Take Your Seat at the Executive Table

By Mark Gibson

More and more marketers are joining the ranks of senior management, better positioned to contribute to their banks’ strategic direction and success. As a result, the entire industry is benefiting.

That’s because marketing represents the voice of the customer, and often approaches problems and opportunities with a different point of view. But for every marketing head who “sits at the table,” there are just as many who don’t—and have to learn about their banks’ decisions and programs secondhand.

If you are one of the latter, how can you improve your chances of participating in major decisions?

Take an active role in strategic planning.

Strategic planning is a natural pathway for a marketer to get involved in company decision making. Why? Two reasons.

Reason #1: Marketing questions effectively drive strategic decisions.

Done right, much of strategic planning involves competitive positioning, customer segmentation, and differentiated value propositions. Management guru Peter Drucker made this clear in his acclaimed book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization. To aid management teams in strategic planning, Drucker recommended asking these questions:

  • What is our mission?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What does the customer value?
  • What are our results?
  • What is our plan?

The first three questions are in essence marketing questions. Your mission is your organization’s purpose and reason for being. Marketing already plays a key role in communicating mission. And your mission should be intertwined with your brand promise and internal/external brand position—all of which are driven by marketing.

Identifying who your target customers are—and understanding what they value—is at the bullseye of what marketing does. That’s what drives your ability to come up with unique, relevant, and differentiating products and value propositions that win in the market.

Because answering these fundamental marketing questions is critical for strategic planning, you should be integrally involved in the process.

Reason #2: Most organizations start too late in the year.

Many organizations treat strategic planning either as a necessary evil or as a financial exercise that’s done once a year, often in late summer or early fall. Strategic planning should be a never-ending process, not a single event.

If a muscle doesn’t get exercised regularly, it gets weak and flabby. And the planning muscle is no different. This gap presents an opportunity for all marketers who may or may not have a seat at the planning table today.

Another mistake that many organizations make is allowing business unit planning to substitute for true strategic planning. For example, a business unit plan for Retail Banking might focus on how it will achieve deposit and loan growth. A strategic plan, on the other hand, might analyze which consumer segments are growing and profitable, and lay out an integrated product, sales, marketing, and delivery plan to achieve growth in attractive segments.

The most successful companies view strategic planning as a yearlong effort. For them, it often starts in early spring, and finishes when the executive team involves the board in November or December. The process should start with a wide-angle lens at the beginning of the cycle, with executives and managers carefully assessing the internal and external environment for challenges, opportunities, and new ideas. As the year unfolds, the planning process narrows gradually like a funnel. By late summer and early fall, executives and management are working together to determine what the strategic priorities should be for the organization, and what programs and tactics will be implemented to achieve them.

The lines of business should translate those strategic priorities into action plans for their unit, inserting them into the unit’s business plan for the coming year.

How to grab your seat at the table.

If your organization doesn’t start planning until later in the year—or doesn’t take a deep dive into customer and competitive data—that presents a unique opportunity for you to insert yourself in the process and create a more significant role for marketing.

  1. First, arm yourself with competitive insight into how customers perceive your organization and brand compared to other organizations. Where are you strong and what are your weaknesses? In short, what is your brand position compared to your competitors?
  2. Next, perform a customer segment analysis showing which segments you do well in (i.e., identify where you’re over penetrated compared to the market). Marry that data with profit or revenue per segment. This helps the management team understand where they should be focusing for profitable growth.
  3. Finally, bring in research and “voice of the customer” (VOC) insights that will help management understand what the profitable segments want from your organization. This becomes a roadmap for how to deepen the relationships with existing customers in that segment—and how to attract more of them with the right value proposition.

By doing this, you have essentially helped your organization answer Peter Drucker’s first three questions, and in doing so, you have become an indispensable part of the planning process.

Closing the deal.

By offering up these customer and competitive insights before the annual strategic planning process starts, you are all but ensuring that you will play a role in the process as it unfolds later in the year. What’s more, introducing true customer insights in their own words may help the executive team to gravitate from a “sample size of one” debate, where important issues remain unresolved, to a discussion where observable data can lead to productive action.

We’ve seen bank marketers use the insights described above to host “customer insight summits” early in the year. The result: renewed energy and focus on the customer and the value the company could deliver to win in the market. These conversations have continued through strategic planning and into budgeting. That’s a win for marketing, your customers, and your bank!

Now is the time to begin this process. Your chair is waiting.

Mark Gibson is senior consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic, and project management services to the financial services industry.