I’ll never forget the boardroom presentation that I made that shifted my entire perspective on how to work with the executives at my company. The topic was the budget that my marketing programs and team would be given, and I was ready: a solid go-to-market strategy, clear outline of lead generation programs, conversions, and estimated revenue numbers, and the precise budget we’d need to implement the plan.
I was pretty pleased with myself when one of the board members cut me off mid-presentation.
“We need you to bring in 17,000 leads,” he said. “That’s what we need.”
All of us have a moment like this: a moment when we’re doing our jobs and leveraging our expertise, when we are shining the way that we were destined to shine, perhaps, and we’re brought back down to earth by someone who just doesn’t get it. Seventeen thousand leads? I could buy them in a day, they’d cost $6,000, convert terribly, and drive the sales team nuts.
I could have left that meeting with a burning rage about the fact that no one cared about the work I’d put in. Or, I realized, I could think about what went wrong. Specifically, I’d gone into the meeting unprepared for what they—the board, the CEO, and other executives—were expecting. I’d never asked what they were looking for, didn’t understand where they were coming from, and lacked empathy for whatever they were dealing with that brought them to this 17,000-lead moment.
How I dealt with that situation helped me to build a framework to build influence. So often, we are doing the work—great work—that moves our company forward. But it’s likely that no one outside your immediate department is even aware of it, especially if the work you’re doing falls more into the day-to-day than the big splashy moment. Having stakeholders in the organization know your value, from your boss to the executive team, is essential for moving up in your career and, during uncertain times like these, for job security.
From my deflation in the boardroom, I decided I wouldn’t again be in a position where I didn’t understand the needs of my stakeholders, because from here on out, I’d both understand them and take part in shaping them.
Identify touchpoints in the organization
The first thing I do in any role is identify the touchpoints throughout the company. These are the areas that go beyond my own department or projects, where I can have influence. I take a look at which programs within my company are most strategic, and how I can influence them from my role.
People think of marketing as a lead-generation function. But I discovered I had touchpoints across the entire customer journey: I could help define feature sets, use marketing intel to help develop sales scripts, or create content for easy customer onboarding. When you put these together for your role, you can map out influence in a way that increases your visibility and, quite frankly, your chances of success at the organization.
Learn how to speak the language of your key stakeholders
As you look across the organization to understand where you can build influence, it’s key to develop a strong understanding of other people’s goals, pains, and even the language they use and the lens they look at things through. In marketing, we talk about MQLs (marketing qualified leads), but if you’re talking with sales or your CEO, revenue is what’s important.
I could have quickly generated 17,000 leads and met my quotas after that board meeting, but I knew enough about the organization’s goals, and what the executive team was measured on, to know that what they truly wanted was revenue. Somehow, the idea that 17,000 leads would enable the company to meet its target had settled in, but as a marketer, it was my job to educate everyone on the idea that those leads had to be qualified to turn into customers, which in turn would get us to our revenue goals.
No matter what your role is in the organization, it’s important to spend time thinking about, learning, and getting to know what is important to everyone else. When you’re talking to people outside of your sphere, shift your language so they relate, become enthusiastic, and figure out ways to work together. This is a surprisingly simple step that many people overlook when they’re working across teams.
Go outside your team to develop influence
When a lot of people think about getting visibility across the organization, they might consider ways they can get face time with executives or managers that have sway over their career. But the best way you can develop influence is by identifying the key stakeholders for success in your company.
After my tense boardroom moment, I decided to have follow-up conversations with the sales team and some board members. We shared our definition of a true lead, and together agreed on the definition, so the next time I made a plan or reported progress, we’d be on the same page. We also spent some time defining what our targets and company goals really were so that we had an agreed-upon definition of success.
Building influence within your company means getting a seat at the table, where decisions are made, and presenting the value you provide to the company in a more expansive way. You’re doing this work already, but branding it as your own, and following simple communication principles to help people understand it better, will help everyone else understand you’re a rock star too.
Christina Del Villar is a 25-year Silicon Valley go-to-market and marketing strategy expert, author, and speaker who helps companies grow and scale. Her book, Sway: Implement the GRIT Marketing Method to Gain Influence & Drive Corporate Strategy, is due out in early 2021.