Preparing for my first board meeting as Gusto’s Head of Marketing was painful and scary. It felt like such a huge deal and I didn’t want to mess it up. Yet I had no idea what was expected and how to prepare for it.
Looking back, the biggest mistakes I made when I first started presenting to the board was:
Going too high level or too tactical
Not connecting marketing actions to company impact
Not being able to go deep on all the numbers
Changing the format each time
Not showing innovation and vision
Unfortunately, there’s not much guidance out there about how to fix these problems so you can effectively work with your board.
So with the help of 8 CMOs, CEOs, and board members, I put one together.
It’s called the 3C Framework and it covers everything CMOs (or other Executives) need to nail the board meeting:
Communication: How to set your presentation up for success
Content: How to present the right information, the right way
Your goal is to clearly convey the strategic impact of marketing. This is hard because most board members come from finance, product, or sales backgrounds.
This means that few actually understand marketing. But they do understand how companies grow.
Sarah Franklin, CMO of Salesforce explains this perfectly:
"The one piece of advice I would give to CMOs is to position marketing as a strategic growth lever for the company. Know the math for how $1 invested in marketing yields a multiplier for the company in revenue, loyalty, and also employee pride."
To help the board understand the impact of marketing, set metrics/initiatives for each objective. This is where you show the board what you’re working on to influence the objectives.
Pipeline: Generate $25M in marketing-sourced ARR with self-serve and outbound.
Awareness: Engage 25% of total addressable market with content campaign.
Conversion: Lower CAC to 12 months by increasing website conversion with personalization.
Tying the objectives to quantifiable metrics and initiatives shows the board that you can zoom out to talk strategically, but also can zoom back into the day-to-day work of making it happen.
This helps you get credit for your wins and get ahead of problems. Being honest about what's not working gives the board a chance to help.
It also shows that you're a straight shooter, which builds trust.
Here’s how Udi Ledergor, CMO of Gong does it: "A simple and useful format is a single slide with two columns: highlights and lowlights (or opportunities). The first column lists things that went well in the last reporting period. The lowlights column lists things that could have gone better. Be prepared to talk about why these things happened and what you're doing to fix them quickly."
Remember your audience! These are smart people who care about the numbers.
Know your program levers. What makes them go up and down? Be prepared to go 3-4 layers deeper.
Why is conversion down by 25%?
Why can't you grow inbound faster?
Why do you have so many marketers? ;)
These are all reasonable questions that you should have absolute certainty about.
The Q/A is where your command and control of the business (or lack of it) really shines.
Story and brand work on all humans, including board members. Inspire them with a sneak peak of the new ad campaign or customer videos. Have fun with it!
But connect the creative to your objectives and do it after the revenue discussion.
The CMO presentation can be the best part of the board meeting.
You’re not in this alone. Seek external points of view and feedback so that you can go into the board meeting with a ton of context about the whole company, the market landscape, and the people behind the decisions.
This helps you get on the same page ahead of the meeting.
Share your strategy and educate if needed.
Ask for feedback! For example: What do you want to see in the board meeting? What can I do better?
The most important board tip from Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of TripActions: "Meet with the board members quarterly outside of the board meeting to understand insights and get their feedback."
Book a check-in with your CEO in advance of the board meeting to get a gut check.
“The CEO often has a better relationship with the board and knows what’s important for them at this stage,” says Dave Gerhardt, ex CMO at Privy.
“Make sure you’re on the same page with the CEO first about what role you’ll play in this particular meeting and where she wants you to take the discussion.”
Align on where you should focus in this meeting (including questions to prepare for).
The best part of nailing this playbook?
It earns you the right to invest in longer term initiatives that are hard to measure. Ahem, brand.
By showing that you know how to connect your work to revenue, the board will trust you to take bigger bets with a longer revenue payback.
Communication, Content, and Context is built for the CMO, but is relevant to any exec presenting to boards:
Simplify your strategy
Be consistent and repetitive
Define objectives upfront
Set metrics/initiatives for each objective
Share your wins and losses
Meet the board regularly
Learn how top B2B marketers are using conversion to grow and apply it yourself.