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Here's exactly what CEOs and boards expect from marketing in 2023

Stewart Hillhouse
Posted by Stewart Hillhouse|Published on December 08, 2022
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2022 marked the end of the “growth at all costs” era of growing companies. Now, CEOs are being told by their boards to extend company runway, reduce burn, and make all GTM teams run efficiently (especially marketing).

But for many marketers, this might be their first time operating in a down market. Expectations have changed, and therefore so must the plan going into 2023.

We asked CEOs, board members, and marketing leaders what do you think is expected from marketing in 2023?

Here are their answers.

Efficient growth is the name of the game in 2023

2022 saw many companies reduce their headcount and cut marketing programs as a way to conserve cash. But you can’t cut your way to growth.

In order to grow in 2023, you need to grow efficiently.

Efficient growth is the name of the game in 2023

“Efficient growth is the name of the game in the year ahead,” said Whit Bouck, board member, Managing Director at Insight Partners, and former CMO.

“With ongoing economic and geo-political uncertainty, marketing leaders will be expected to find ways to drive continued growth with smaller budgets (and maybe fewer employees, too).”

But it’s not all going to be doom and gloom in 2023. Market-resets are often the catalyst for well-prepared companies to jump at market opportunities while others are stuck flat footed.

“This actually provides an opportunity for marketing leaders to discover tools that help get more out of every marketing dollar, shore up the foundations of marketing and invest in the things that will drive long-term growth….in other words, use this time of more conservative everything to make sure you’re set up to win in 2024 and beyond.”

Understand the business objectives and make marketing a key player in making them come true

When reporting to the board, it’s crucial that marketing leaders are able to tie their efforts directly to the business objectives of the company. Aileen Lee, Founder and Managing Partner of Cowboy Ventures, recommends showing up to board meetings with actionable insights, rather than just a laundry list of programs you’re running.

2023 will be all about financial results

“CEOs & Boards will expect marketing to be more focused and effective in delivering tangible financial results in 2023. They'll want to understand which customer segments, and specific customers that marketing believes the company should focus on, and why.”

CEOs and boards are in charge of making the necessary adjustments when the time is right. In 2023, this means they’ll have a short-term focus on getting the company into a good place. Aileen hints that now is not the time to make big investments that you hope will pay off long term, it's the time to make optimizations that generate revenue short term.

“[CEOs] will expect marketing to engage those customers more cost-effectively, turning those leads into sustainable revenue in the short term, not long term.”

Eric Siu, Chairman of Single Grain, said that now is not the time to try to get budget for marketing projects with really long time horizons.

"Big thing is to focus on profitability and remove all nice-to-have projects." said Siu. "Double and triple down on what's already working provided you have ample cash reserves and you'll come out ahead long term."

Shift resources from top-of-funnel demand to revenue-driving conversion

When the market was flush with cash, every company needed to compete with others in their space to have their message heard. We bought ads, conference booths, and billboards to generate as much “demand” for our product as possible.

Marketing programs that generate revenue

In 2023, the focus will move down-funnel to programs that are able to convert the existing demand into real profit. “…In tough economic times [marketing] should be first and foremost about efficiency - what's the most efficient way to achieve outcomes. I also expect focus only on programs that directly impact revenue.” said Bogomil Balkansy, board member and Partner at Sequoia Capital.

Here’s what Ryan Bonnici, CMO at Gympass had to say about moving resources away from demand and into conversion:

“Marketers need to shift focus from just driving demand to fill the funnel, to thinking about conversion programs that generate revenue. Budget is going to be harder for your customers to come by next year, so create the most compelling story for your customers by adapting messaging to emphasize how your product decreases costs and increases ROI.”

Understand the growth levers of each marketing program

When asked by their CEO or board member: “What can we do to 2x the current growth of this marketing program?”, every marketing leader must have a confident answer they can share.

Why? Because the CEO needs their team to have a strong grasp on each and every growth lever that’s accessible to the company.

Jaleh Rezaei, Mutiny CEO recommends the first place to start is to get a grasp on the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC) at the program level.

“CEOs and CMOs are going to look at their portfolio of marketing programs in a much more rigorous way in 2023. Program-level CAC is how you can show the payback of every program and manage which programs are running efficiently, and which need to be cut.”

Measuring CAC at a blended level doesn’t work very well because it hides the under-performers and diminishes the results of over-performers.

