At this year’s Summit, our keynote speaker, General Stanley McChrystal spoke about the heavy burden of real leadership, and the importance of creating an environment of shared purpose, understanding and risk when motivating people to achieve a common goal. Here’s how marketing leaders can apply McChrystal’s principles.

Earlier this month at the SiriusDecisions Summit, General Stanley McChrystal delivered a keynote speech on leadership that challenged and inspired the audience. He spoke about the heavy burden of real leadership, and the importance of creating an environment of shared purpose, understanding and risk when motivating people to achieve a common goal.

In McChrystal’s world, commitment to these principles meant going on high-risk patrols with small groups of soldiers, and never asking allies to take risks that he and his soldiers weren’t willing to take. While the burden of leadership in the B2B marketing world is not quite so heavy, the same principles apply. Let’s take a look at what it means for marketing leaders to adhere to these principles, and why this is imperative:

  • Shared purpose. Shared purpose across functions (e.g. sales, marketing, product management) is the result of goal alignment during the strategic planning process. However, in addition to ensuring that marketing’s goals support broader enterprise and sales goals, marketing leaders must communicate goals to the broader group, clarify the role that each individual plays in achieving those goals, and link individual key performance indicators to these same goals.
  • Shared understanding. Develop a single point of orientation that provides insight into key challenges, opportunities and approaches. In B2B, this point of orientation should be a deep and common understanding of who buyers are and how they typically buy. Shared understanding around deep buyer insight presents a tremendous opportunity for marketing leaders to positively impact the broader business while increasing the relevance of the marketing function. To be clear, marketing should never attempt to build buyer personas and buying cycle maps in a vacuum. Instead, collaborate with sales, product management and others to develop complete and credible buyer insight.
  • Shared risk. Too often, marketers resist linking their KPIs and variable compensation to specific revenue and profitability targets. In a world in which marketing is typically responsible for moving buyers through half or more of the buying process, marketing leaders and key marketing personnel must “share the terror” of quota attainment with sales. To do otherwise is a colossal cop-out, and ensures that marketing will continue to be viewed as little more than a sales support function, at best, and a mostly irrelevant cost center, at worst.

Let’s face it – the vast majority of B2B organizations are defined by strong sales or engineering (or both) cultures, with marketing sitting on the fringe of strategic relevance. This is usually due to the origins of the company (a top-down attitude handed down by the founders) and the historical absence of measurable positive impact from marketing. This might not be a significant problem for companies – if not for the massive shifts in B2B buyer behaviors and buying processes. Few business leaders deny that marketing has a strategic and significant role in driving profitable revenue growth, and SiriusDecisions benchmark data shows that companies with accountable (measurable), credible and properly funded and staffed marketing functions consistently outperform their peers. Yet many marketing leaders are slow to drive the organizational change necessary for marketing to contribute in the ways it should, because they feel overwhelmed by the cultural barriers within their organizations.

So what’s a marketing leader to do? For the good of their companies, their people and their careers, marketing leaders must start to drive change. The type of positive change needed to elevate marketing’s performance starts with greater focus and accountability through shared purpose, understanding and risk.

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