December 17, 2019

A Key Mistake CMOs Make: Attribution

by Renegade

Today, I thought I’d share a bit about CEO/CMO relationships. As I’m sure we all know, being on the same page as your C-suite peers is pretty important. You all need to be in agreement about budgets, strategy, etc. if you want to have productivity. If you’re not in agreement about things and communicating openly and efficiently, you end up not getting much done because A didn’t approve B, or because C is delayed getting back to D about E’s presentation…you get it.

There are probably a million ways for CMOs to nurture a strong, productive, relationship with their CEOs, but I wanted to talk today about one big mistake CMOs often make: putting an overemphasis on attribution.

Yes, attribution is important. You need some resources devoted to it. But oftentimes, CMOs are, as Alan Trefler, CEO of Pegasystems (and a chess master! Cool!) says, “hungry to prove that they’re having an impact.” Sometimes, you need to cool it a bit. Trefler notes that CEOs are usually, by nature, suspicious of soft estimates, so rough models predicting growth won’t cut it. CMOs often have bold ambitions—and that’s good—but making grand claims and building your case around iffy or incomplete data will usually hurt more than it will help.

Attribution is difficult in many industries, and it’s very difficult in marketing. CMOs tend to get anxious about proving worth and tend to then overemphasize data without emphasizing the context around it, or the creative efforts and the inherent difficulties of quantifying creative efficacy. The big takeaway here is: don’t gild the lily. Don’t feel like you need to overemphasize or exaggerate metrics—you certainly won’t fool your CEO, and it won’t help you prove impact if there are holes in your presentation. Trefler even notes that really really leaning on attribution can cause immediate skepticism.

In summation: when you’re chatting with the CEO, don’t get hyper-specific. Don’t exaggerate numbers, don’t pick and choose metrics that are convenient, and don’t be driven by anxiety to prove impact. Don’t oversell yourself, CEOs are “trained to be skeptics.” In our interview last year, Trefler discussed how CMOs can improve their CEO communications by avoiding jargon, speaking plainly and honestly, and more, so be sure to tune in for some really insightful tips!