Saleswhale Blog   |   5 Min Read

I'm a CEO and this is what I care about from Marketing

17 February 2020 by Gabriel Lim

Consider this scenario. You are a marketing leader - you are about to present your quarterly marketing review to your CEO. You have pages and pages of metrics from various sources. Results from different paid ads campaigns, content engagement statistics, website traffic trends, CAC, MQLs generated, MQL to SQL conversion rates, etc.


This is crazy. You know your boss won't be able to absorb and internalize even a fraction of it.

What do you do?

Here are a few simple strategies you can follow. The overarching idea is to ruthlessly focus on what is most strategic and critical for your CEO... and hopefully win that vaunted promotion you have your sights on.

These are what make marketing reviews a delight for me:

Focus on KPIs, and de-emphasize metrics

What is the difference?

A metric is a measurable value. A key performance indicator (KPI) is a strategic metric that has the highest impact on overall business success. Ad impressions, click-through rates, website traffic, etc. are examples of metrics. Attributable revenue, marketing-influenced sales pipeline, lead conversions, etc.are examples of KPIs.

How do you know if a KPI is strategic or not?

Here's a thought experiment: if the metric were to move up or down by 30%, could it be the difference between everyone throwing a yacht party, and the company facing a layoff? For really important KPIs, even a 10% movement could be very important.

Be ruthless, and focus on what matters the most. Chances are, your CEO only really cares about approximately five or six KPIs. Figure out what matters most to her, and how your metrics tie back to those KPIs.

Only talk about KPIs with predefined targets

This is a big one for me. It has to do with intellectual honesty, which I am a stickler for. This can be a clever tactic for you to impress your boss. First, let's define what a target is.


A target is a measurable value that you have predetermined to be an indicator of success or failure. Setting good targets is really hard, and is beyond the scope of this article.

So, here's the thing.

Don't just tell me what the KPIs were.

Tell me what you held yourself accountable to, and why you exceeded, or did not exceed the plan.

With the sharp focus on targets, the conversation becomes very interesting. Why did we smash these KPIs? What were the learnings? Why did we not smash these KPIs? What were the learnings?

Post-hoc rationalisation and moving goalposts are no fun for anyone involved. And doesn't help the organization learn.

Don't just focus on the wins and losses. Focus on the learnings, insights, and what you will double down on or do differently the next quarter. Own your failures, and be tougher on yourself intellectually than she ever would.  Be thoughtful and rigorous with your analysis. This is how you win the respect of your CEO.

Focus on the anomalies and outliers

Keith Rabois once said, “I always teach that whatever you’re doing, from the CEO down to an intern, look for anomalous data. Anomalous data can generate epiphanies about the future.”

I couldn't agree more. As a CEO, many of the pivotal moments in my career were defined by insights gathered from anomalous data.

If you somehow have KPIs whose performance is two to three standard deviations away from the mean, call attention to them.


Don't worry about the business-as-usual (BAU) reporting of the normal and expected data. Zoom in on the abnormal, non-linear, and unexpected data.

Be explicit. If a KPI is within the range of what you expect, state so. "The KPI is performing as it always was, and what I expected."

But for the outliers and anomalies, deeply analyze and dissect the causal factors that you believed contributed to them, and engage in a thoughtful discussion with your CEO.

Embrace a culture of writing (memos)

Here's a dirty secret:

Unless your boss is Jeff Bezos, no CEO or executive really wants data. This sounds like heresy in today's age of "data-driven"-everything. But it's true.

Every CEO wants to be influenced and informed by data. They also want to focus on solving problems that move the needle for the business. And if your boss is like me, and most other CEOs, they tend to be a lot more proficient in the latter than the former.


That's why, in your next quarterly marketing review, send over a memo with a couple of sentences for each KPI:

  1. Why did the KPI perform like this? Dig into any major unplanned, unintended contributors (see: Focus on the anomalies and outliers).
  2. What actions should we take? Propose and explain, based on insights gleaned from the above, the recommended actions to capitalize on opportunity or mitigate risk. 

You will realize that if you have pointless metrics (not KPIs), your CEO will neither care about the Why nor What.

You will also realize that, if you do this well, it will result in a vigorous discussion (heated arguments in the case of Saleswhale) - but ultimately productive, and that drives the business forward.

If you've done a really good job with your analysis and insights, you will notice over time that the focus of your CEO will shift from the raw numbers to the written memos you prepared.


If you find yourself needing to reclaim some brownie points from a less-than-stellar quarter, try one of the tactics above.

If you are truly ambitious (or desperate to keep your job), try them all. I guarantee you will shift the perception of your CEO towards you (and Marketing as a function) perceptibly over time.

Now, go knock the socks off your CEO. All the best.

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Posted under topic:

Marketing Musings    Inside Saleswhale

Gabriel Lim

Co-founder & CEO at Saleswhale

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