It's time to elevate marketing and be accountable for ROI

Karen Walker SVP-global marketing,
Cisco Systems 

By Karen Walker, senior VP-global marketing, Cisco Systems 

With today's social media and anytime-anywhere technology dynamics, we're seeing the way customers purchase is increasingly more customer-initiated and customer-driven, making the relationship with the customer more critical than ever. These forces have moved us to a dramatic inflection point where marketing can no longer be viewed as a support function, but as a true, accountable partner with the sales organization in driving revenue and growth.

The importance of proving marketing's ROI continues to grow, and today's marketers rank proving ROI as their 3rd-biggest concern (behind reaching customers and understanding whether campaigns are working).  Yet little more than half of marketers say marketing's financial value is clear to the business. It's time to change that, to elevate our function, and to be accountable for having a direct business impact and prove ROI.

This shift will change marketing's role at the business table to one in which marketing is thought of as— and ultimately proven to be—a revenue generation machine. This will require us to not only create demand, but also accelerate the time to revenue. It will mean we not only produce leads, but also do a great job of converting them. It means we not only set out to produce events that customers rave about, but also track how the event moved customers along in their buying journey. And we will not simply execute campaigns, but first develop strategic campaigns, programs and plays that are in line with the sales forecast, and are right for the marketplace.

This is a journey that will move marketing from being a cost center to a revenue engine—and requires marketing and sales to be in single alignment on the revenue cycle for top-line growth.

We've begun this journey at Cisco, and in the process of doing so with our sales colleagues, we have found the planning is just as important as the plan. The time marketing and sales teams spend getting agreement on all components of the revenue plan is essential to the process.

Make no mistake there is a lot of heavy lifting in moving marketing from a cost center to a revenue engine. While we're still early in the journey, we've found the following to be among the key success factors:

  • Invest the time to get agreement between sales and marketing on the revenue forecast, revenue goal, and the metrics you will use to measure progress (such as the rate of converting marketing qualified leads to sales qualified leads) and keep yourselves accountable. This not only helps strengthen the partnership between your sales and marketing teams, but also instills the accountability and discipline needed to transform your marketing to being a data-driven function. Which leads us to our next lesson learned:
  • Measure marketing's contribution to revenue with the same level of discipline and scrutiny as sales teams do. To help you do that:
  • Set a regular cadence of goal-setting, reviews, and tracking, both within marketing and with sales. If your company is global, be sure to have the systems in place to look at the same set of numbers and pipeline wherever you are in the world.

By measuring our success on business impact and ROI— not just the quantity of work that we're executing—marketers will have a new level of partnership with sales and earn our seat at the business table.

Karen Walker, senior VP of Cisco global marketing, champions marketing's role as an accountable business function aligning closely with sales teams. At Cisco she has a global revenue generation goal for marketing, and on Nov. 5 will be the keynote speaker on "Marketing as an Accountable Business Partner and Revenue Center" at ITSMA's 20th Annual Marketing Conference in Cambridge, Mass.

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It's time to elevate marketing and be accountable for ROI