Managing change from below can be a challenging — if not downright frustrating — part of a content marketer’s job. It can be equally difficult to convince decision makers to change the nature of their existing marketing strategy to a more content-centric approach.
It is not uncommon to hear stories about bosses who “just don’t get it” or “can’t see the bigger picture” when it comes to content marketing. For example, sometimes decision makers will listen to a well thought out case but then say they are “still not convinced,” without providing any further explanation as to why. Other times bosses will explain why they are not convinced, though their explanations seem irrelevant or unfounded.
Then there’s the most maddening of situations: decision makers who listen to your clear, compelling plan to raise the top line with content marketing, yet still claim that it will not fit with the rest of the organization’s marketing and sales processes, or that other initiatives need to take priority.
Any (and all) of these cases can make content marketers feel drained and discouraged, questioning why something so obvious to them seems so hidden to their boss.
The following change management guidelines can help you convince your bosses of the value of content marketing — and keep you sane in the process.
1. Understand what keeps your boss up at night
Hint: It’s not content marketing.
The benefits of content marketing are usually not what worry decision makers — a concept that Joe Griffin, CEO at iAcquire, acknowledges in his CMI post on the benefits of content marketing.
Among the key selling points Griffin advises content marketers to bring up during initial discussions with company executives are the benefits of visibility, share of voice, customer interaction, branding and reputation nurturing, cost per lead, and quality of lead.
Griffin’s advice is spot-on when senior executives already believe that the company’s biggest problems can be addressed by realizing benefits like these. However, the majority of bosses who are reluctant to invest in content marketing aren’t thinking about business concerns in these terms.
Instead of introducing a new set of concepts to your boss using marketing-centric lingo, focus initial discussions around increasing your understanding of your boss’s perspective on key business concerns. Here is an example of an email you can send to get the ball rolling:
Hi [name of boss],
I’ve been researching some of the latest trends in marketing over the past few months, and I think there are some opportunities to improve our results.
I’ve come across several case studies and research papers on shifting marketing processes and techniques, and there may be some proactive approaches we can take to stay on top of these changes.
I’d like to continue to explore how our business will be affected by these newest marketing trends. Would you be free for a 15-minute chat to answer some questions that will help me determine the specifics?
- What would you say are the three most successful aspects of our marketing and sales strategy?
- What do you view as our three biggest marketing and sales challenges facing our business?
- What do you think we need to do to address those biggest challenges?
Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Uncovering answers to questions like these enables you to understand your company’s most pressing needs in terms that your boss can relate to. Familiarity is key for understanding what keeps your boss up at night.
2. Find out whom your boss trusts, and get them on board first
A colleague of mine (let’s call him Jim) spent months trying to get a particular issue on his boss’ radar. He armed himself with research papers, cost-benefit analyses, case studies, potential solutions, and the pros and cons of several possible options in preparation for addressing the issue — just about everything a content marketer would need to make a convincing case.
So what happened? Jim’s boss chose to follow the recommendation of his “golf buddy,” rather than his employee. Though the golf buddy presented none of the research, analysis, or strategy that Jim did, he did have one key advantage: He had already earned that boss’ trust.
Take a look at what goes on “under the surface” in cases like this:
- First: Executives are more likely to trust and respect the professional opinions of their peers over those of their subordinates. This doesn’t necessarily mean bosses don’t trust their marketing teams but, rather, that when compared head-to-head, a recommendation coming from a person they consider an experienced equal will generally hold more weight and credibility.
- Second: You probably discuss work challenges with your trusted colleagues — and senior executives are no different. The “golf buddy” has, most likely, already established him or herself as a confidant to your boss by engaging in previous discussions on the concerns that keep executives up at night. The rapport they’ve built over time means your boss will continue to turn to that buddy when new business challenges emerge.
If you have a working relationship with people to whom your boss listens, bounce your ideas off of them first to get their feedback and support. Once they are on board, you can leverage the connection as backup to support your assertions.
However, if you don’t have access to people in your boss’s professional network, you may be able to solicit an introduction by sending a request, as I do in the following email example:
Hi [name of boss],
My research into latest marketing trends is progressing well, and I think I have a few approaches in mind that we might want to pursue.
Specifically, I’ve found examples of companies in our industry that have addressed the challenges that we are facing by looking at marketing in terms of some key customer touch points and metrics. Though their solutions might be a departure from our existing processes, I feel that the results they were able to achieve are strong enough to make these techniques worth exploring further.
As I continue to gather data and flesh out the details, it would be immensely helpful to have someone to bounce a few ideas off of. Is there anyone outside of our office you can connect me with whose opinions you trust? I think the external feedback would be invaluable as I put together a plan.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you rally internal stakeholders behind you, as well. Make sure you do your due diligence on who else might be in an influential position who can support your drive to implement content marketing initiatives. Enlist their support before proceeding with making your case.
3. Recognize that buy-out is just as important as buy-in
At this point, you know what keeps your boss up at night, and you know that content marketing can offer viable solutions. You’ve brought your boss’ “golf buddies” on board, and you’ve rallied internal stakeholders to take up your cause.
