Whether it’s a change in the business development process, implementing a new technology, launching a client experience program, building a new website, or refreshing a brand, marketers can often face an uphill battle getting buy-in. And in an industry where proposals are often synonymous with marketing, non-proposal related initiatives can be especially difficult to get approved.
But gaining buy-in from firm leadership is absolutely critical to the success of any A/E/C marketing initiative, as most initiatives will likely require an investment of budget, as well as time from both marketing and technical staff. So what are some ways to get firm leadership on board with new marketing initiatives? Here are a few thoughts.
1. Educate firm leadership
Peter Drucker, the well-known management authority, once described learning as “a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.” And I would argue that one of a marketer’s primary objectives is to keep themselves on top and in front of the latest trends, techniques and best practices in modern marketing. Marketers have a responsibility to innovate and continuously show their firms more effective ways of doing things, which means marketing leaders need to be the most knowledgeable marketing expert in their firms.
And with that expertise and learning comes a responsibility to share those transformational marketing insights with firm leaders and encourage a culture of perpetual marketing learning firm-wide. So what are some practical ways to do that? Try bringing your CEO to an SMPS education event, encourage them to read a book on modern marketing, have them sit in on a webinar and regularly send them articles that will keep them in the know of where A/E/C marketing is headed. And it shouldn’t stop with C-suite either; consider hosting regular lunch-and-learns with firm leadership to showcase the latest trends and modern marketing approaches.
2. Make a business case for your ideas
If you really want to get buy-in for your ideas, don’t start by explaining the cure, start by describing the disease. Marketing isn’t a hobby, so anything that’s going to demand staff time and firm dollars should be ultimately tied to helping the firm achieve their strategic objectives. Think about it—it’s much more difficult to argue against an initiative that is tied back to the firm’s strategic business plan and overall business goals. So one of the most compelling ways that the marketing team can get principals and firm leaders to accept a new marketing initiative is by showing them how the plan works to specifically address a particular goal(s) or strategic objective.
This emphasis on strategic alignment should become a part of the marketing department’s DNA. It’s important for everyone in the firm, at each and every level and department, to understand the “why” behind anything that marketing (and business development for that matter) is doing. Whether a new idea or a long-standing staple, if a particular marketing activity can’t be strategically connected to the firm’s goals, it shouldn’t happen.
3. Involve others and build non-marketing support
In most cases, you’re going to have better success rolling out your ideas informally early on, in order to gauge interest and identify potential sticking points. Obtaining “sponsorship” of your idea from an internal influencer (or several) would be helpful to your cause. This might be a group leader or office manager, a subject-matter expert or another principal who may weigh in on the discussion but is not necessarily the final decision maker. In other situations, it may be more advantageous to go directly to the CEO to seek and/or gauge buy-in before the idea is presented to a larger group.
Developing (non-marketing) champions for a marketing initiative will be helpful as you can seek their insight and feedback in order to flesh out your idea, identify pitfalls, address concerns and start to build out your business case. If you can win one or more champions over to your cause, their vocal support will likely prove to be immensely beneficial when it’s time to give a formal presentation (see #4 below).
4. Give a compelling pitch
For any initiative that’s going to require significant time and/or money, making a strong business case supported by a compelling pitch to senior leadership is key. While in some cases a simple conversation may suffice, putting in the effort to make a more formal pitch will go a long way in not only persuading the merits of the initiative, but also showing the importance marketing sees in it as well. Research shows that those who successfully sell their idea internally use a more formal “pitch” approach. Think about it—these are people who are used to selling their ideas in formal interviews with clients. So adapt your approach to fit that norm and craft a presentation that provides leadership with a convincing argument for supporting the initiative.
During the presentation, obviously highlight the benefits of the initiative, but also address risk and how you will manage it. This will increase your credibility and the trust factor. Be sure to provide real-world examples, research and statistics and a well-thought-out plan for execution. And as you build your pitch, consider any and all potential objections and proactively diffuse them throughout your pitch. More than likely, you’re well aware of what’s going to receive pushback so don’t wait for the Q&A to address it! The more effectively you can connect the dots between how the initiative will help to solve a critical firm issue or objective, the more effective your pitch will be.
5. Demonstrate cause and effect
One of our primary responsibilities as marketers is to connect the dots between the work we do and the bottom line. While the conversation around return-on-investment for marketing can be challenging in any industry, the unique nature of the A/E/C industry makes proving ROI—at least in the truest sense of the term—exceptionally difficult. However, keep in mind that firm leaders understand that marketing AND business development activities can’t always be tied directly to a particular project win or bottom-line revenue increase. Revenue and new business is almost always the result of a multitude of touch points, efforts, conversations and interactions over an extended period of time. But demonstrating cause and effect—how a particular marketing initiative turned out according to pre-defined goals and desired outcomes—is a critical aspect of the initiative and of the credibility of the marketing department as well.
One of the best ways marketers can get principal buy-in is to build credibility and trust. And you do that by being accountable, making sure firm leaders are fully aware of the ongoing successes (and failures) of any and all marketing initiatives. The truth is, not every initiative is going to be a home run, but just as it’s important to demonstrate wins, it’s equally important not to conceal the losses. And along with that, firm principals should have a clear understanding of the various factors and reason behind the results and the lessons learned along the way. As the saying goes, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
Help them see the (strategic) big picture
Obtaining principal approval for new A/E/C marketing initiatives can prove to be a challenge for many marketers. But once leadership sees how your initiative fits into the big picture and works towards achieving strategic objectives, they’ll be more willing to buy-in and devote resources to it. With the right approach to selling your idea, buy-in is attainable.