How to report the right stuff (not fluff) to management

Marketers need to show the right metrics to influence the C-suite, says Xero's Penny Elmslie.

Penny Elmslie says she isn’t offended easily. But the Small Business Director and marketing head for accountancy and payroll software business Xero remembers one time when she was taken aback.

“I’ve been around for a while, and one of the most offensive things someone said to me was that marketing was the ‘fluff’,” Elmslie says. “This is so wrong. To me, marketing has become more business-metric centric than ever.”

Elmslie compares marketing to an iceberg. Most people only see the top “but the power and the depth of thinking are done below the surface, and it’s done months ahead”.

[caption id="attachment_1156" align="alignleft" width="300"]Penny Elmslie Xero Penny Elmslie, Small Business Director and marketing head, Xero[/caption]

To gain management’s appreciation, or at least respect, marketers need to use metrics to show the depth of the iceberg. This is important as marketing is one of the top-line indicators of business health.

“If we don’t have a strong voice at the table or if we’re not being articulate enough with the right metrics, the business will suffer,” Elmslie says. I find that there are a lot of gaps in people’s reporting. And that’s where people lose faith in marketing.”

To address this, Elmslie says marketers should align metrics with business priorities. These priorities vary from organisation to organisation.

“The first thing I would recommend is to be clear about what the business drivers are, and make sure the marketing metrics align with those drivers,” she says. “Say you host an event and success is 100 people registering. But the real metric is what happened after that event that actually impacted the business drivers.”

Elmslie says she prefers to have 10 people attend an event and become engaged afterwards than 100 people attending but then doing nothing afterwards.

Xero uses reporting dashboards created by an internal business intelligence team to create consistency across units. This means Elmslie is looking at the exact same numbers every day as the company's C-suite. As she explains it, they are all “looking at the same single source of truth”.

The company also uses Objective Key Results and business results instead of KPIs to track progress. This ensures everyone is aligned with broader company goals.

It also means when reporting metrics to the C-suite, Elmslie can be sure they are on the same page. She “doesn’t see the point of talking for the sake of talking” and focuses on giving analysis and insights rather than a particular data point.

“I don’t see the point in creating the marketing plan until you have a business plan.”

“I definitely acknowledge you can’t look at things in isolation,” she says. “Data points can be argued and spun any way you want. We’ve all seen it: the power of a percentage point can be either a really positive thing or a negative thing.”

Her team conversations are daily assessments that allow her to “adjust, refine and anticipate”. “I’m often finding that my conversations at the top are very much factual where the conversations at the bottom are probably a little bit more emotional or inspirational.”

Elmslie adds that you don't need the same level of technology as Xero to align gaps in reporting.

“Obviously, more metrics will give you more layers of data, which then provides insights to improve your event,” she says. “But at the end of the day, you’re hosting that event for a reason. Be clear about where that event fits in your strategy.”

But how can B2B marketers get to the bottom of where their businesses’ priorities are? Elmslie says the answer is as simple as asking.

Her first step when creating a marketing plan is to ask the C-suite:

  • What are the business priorities?
  • What’s the three- to five-year plan?
  • What are the business objectives?

For context, she asks other relevant teams for their targets and objectives.

“If I’m not getting those business priorities I actually say, ‘I can’t deliver the plan’. Or I make it really clear that I won’t actually put a metric against it until the business gives me a clear direction or a priority.

“I don’t see the point in creating the marketing plan until you have a business plan or at least the business priority.”

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Further reading: How marketers can use data as a weapon

Photo: Mariusz Prusaczyk on Unsplash