Ruth Saunders, Author, Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board
An unfortunate but familiar scenario frequently plays out.
A team comes up with a breakthrough idea that could not only drive short term growth but also ensure long-term financial stability. But once in the boardroom it all falls apart, with members exposing cracks in the investment strategy where outcomes have not been clearly outlined or supported with adequate financial projections or relevant data. Defeat hangs heavy in the room, offset with blank stares and the demand to re-write plans.
Senior managers are charged with protecting and managing the company successfully. Consequently they tend to be analytical, focused on shareholder value, risk-aware, minimizing the risk of projects failing, and short-to-medium-term focused, ensuring that the company meets its promised quarterly and mid-term targets.
People often enter the boardroom with a naïve appreciation of this, presenting and behaving in ways that reflect their own mindset.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? No one is right or wrong, but it’s important that people recognize that the boardroom is not their territory.They need to think like senior managers to convince senior managers.
In this article we look at three issues that bug the Board when being sold to – exploring both why and how to avoid them.
1. Always being sold to, never part of the problem solving
People are typically trained to build a strong set of recommendations with supporting rationale before engaging Board members, resulting in them sometimes engaging Board members relatively late in the day. This can cause Board members to feel:
- ‘Blind-sided’ as it’s the first that they’ve heard of it.
- ‘Sold to’ rather than ‘included in the problem solving’.
- ‘Squeezed’ into a corner as they are only being shown one option.
In turn, this can cause senior managers to question the recommendations and so what’s, and be slow or even negative when asked for their approval.
In contrast, Board members prefer to be engaged early on in the ‘team debate’, as they feel that they have much to offer throughout the problem-solving process.
To illustrate, I asked one very elusive Board member if he would like to be involved in the next round of Board interviews. Surprisingly he said ‘yes’. Given his original reluctance to be involved I asked him why, and he said how much he had enjoyed the conversation, as ‘Ruth, all everyone ever does is sell to me, no one ever asks my opinion’.
2. Unclear why to engage
Senior managers are understandably time-starved, running from one issue to the next throughout the day. Yet many people often start their presentations with little commercial context and can be slow to get to the point, resulting in senior managers disengaging well before the punch line.
To avoid this, any presentation or discussion should start with why senior managers should engage, by setting the business context and demonstrating how the project is important for the company, as well as for each of them personally as part of the leadership team.
It should then outline what the team wants their agreement to, ensuring that the ‘reasons to progress’ are compelling and that the three to five ‘asks’ are tangible.
Additionally, people should ask senior managers for their agreement to proceed and their buy-in to the key ‘so what’s’ – as well as clarifywhat they will do over the coming weeks to keep everyone on-board.
By doing this, people demonstrate that they recognize that senior managers are time-starved, and thereby that this is a commercially important issue that they need to engage with.
3. Slow to be convinced
Managers are time-starved too, so much so that they often throw together presentations at the last minute, pulling in ‘vaguely relevant’ slides from disparate sources to try to make their case. The result can be a presentation deck that contains neither a clear story nor compelling facts.
A strong recommendation must be backed up by robust data and facts, so that each assertion is supported objectively and independently. This way, it makes it difficult for senior managers to disagree – and significantly helps convey that marketing knows and is on top of the potential risks.
In practice, this means:
- Finding the data and facts that ‘prove’ the team’s assertions.
- Creating charts that evidence each bullet point with ‘facts’ that help back up the assertion – these ‘facts’ can be business financials, in-market data and testing, quantitative and qualitative research, customer quotes or external case studies.
- Building a convincing business case that demonstrates the business payback of the investment – as well as the risks to the business if the project fails.
- Addressing any concerns that people have raised head-on, to ensure the recommendation is approved.
To get the Board members on-board, it’s important to ‘walk in their shoes’, showing them how important the project will be for the company and for each of them as part of the team.
To achieve this, Board members should be engaged as allies throughout the problem-solving process, talking with senior managers in an early stage ‘listening and problem-solving’ rather than ‘selling’ meeting, with the aim of getting senior managers’ input on what the ‘right answer’ is.
They should be clear about why senior managers should engage and what they want their agreement to.
They should write a bespoke presentation deck, with a clear story on what the recommendation is and why, and a robust fact base that makes it difficult for senior managers to disagree.
About the Author
Ruth Saunders uses her experience as a strategy consultant at McKinsey, marketer at P&G, advertising planner at Saatchi & Saatchi and market researcher at Mars Inc., to help clients be ‘On Point’. She is a marketing and branding consultant, trainer, speaker and coach. She is also the author of Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board, published by Routledge. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Ruth on twitter here – https://twitter.com/Ruth_Saunders_ and https://twitter.com/BeingOnPoint.