Members of boards of directors this year have prioritized shaping an agile, multi-stakeholder strategy that drives current business while considering future innovation and opportunities, according to the EY Center for Board Matters priorities for boards in 2019 report (PDF). They also want to transform the governance of risk management, accelerate the talent agenda, activate culture as a strategic asset, strengthen communication and engagement with stakeholders and continue to enhance board performance.

Note to marketers: Does sharing the number of retweets a marketing tweet received help foster anything in that monster agenda? Probably not. Marketers need to show accountability in their measurements and a united front with sales in presentations to board-level executives, according to Jon Russo, CMO and founder of B2B Fusion. Overall, it comes down to proving volume, value and velocity, Russo said. “Although the board may not always be not looking for specific numbers, they're looking at the volume of activity, the value of that activity, and the velocity of that activity,” Russo said. “And then the story that kind of supports that.” Those are not the only things that matter when marketing leaders get in front of the Board of Directors.

Reality: Marketing’s a Metrics/Outcomes-Driven Beast

Forrest Leighton, VP of marketing at CB Insights, remembered the early days of his career as a product marketer at Canon when the measure of success was something very different than it is today. “In the early days we would roll out large scale product launches including launch kits, training and advertising, including newspaper ads and airport dioramas,” he said. “It was a mix of vanity metrics and hitting our deadlines, and good feelings encapsulated the results. Marketing has changed into a metrics/outcomes driven beast." 

Today if marketing actions are not tied to revenue, they probably aren't worth doing, Leighton said. "The branding czars of old are gone," he said, "and measuring impressions is now seen for the vanity BS that it is.”

Related Article: You're So Vain: Beyond Marketing Vanity Metrics

Revenue-Generation and Performance Outcomes

Leighton said in terms of reporting outcomes, his teams first focus on how marketing generates revenue. “This distinction,” he said, “is important since we have both outbound and inbound sales teams. In some places this could be an area of disagreement between sales and marketing. Fortunately, this is not one of those places. It's a happy, helpful bunch. The metric is important to gauge marketing’s impact on the business.”

They also ask, “How are the different marketing channels performing?” To answer this, CB Insights teams created a view of each channel by first and last touch. “Multi touch would be nice but we are not there yet,” he said. “First touch shows how and where we are acquiring new leads/names, and last touch helps understand the actions that helped to move them to revenue.” 

Marketing and Sales Alignment

This one’s easy, right? Not quite. We’re still trying to find ways to figure this one out. Russo said executives at the board level are looking for marketing and sales alignment in all measurements produced my marketing. “What they don't want to have happen is a CMO beating their chests saying, ‘Hey, look how great we're doing.’ And the numbers of the company are going down. That's not helpful.” 

If sales and marketing are aligned on measurements, that's a good thing, Russo added. When you report to the board something you’re measuring, make sure your head of sales is on board with it, Russo said. “And then have a story around that,” he said.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: 8 Tips to Successfully Align Sales and Marketing Teams

What Story Do Your Marketing Numbers Actually Mean?

While “showing ROI” and “tying marketing to revenue” may be popular themes for marketing presentations to the board, marketers should also think in terms of storytelling, according to Russo. He suggested having insights — and stories — behind the hard numbers you’ll present to the board. While the board will be asking for hard numbers, “they’re more concerned about, 'Well, what is this? What does the story tell us? And what are you doing about it?'" Russo said.

The big challenge for marketing leaders is how they broker that conversation. Accustomed to dealing with terms like ABM or lead generation, marketers have to think in terms of board speak (think back to the findings in the EY report.)

As good as metrics like revenue, traffic and reach may seem attractive to share, they’re not the only considerations for reports to the board, according to Alana Kanter, VP of content and communications at The Zebra. Why? They don't tell an integrated story of how various marketing functions can positively impact the other, she said. “One integrated KPI that works for us at The Zebra is to track the domain authority of our earned media coverage,” she said. “To gather and tell these stories requires close collaboration between our PR and SEO teams, but ultimately has been an easy partnership between the two as tier 1 earned media coverage with backlinks is a win-win for both teams.”

Focus on Marketing Influenced Revenue

Most boards are focused on revenue, the potential pipeline of revenue and/or client growth, according to Maria Juan, VP of marketing at Peerfit. “In my role, I regularly present to our board of directors, and I find that to prove marketing's value you need to touch upon the areas where they are focused,” she said. “Our department always reports on marketing influenced revenue: how have our efforts contributed to the pipeline, what's the ROI of those efforts — how much are we spending in comparison to how much we are bringing in — and the measure of this KPI in closing a contract.” 

Juan said it’s not always clean, but being able to track a user's journey from the top of a sales funnel to active engagement within the product is key. “Marketers today,” Juan added, “need to be experts in CX which is a measurable, data-driven KPI that still holds onto the creative foundation of storytelling which at its core, is marketing.”