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3 ways Marketing earns “seat at the table”

Bottomline, you’ve got to fight—and show you can improve the bottomline

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  • Written by  Sam Kilmer, Cornerstone Advisors
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  • Comments:   DISQUS_COMMENTS
3 ways Marketing earns “seat at the table”

“I’m not sure what kind of marketing we need, but I’m pretty sure our current marketing director won’t be leading it.”—Bank CEO, 2015

There is a new urgency to how marketing resources and leadership can be improved internally at banks.

Marketing is progressively more strategic at the same time that it is increasingly “in the trenches.” A new study of market leaders by Venture Beat found that the major ways marketing is changing are an increased focus on revenue and channel responsibility and a greater need for data/analytics talent.

Meanwhile, at many banks the movers and shakers have little confidence in their marketing leaders to perform in this environment.

In about half of banks, in my experience over the years, the marketing director doesn’t even report directly to the chief executive officer and is viewed as leading a tactical cost center—often with a decreasing budget. In most of the other half, the direct CEO reporting relationship still doesn’t result in strong marketing leadership.

So who is leading at banks?

In my experience working with both banks and fintech firms, the power seats at the big table along with the CEO are the revenue counter and the revenue maker.

The revenue counter is the chief financial officer, who also leads cost management.

At fintech firms, the revenue maker is typically the sales manager. At banks, that role is most often the chief lending officer, but that leadership accountability might not always be clear (or even be one person, which can be another challenge).

Regardless of what the org chart says, everyone else’s place at “the table” is optional. The option is based on their personal leadership muscle.

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A chief risk officer, strong chief information officer, or compliance officer is the next most likely candidate at the table.

But, the chief marketing officer is almost never at the table.

So, how can CMOs be sitting when the music stops?

Three ways marketers can lead

I’ll be frank and direct:

1. Stop being cute and get real.

Marketers are often known as the always-optimistic event planners putting their best face on situations.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear something like, “The Marketing Department gets a lot of projects done and even while tightening our belt!” Well, that’s not going to cut it anymore. Maybe Wells, Chase, or a local ambitious competitor is taking market share. The bank needs to be dead serious about the threat and the resources that will need to be re-allocated from elsewhere in the bank to address it.

In a declining margin environment, there is no extra to be justified and resources must be taken away from other areas of the bank. It will require a fight.

Maybe the new employee originally hired to run the MCIF system is just not cutting it on the new warehouse analytics platform and social media projects.

Or maybe an unreasonable compliance officer is blocking the launch of a campaign best practice used by many other banks.

These situations cannot be sugarcoated. Marketers have to push for the successes, learn from the failures, and move on. Even if there isn’t a clear return on investment on all projects, leaders need to be accountable, welcome outside scrutiny, and push for accountability from others too.

CLOs and CFOs have brutal arguments every day about deals, employees, comp plans—you name it. Leaders pick their arguments (and respectfully help sort them out).

Marketers need to step up to the plate and pick arguments of their own.

2. Get tech smart and stay that way.

Beyond the growth of digital and analytics marketing, technology project leadership is a growing bank need and one that marketers are poised to help lead.

In Cornerstone’s recent research study, Technology Management Complexity, the typical bank is adding or replacing about five tech applications each year (and growing). Among the top apps being added or replaced right now is Customer Relationship Management, the epicenter of marketing.

This technology complexity is growing and more of the projects are the enterprise-wide type like CRM and analytics where marketers can bring strong domain leadership. Also, more of the tools are not from banking vendors and will be new to the organization and the industry. Agile movers bringing a test-and-learn sensibility are needed.

3. Be bank leaders instead of department bureaucrats.

Leading marketers are taking on increasing responsibility. Some are taking on innovation and integration projects. Consider this:

• One who I know was recently tasked with leading the selection and deployment of all new loan origination systems.

•  Another is helping to sort out contact center workflow and customer follow-up.

At most banks, however, I have found the word “department” is used more often to describe Marketing than any other area of the bank.

“Department” is a divisive word (it literally translates to “division”) that makes marketers sound separate … and protected from the customer-driven work processes of most employees.

Let’s get even more direct

Marketing happens across the bank and marketers must be the cross-functional leaders who wiggle into process conversations that impact customers and revenue.

Marketers shouldn’t ask for permission.

Line of business leaders will routinely leave marketers out of conversations if they don’t speak up. With the convergence of marketing and channels, waiting to be asked shows a lack of leadership and can mean a career death spiral.

Again, consider:

• CLOs talk about lending across the bank, not their loan department.

• CFOs talk about money across the bank, not their finance department.

CMOs must get out of their departments and lead.

Flexing muscle across the bank gets them to the table.

And this is not just about their own careers.

Their bank’s future growth depends upon it.

About the author

Sam Kilmer, senior director at Cornerstone Advisors, can be reached at skilmer@crnrstone.com or on Twitter @SamKilmer. You can read more by Kilmer about marketing in his recent company blog, “Welcome to New Marketing Muscle.”

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