, they’re afraid to do it, or they think that they are so good that they don’t need it.

Dena Moskola: Not only are they not comfortable with getting feedback, then once they get the feedback, they think they know what to do with it, but they’re really off-track and that feedback doesn’t really go far enough to be effective. So, that’s where a coach comes in and helps them take it to the next level. They give them those extra skills, teach them, and re-teach them even what they learned years ago.

Dena Moscola: So it goes back to asking the right questions in the right way. It goes back to communication.

Windy Warner: If they’re developing relationships with other executives, then it’s going to be easier to ask the question, to ask for assistance. If the CxO has a better relationship with the executive, or as they get more comfortable with the person and feel that they can trust them, they can have the more personal conversation about, “Where do I need to improve? “What do you think I do well?” Without that relationship, it’s going to be too threatening.

Misty Locke: I think that’s key. When you are invited to that seat at the table; the relationships take time to develop. Take your time to evolve with the group and to earn that respect. It’s okay to be quiet. It’s also okay to read the audience. anIf you start talking, and they have a glazed look, pull back a little bit. Go ahead and take that time to read the audience. It’s so vital.

Pete Krainik: There’s even a mechanical thing. Typically, at the C-level people want to hear your point and then the background as opposed to spending time setting the stage. Make your point, then see how much information you need to put out.

Dena Moscola: Most of the people who are at that level are going to be high drivers and they want the bottom line, fast. If they have any questions, then they’ll ask.

Pete Krainik: Advice on things CMOs should never do?

Dena Moscola: Talk a lot. They must learn how to treat people the way they want to be treated.

Misty Locke: I think one of the key pieces is when you do get the idea and you’re trying to sell it, it may not happen the first or second time. It’s not necessarily that they don’t understand it or don’t get it; maybe you don’t see everything else that’s going on. You just automatically assume that the people on the other side aren’t listening or that you didn’t do the right job presenting. Maybe there is something that you’re not aware of. I think people automatically think, “Okay, they didn’t hear me” or “They’re stupid”, and they automatically take it as if the company or that group is at fault versus trying to understand why. I think they’ve missed the context and the negativity does flow down to your team.

In thinking about the above discussion there were a number of important insights or “nuggets” for me:
1) CxOs like to talk about themselves. Don’t fall into the trap of talking about your marketing expertise or just in marketing lingo.
2) Combine your personal expertise in marketing with your ability and departments fit with company objectives.
3) Live it all the time, not just in CxO meetings. Turning on and off business leadership vs. marketing leadership will not last. You will be found out.
4) Observe the dynamics of your CxO culture. What does the group talk about? What do they say first? What is really most important to the group?.
5) It’s ok to be quiet. You don’t always have to be talking to be effective.

Any other suggestions from CMOs in the club?

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