Let’s say you need to talk about marketing with a non-marketing executive.  How should you do it?

Don’t talk about marketing.

My life-long empirical study shows this: Most executives are suspicious of the marketing advice they receive.  Why?

To quote one exec, “They keep talking about all this friggin’ marketing.”

Through my workshops and consulting, I spend a lot of time with C-level executives who don’t have a marketing background.  They are skeptical when marketers sell marketing ideas as marketing ideas, and not as business ideas.  They are skeptical when marketers look at a marketing budget as an entitlement, and not as an investment. And they are skeptical when marketers talk about marketing as a secret, magic formula, that only marketing professionals can understand.

My advice, if you need to sell a non-marketing executive on a marketing idea:  Don’t talk about marketing.

Talk about business issues that matter. Talk about the business results your marketing program is designed to generate. Talk not about what your marketing program does, but what it does for the business.

If you want to sell a C-level executive on a customer loyalty program, don’t talk first about frequency of communications, and (please!) don’t talk about database technology.  Focus on the untapped latent profit in your existing customer base.

If you want a new budget to focus on social media, don’t talk about social media as a mega-trend, and how it is important to show your customers you “get it.” Focus on how peer-to-peer marketing capitalizes on your company’s strength in gaining business through customer referrals.

Many marketers are reticent when it comes to talking about results because many of their most important programs can’t be tied directly to results; it’s hard to show how many customers came to you because of a story in the New York Times, or because you got more sign-ups on your Facebook fan page. But that’s all the more reason to talk about results.  Because direct results are hard to demonstrate, it’s important to show that you have created marketing strategies that aim for the right results. A strategic foundation can build confidence when direct, measurable results don’t exist.

Change the frame of reference. If you have a business conversation, and not a marketing conversation, the person with whom you are speaking will be much more receptive to your marketing ideas.


  • Jane Fletcher-Saginaw
    Dec 17, 2009 - 22:14 pm

    Yes and Yes. Revenue to the bottom line. Enjoyed this immensely.

  • David Friedman
    Dec 18, 2009 - 00:50 am


    I agree with your post. One of my first blogs was entitle “I Hate Marketing—— NOT” because of the very points you raised. Most CEOs don’t appreciate the nuances of marketing but do understand results of increased share, more loyalty, increased revenue, lower cost per customer and other financially driven metrics.

    I believe that almost everything that the marketing function does can be measured. And even if everything cannot be measured most programs, new products, take up rate can be measured. In fact, I strongly suggest that any marketing executive worth his/her salt consider the question: How do I drive profitable revenue growth? At that time, the perspective changes from a marketing person developing the mere tactical plans of brochures, trade shows, and marcom to the more strategic. When that happens, the CEO will (should) have a new respect for his new-found business partner, the Chief Marketing Officer or VP, Marketing.

    David Friedman
    CMO for tech and service companies

  • Steve Yastrow
    Dec 18, 2009 - 10:15 am

    Thanks for the comments Jane and Dave … as I was reading your comments I was thinking how a patient would react to a dentist who babbles about medical terminology versus one who says, “I’ll bet you want to have a nice smile.”

  • Charles Pavia
    Dec 18, 2009 - 11:47 am

    Steve: well done. Clear and concise. It is never about what you do, but what you do for the business. As a career marketer I have a lot of people tell me, “Oh you do ads and brochures.” My response has always been, “No I help you increase sales, improve margins, drive cash flow and reduce cost.” Unless it hits the bottom line or the Balance Sheet the marketing activity is viewed as being benficial, but not required. Marketing is a catlyst to help improve a company’s ROI. Marketing improves both the Margin and Turnover side of the ROI formula. Unfortunately few marketers understand the language of business which is Finance well enough to explain the impact of their activities in business terms.

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