You’ve got everything you need for buy-in for the new idea. Now you just need a plan to get buy-out — of old ideas.
Buy-out is an equally important part of change management, but it can also be equally challenging to execute. The more entrenched your company’s current beliefs and processes, the more difficult it can be to plan and implement an effective exit strategy.
Chances are your company will be reluctant to introduce new techniques that add a layer of complexity on top of existing processes. So your best chances may lie in integrating content marketing into existing routines. This means that unless you are getting additional marketing budget for your content initiatives, you’ll need to prepare a plan for re-configuring your marketing mix and trimming budget from routine processes so that you can re-allocate it to content initiatives.
Compounding these changes on top of the necessary strategy changes will likely come with additional risks — as well as additional objections from senior executives. So it’s vitally important that you anticipate these potential obstacles and account for them when you present your content marketing strategy for approval.
Most roadblocks fall within two general categories: risk and routine.
Fear of risk leads to concerns and objections like:
- What is the return on investment of this idea?
- How much money is this initiative going to cost?
- How will success be defined and measured? Does that fit within our existing performance measurement framework?
- Do you have any examples of similar ideas that worked?
- Let’s see how the industry matures, first, and react to what our competitors do.
These can be overcome by either dispelling the false notion of risk or by introducing a solid risk management plan.
When preparing to address these objections in your plan, be sure to consult the advisers your boss trusts — and cite them often during your conversations with senior management so that the boss knows everybody has thought about the risks and has created ways to prevent or mitigate them.
Routine is the hidden cause behind some different, but related, common objections, like:
- There’s no room in the budget for content marketing.
- We already have a team in place managing marketing initiatives.
- This idea impacts other departments and functions.
- We’ve been fine without content marketing so far. Why fix what’s not broken?
- It will require too many resources.
- It will take too long to implement.
- Content marketing has too many moving parts.
These obstacles can be overcome by explaining that you have consulted internal stakeholders and that they support the initiative for content marketing. Reiterate the benefits of content marketing, and highlight how these reach across departments and improve the company’s overall effectiveness and efficiency when it comes to raising the top line.
Getting your boss to buy out of existing business processes is a key step for getting her to buy into new ones. You will be much more likely to implement content marketing if your boss can see proof that the old routines aren’t achieving results, and can be improved upon.
4. Remember that your boss needs to impress her boss
Here is the crux of why it can be difficult to get executives on board: If the new idea fails, they are on the hook with their superiors.
Senior executives do not want to be caught making the wrong decision. Often, they report to the board of directors — a team that primarily cares about balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements, and are charged with making sure the company remains in good financial shape and continuously increases shareholder value.
The solution: Show how content marketing increases shareholder value.
For this reason your argument in favor of content marketing needs to center on one key performance indicator (KPI) in particular that does not appear in the financial statements: customer lifetime value.
Customer lifetime value is the marketer’s proxy for the value of customer relationships. It is more convincing than any other metric you can focus your argument on. Customer lifetime value has been accepted as a useful decision-making tool since the 1990s and quantifies the relationship between content marketing and customer relationships.
The board of directors will accept that customer relationships drive shareholder value. In fact, the International Accounting Standards Board (the standard-setting body responsible for the development and publication of accounting rules) uses customer relationships as an example of an intangible asset. Intangible assets appear on the balance sheet. Though it may be an afterthought for most director-level bosses, the board of directors recognizes that customer relationships plainly drive shareholder value.
Lifetime value assigns a dollar value to this relationship. It is primarily concerned with the acquisition and retention of customers. By assigning a value to each customer, and by counting how many customers the business serves, marketers can show the future value of any marketing initiative. Predicting future value is a key component of net present value — language your senior executives undoubtedly speak. Lifetime value helps translate “marketer speak” to “director speak.”
Content marketing is great at acquiring customers and even better at retaining them. When getting your boss’ buy-in for content marketing, keep the conversation focused on those two company objectives by showing how lifetime value can increase as a result of content marketing initiatives.
5. Tie it all together: a free checklist for you
The following checklist can help you see if you’ve positioned yourself and your content marketing strategy for success.
These change management guidelines will bring you closer to getting your boss on board.
Of course, some companies simply have bad decision-making processes (and even worse managers). Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t win them over right away. Just keep trying to draw the dots and let your boss connect them on her own accord.
For more tips on getting your boss on board with content marketing, see the following resources:
- Getting Buy-In for Your Content Marketing: A 3-Point Process
- 2 Foolproof Methods for Getting Content Marketing Buy-In
- Building the Case for Content Marketing
- How to Justify the Cost of Content Marketing
- How To Explain Content Marketing To The C-Suite
- 4 Hidden Benefits of Content Marketing that Go Beyond ROI
For additional guidance on preparing for the buy-in conversation, read CMI’s eGuide on Building the Business Case for Content Marketing.
Cover image via Bigstock