Anthony Kennada, former CMO of Hopin turned Founder and CEO of AudiencePlus agrees that every program needs to be thoroughly examined for ways to improve efficiency.

"In order to hit their pipeline targets with these constraints in mind, marketing teams will focus on...surgically driving more (and better) conversions out of their digital experience and owned database in order to monetize their audience effectively."

Partner with finance so marketing gets a seat at the table

More than ever, the CFO and their financial team are going to be involved in making decisions about marketing budgets; what to keep, what to cut.

But chances are your CFO has very little insight into how you’re running your marketing programs and how they impact revenue.

Buckle up

Dave Gerhardt, former CMO at Privy and CBO Drift, shares his take:

“Buckle up. Only the marketing programs that can prove revenue will survive. Marketers will be asked now more than ever to justify their spend. It’s easy for the CEO and CFO to want cut marketing.”

One of the best ways he suggests positioning marketing as the way to get the company through the tough times and out the other side.

“But marketing can often be the fuel to get through a tough time…Now is the time to stop spending on things that aren’t working or you aren’t able to know are working. There’s no room for waste. Make it hard for them to cut marketing.”

Communicate early and often with your CEO

When things are going well, CEOs don’t typically concern themselves too deeply with marketing; so long as the pipeline is full and is under-budget.

When times are tough, CEOs will be much more hands-on to make sure that everyone is operating efficiently. 

Top-line growth

To make sure you don’t ambush your CEO with bad news, Kathleen Estreich and Emily Kramer, co-founders of MKT1 recommend getting in front of bad news. 

“Efficiency metrics will be just as important as top-line growth. Communicating early and often with CEOs and the board will be crucial, particularly if you aren't on track with your growth plan.”

But it's not enough to just find problems. CEOs need marketing leaders who see the whole picture, not just their SQL goal. Meagen Eisenberg, CMO at Lacework says she expects her executives to act and think like owners.

In 2023, I think marketing will be focusing on customers, keeping cash burn down, messaging to current environment and customer pain, while motivating employees and teams to do more with less. CEOs and boards want CMOs and every exec to think like a CEO or business owner. You need to drive revenue while keeping your burn down. 

Once you’re operating efficiently, don’t be afraid to take big swings

Despite all the focus on efficient growth, it’s sometimes necessary to take big swings to stand out from the crowd.

Attempts at legendary

But before you do so, be sure you’ve got your foundations running efficiently. Here’s how Peep Laja, CEO of Wynter thinks about it:

“I'm increasingly convinced that marketing needs to be split into '“of course we're gonna do that" - content/SEO, PPC, etc - the obvious stuff, AND "attempts at legendary" - wtf category, big swings, crazy stuff that just might work.”

Just because the market is tighter doesn’t mean all competition is going away. “The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs is real, so marketers need to experiment with wild swings and go against the grain more than is common.” said Laja.

In uncertain times, market conditions may shift without warning. That's why Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing, suggests keeping an ear to the ground to identify opportunities as your market expands and contracts.

"How is [the market] growing and shifting, what’s the difference between addressable market and serviceable/obtainable market, what does the competitive landscape look like (and evolve) and how are you gaining ground in the share of voice game."

Faster always wins in marketing

One of the upsides of having a smaller marketing team is you’ll be able to move resources quickly when you identify an open opportunity.

“The most successful marketers are going to be the ones who aren't afraid to fail and who learn quickly from those failures,” said Amanda Natividad, VP of Marketing at SparkToro.

find a happy medium

But speed is not an excuse for blindly jumping into new campaigns without having a justified insight. Having a strong pulse on your ideal customer persona (ICPs) will ensure you’re able to move quickly towards the right outcome.

“We need to find a happy medium between knowing what to test and knowing what to do because we believe it's the right decision for our audiences.”

In 2023 everyone will be focusing on conversion

The thread that connects each of these insights from CEOs, CMOs, board members, and marketing leaders is the necessity to deliver marketing programs that can efficiently and predictably deliver revenue to the business.

It’s not enough to cut all your costs – that does nothing to help your growth.

The most resilient companies will accelerate their growth by moving their resources and headcount away from wasteful demand programs and optimize for conversion. As we roll into the uncertainty of 2023, one thing is for sure: the role of marketing has changed dramatically.

Ready to start 2023 by growing efficiently?

We've put together the best resources to help you to nail your 2023 growth goals and master conversion:

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