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How many enterprise marketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I decided to title this post using a cheesy old joke cliche, but the topic I want to discuss today is no laughing manner, especially if you’re work focuses around executing digital marketing strategy for a large brand.

One of the nice things about working for (or owning) a start-up or mom-and-pop business is that you more or less get to call all the shots and pull the trigger whenever and however you feel like it. That’s almost never the case when working with a large organization, and the more disruptive the strategy or tactic, the more stakeholders – executive and otherwise – that need to buy in and contribute before you can execute.

Case in point – I had two different meetings in one day that included a wide variety of stakeholders represent a broad cross-section of business divisions within HSN. One focused on securing the blessing of about a dozen stakeholders for a large content marketing initiative and is the culmination of several months (and dozens of individual meetings and discussions) of education and flat out internal selling of the idea. The other focused on brainstorming the best way to position A/B and multi-variate testing in a manner that will ensure a) executive buy-in b) successful operationalization c) actual results (e.g. a significant lift in conversion rate and revenue.

When I advise colleagues and friends that operate small businesses/websites on these types of initiatives this layer of administrative red tape simply doesn’t exist. Often times, it’s basically one person going, “yep, I’ve got money and that makes a lot of sense; let’s get started right away.” In fact, I often find that I have to convince folks in non-enterprise scenarios to slow down a bit and think things through down to the minutia instead of firing marketing scatter-shot. And frankly, that’s a nice problem to have.

But for those of you on the enterprise side of the equation that are all too familiar with this tremendous disparity in decision-making process here are a few pieces of insight I’ve gleamed over the years that seem to have helped me navigate the approval and buy-in waters with a relatively decent amount of success:

  • Learn how to sell ideas & initiatives to your colleagues and to executives – I’ve been fortunate in that I was in sales before getting into the field of marketing and also did a five-year stint selling agency services to enterprise brands. But even with that amount of experience I still find myself reading as many solid sales books as I can get my hands on.
  • Pick the right agency and consulting partners – sad is it may seem, if you bring in a partner with a solid track record, strong references, documented industry thought leadership, etc. it can help grease the wheels of hesitant stakeholders that might have otherwise balked on the idea or initiative you are trying to push through
  • Start with the money – it might sound cynical, but it’s the truth. Large, publicly-traded organizations (and many smaller ones too) make decisions on whether or not to green light an idea based on how much implementing said idea will cost as well as how much incremental business said idea will capture. If you don’t clearly articulate this part of the equation, your idea is likely doomed from the get go
  • Be nice – I’d be lying if I said that these layers of bureaucracy (and occasional opposition) don’t get to me at times. But I find that it’s much better to maintain composure and civility as opposed to “keepin’ it real” (e.g. becoming combative, defensive, aggressive, condescending, etc). I also find that if you’re nice to colleagues and do favors for them without expecting any reciprocation those individuals are much more likely to hear you out or advocate on your behalf when the time comes to pitch your idea.
Lastly, always remember that even when your idea gets turned down it’s not the end of the world. It’s simply an opportunity to learn about your company’s culture and refine your approach to leadership, collaboration, and communication.

Besides, tomorrow’s another day.


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  • http://twitter.com/miguelsalcido Miguel Salcido

    Hugo, I admire your patience. You are clearly the right man for the job and HSN really nailed it on the head when they hired you. People like you are few and far between. Of course I’m not sure most people understand exactly how big HSN is and the many brands they control, but I do and that is a large organization! With lots of $$$! 🙂

    • hugoguzman

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Miguel! I hope my bosses feel the same way ; ) and yes, HSN is huge.