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How to sell marketing ROI to your internal stakeholders

The more complex a marketing project is, the more likely it is that you will need to work closely with other areas like sales, IT and finance. Here's how to do so successfully.

The project's marketing ROI was solid and clear. It passed muster with all the key stakeholders, from marketing to finance. And, after months of presentations, demos, competitive comparisons, proposals, internal meetings and more, the project landed on the CIO's desk. But then it died. The justification appeared solid but in the end, other corporate priorities won the day. How can you avoid this scenario?

Many marketers have been there, trying to get resources for a project in which executives didn't see the value. So, how do you go beyond the ROI numbers not only to justify that important martech (or marketing-technology) project, but also to get it approved and implemented so you and all other project stakeholders can benefit from the project? How do you effectively sell marketing ROI?

It's not always so easy to get marketing projects approved, especially in larger organizations. So, I recently spoke to leaders in the field with considerable experience ushering martech projects through the gauntlet of approvals. Our discussions went beyond marketing ROI to look at the best way to collaborate with and persuade key stakeholders.

If you're working on a smaller project, you may not need to get additional approval. As a project grows and becomes more complex, working closely with other functions becomes a necessity. Here are ways on how to do so successfully.

Selling the project to internal stakeholders. Know whom you're selling to, and know the process. As you develop the project vision, requirements, ROI and business case, remember that you will beselling the project to a variety of internal stakeholders -- or "personas." Depending on the scope and cost of the project, those personas may include people in the marketing, sales, customer support, IT and finance functions, among others. Depending on the project size, you may also need to work with C-suite executive leadership such as the chief marketing officer (CMO), chief revenue office (CRO), CIO, CFO and/or CEO.

The more you know about the complete decision-making and approval process, the better. Know whom you'll work with and the information that each will need. Understand their motivations and drivers. But also make sure you understand how decisions get made, by whom and on what basis.

Navigating the gauntlet of internal stakeholders. As you consider each stakeholder type, or persona, consider how to connect your project to specific business objectives that are priorities for each persona. And always tie it back to the business. "Verify your claims -- both your impacts and ROIs -- and support your spend requests with benchmarks and statistics that tie directly to the issues and goals for your business," said Rip Gerber, CMO at enterprise software firm Vlocity Inc. "And measure everything."

Selling to your internal personas

Now let's take a look at how you can align a project to each internal stakeholder persona.

Marketing. We're talking about martech projects, so obviously you will want to consider how this project is going to help the marketing team to meet its goals. Depending on the project, marketers might focus on the customer journey, efficiency, customer acquisition cost (CAC) or cost per lead. Or you may consider how it affects different stages of the funnel -- for example, speeding conversion from lead to buyer. And the more you can connect the project to the bottom of the funnel -- that is, revenue -- the better.

For the CIO, it's all about security and integration, particularly when you are talking about big platforms -- say, protecting customer data.
Anita BreartonCEO, CabinetM

Sales. The sales function is the most important internal partner for many marketing projects. So, you want to align with sales leadership and/or the sales operations team to ensure success. "Get the sales leadership team in your camp early," Gerber said.

"Consider how this will increase revenue -- driving leads, conversion or repeat purchases -- because it's all about top-line growth," said Anita Brearton, CEO of CabinetM. Sales will also be interested in revenue acceleration and sales effectiveness.

Alignment is key, according to Mark Goloboy, VP of demand generation at sales enablement vendor Brainshark Inc. He likes to partner with a sales colleague. So, he might say, "This is how we need to go to market. Without this investment we will be inferior," which he will back up with hard numbers.

IT. Some believe that IT alignment is actually more important than sales alignment. "There is a natural discussion with sales and marketing, but as the depth of technology usage gets deeper, you want to make sure that IT is comfortable with strategy and direction," Brearton said.

Finance. Work with your finance team to develop the financial and ROI models most likely to be effective. Your finance partner can tell you what data you need to support the financial model, as well as the approaches that have been most effective in the past.

Selling to the C-suite

Larger projects require C-suite approval as well. The C-suite focuses on the company's bottom line as well as broader departmental and corporate goals. "I believe the C-suite cares only about the outcome metrics -- so, revenue lift in comparison to marketing's share of total customer acquisition costs could be a good measure," said Venkat Viswanathan, founder and chairman of LatentView Analytics.

The following are considerations as you work with some of the key C-suite stakeholders.

CRO. Depending on the project, the chief revenue officer may be your most important advocate. Of course the CRO will be interested in the impact on sales. But they'll also want to know how your project will shorten sales cycles and help their reps to be more efficient. And you can expect that other C-suite members will be especially keen to learn the CRO's assessment of your project.

CIO. Obviously, many CIOs will want to know how the proposed system fits with their current systems strategy. "For the CIO, it's all about security and integration, particularly when you are talking about big platforms -- say, protecting customer data," Brearton said.

Consider the CIO's decision-making process. In some cases, the CIO may compare the marketing ROI of completely unrelated systems projects. Knowing and planning for this apples-to-oranges comparison ahead of time will give your project the best chance of approval.

CFO. "The CFO is typically concerned with lowering costs. But you almost never get a drop in costs with marketing and sales technologies," Goloboy said. Of course, CFOs are looking for solid ROI. He said CFOs want to know how to save money while delivering value. "This is almost impossible to do with accuracy, so you will need to work with vendor-provided models that make assumptions," Goloboy said.

It's easy to get lost in the marketing and systems details, but you also need to fully understand all the financial ramifications. Brearton said finance people require education and expectation-setting surrounding the anticipated financial impact. So, she might explain to the CFO, "This is what I think will happen, this is how we will measure it -- say, a change in CAC from $27 to $23, and this is how we will mitigate risk."

CEO. CEOs typically get involved in larger projects. For publicly traded companies, CEOs are concerned about earnings per share (EPS). Goloboy said, oftentimes, a CEO's starting position is to reject a new investment. He or she also wants to know whether you're qualified to make it happen. In short, will this project help or hurt EPS?

In light of the complexity of selling marketing ROI to so many stakeholders, it's no wonder that many marketing teams try to keep expenditures within a CMO's approval limit. Keep the expenses small and "fly under the radar." But whether or not the project requires approval, you will do right by your company if you consider the needs of the internal stakeholders outlined above.

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