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Embracing Fear and Skepticism

push back against new ideas because of fear

With the boom in marketing technology over the last few years, marketers have been inundated with promises of a host of “next big things” that were promised to revolutionize their field. As much as we’ve all experienced demos that got us thinking big about what we could do with the software, we’ve also seen demos that scared the living daylights out of us.

That likely wasn’t because we didn’t understand how to apply what we were seeing, but rather because it made us realize we would be exposed, possibly as inexperienced or, worse, as creating no value.

Innovation has disrupted countless industries, and marketing is no exception. And as with those other industries, there are marketers who push back against new ideas because of fear. That emotion can take many forms, but most revolve around the potential disruption to our place in the world.

In 2005, after several conversations with then-HP CEO Mark Hurd, I began to working on solving the disconnect between marketing activities and business results while working on the client side. Hurd described this disconnect as “the absence of economic alignment.” He was absolutely right.

At the time, however, I had only one goal: to figure out what would satisfy the business leaders who had the Power of the Budget over me and my teams. The brilliance of our strategies, campaigns and creative efforts weren’t what they cared about – they were just means to an end. But they sure wanted to understand whether we were achieving that end, which meant delivering an impact on the business that was greater and more significant than the money they had invested. At that moment, I wasn’t trying to build Proof. I didn’t even know that Proof was in my future. I was trying to save my butt.

I had reason to be concerned. CEOs and board members struggle with marketing and communications because functional ideas of ROI don’t match up to how business leaders think. It’s pretty straightforward to get the numbers from a CFO or a sales leader and know whether they are good or bad. The line from activity to revenue isn’t as clear when the CMO or CCO talks about increase in followers, press and analyst coverage, audience engagement, marketing qualified leads or clicks. A few years ago, I read a survey that found 80 percent of CEOs still don’t trust their marketing leaders to know how to deliver business value. By comparison, the same group of CEOs trusted and valued the views of their CFOs and the other members of their C-suite. The situation today isn’t significantly better, with many recruiters estimating that CMO tenure is about 18-19 months in B2B, half that in many B2C companies.

My team and I adopted a super pragmatic approach between 2005 and 2010.  We weren’t trying to innovate – we just wanted to solve the problem.  Then as now, that problem started with the way that business leaders understood marketing, communications and our contributions to the business.  Realizing that there was no such thing as an independent “marketing solution” to this quagmire, we started crowdsourcing business leader perspectives through annual surveys and individual conversations with Fortune 1000 C-level business leaders.  The bottom line was, “How do you want us to solve this issue?” If what we created was to work for us, it first had to work for them.

It was a long slog, but by 2009, we had largely solved it, and we started getting a lot of attention – first by BMC Software with an innovation award, then by Honeywell for contribution to deal expansion and deal velocity, then from the marketing profession with an innovation of the year award in 2014.

Today, CMOs have access to all kinds of data but most teams still connect to find it challenging to meet the C-suite’s demand that they show marketing’s cause and effect relationship to business performance – past, present and future. That’s exactly where Proof comes in. Here’s how VB Insights analyst Stewart Rogers recently explained what we do:

“The idea of Proof is simple. It shows B2B managers the results of their marketing expenditure. But the measurement, algorithms, and mathematics behind the scenes are more complex. It goes beyond many of the existing modeling approaches — which tend to rely on sometimes subjective, very occasionally more scientific weighting of channels and touch points — to accurately compute marketing attribution. You won’t find any common last or first-touch attribution here. Proof takes into account time lag, cause and effect, and the ripple effect of your entire array of marketing activities over extended periods of time. (“Proof lands $2 million to explain the cause and effect of your marketing spend,” Jan. 18, 2017.)

That might sound scary to some marketers and communicators. But we’ve got some good news – time and time again, Proof computations find that marketing and communications teams have a much better business impact and business value story to tell than they – or their business leaders – ever dreamed.  So the next time your CEO is skeptical about marketing’s impact, tell him or her that you can #proveit.