How to get buy-in from the C-suite
Often SEOs and search marketing managers struggle to convey value to the board which hampers funding and support for relevant strategy implementationThere are three aspects you need to balance in order to win over C-suiteKevin Indig, Director of SEO at Shopify helps you navigate these crucial conversations
Your best ideas aren’t worth a dime without funding. What’s the key to funding? Executive buy-in! To understand how to get buy-in, you need to know your audience: the mighty C-suite.
Executives are busy, stressed, and care about three things and three things only – 1. Market share 2. Revenue 3. Talent. They want to know if the company is capturing more of the market, makes more money, and has the right people. Mind you, a healthy team and culture are part of talent.
So, whatever you need funding for needs to have a direct line to one of these three factors. Only a few projects can live outside of these and provide enough strategic value to be considered. Everything else gets a friendly head nod and then collects dust in backlog hell. Relevance is important!
But your success will also depend on strong storytelling. Think about it like packaging. A sports car needs a nice chassis, an iPhone needs a classy box, and your presentation needs a capturing narrative.
Designing a narrative
Stories are how we retain information. I’m not going to give you the whole spiel about how humans told stories around fire camps and painted the walls of caves. Let’s just say our brains still connect information with stories because they trigger emotions. We imagine ourselves to be part of the narrative. It even triggers certain parts of the brain – as if we were really in it!
Storytelling has two key components: a problem and a solution. The problem needs to be big, timely, and relevant. You don’t want to cut the problem definition short but take your time showing what the root issue is, its magnitude, and how it is connected to other problems. This is called issue framing. In the end, your audience should think “We need to take care of this right now!
Emphasize the problem with data or a strong construct of reasoning. The executives should be able to see the issue in one paragraph or on one slide without too much explanation. This is an important data visualization challenge. Problems often come down to a simple display or something not trending in the right direction or being too small/large compared to something else.
Seek to connect the issue to a larger goal of the organization or an existing problem. This is easier to grasp than dealing with a completely new problem. Plus, connecting your problem with another one has a carry-over effect of relevance. Suddenly, your point is top of mind.
The solution to the problem can be a set of prioritized actions or an outcome. Just like the problem, keep the solution simple. “Here are three things we’re going to do about it.” Show the time horizon and resources you need to solve the problem. You should be able to show one to three metrics to measure progress against the solution to give everyone an understanding of success.
This is how data and storytelling play together to lead up to a coherent narrative.
Ideally, you gain the executives’ trust over time to get the point fairly quicker and not have to develop a full pitch every time. Trust comes from keeping commitments. Following through. Keeping your word.
That’s why one of the best things you can do after a successful pitch that leads to funding is to follow up with progress and results. Showing things turn out the way you said they would displays to executives that they can rely on you.
On the other hand, not following up can stick out negatively and lead to uncomfortable questions during your next pitch. Even if results are not coming in, reaching out and showing you’re on top of it goes a long way.
Emotions matter as much as data
By now, you’ve realized that getting C-suite buy-in depends as much on evoking the right emotions as it does on data.
Be careful with evoking too much fear, it can lead to paralysis and panic. Be careful with too much excitement, it can come across as naive and unserious. Aim for just the right amount.
One factor that helps is timing. Bringing the narrative up at the right moment means executives are primed to listen and be open to understanding. That could be annual/quarterly planning or when the company hits a pivotal moment, but also strategy shifts or personnel changes in the C-suite.
Another factor that helps, are advocates and champions of your pitch. Talk to someone before you pitch and ask them for feedback. When people co-create, they get invested in the outcome.
Kevin Indig is Director of SEO at Shopify. He is also the creator of Growth Memo. You can find Kevin on Twitter at @Kevin_Indig.
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