Building a Healthy Relationship with Your Budget

July 11, 2013

Kara Wallace, director of marketing for Mortenson Construction, treats the budgeting process like a marketing campaign. She builds an evidence-based business case that helps decision makers connect marketing tactics to goals and to projected outcomes.

Wallace spoke with BMA Buzz about her strategy, which will be the focus of her July 17 BMA Minneapolis presentation, “Rock your budget: Getting what you need (and even what you want).”

BMA Buzz: How do you approach the budget process?

Kara Wallace: The trick is that I don’t treat it like a budget process. I treat it like a marketing campaign. What goal am I trying to achieve? Who is my audience? I really manage it that way.

It needs to be a proactive approach. What is the company strategy, the plan for the next year? What are the sales targets and what are the barriers that might be in the way of hitting some of those targets? How can marketing help move the needle on some of those barriers? If you marry marketing to the sales process and to sales goals, then the ROI paths start to become clear and the argument for the budget can be proactive.

You have to calibrate how you approach your group of decision makers. Talk to senior management about what the company wants to achieve in the next year. I like to create different scenarios where marketing helps the company achieve its goals.

Scenario one might be all in. It’s the best outcome, a big goal, and then you look at the tactics required to get there. That may be a significant number. It might be too big of a number. But you can put it on paper and use it to educate decision makers.

If scenario one is out of range, then we look at a scaled-back scenario with a worthy goal and outcome that would help the company move toward the desired positioning. Identify the tactics that would get you there and put a price tag on that. You might end up putting something on paper that is not desirable. But we just came through the recession, and we were all in those shoes where we had to do some of those tough budgets.

The key is not to commit your team to deliver [results] beyond your resources, so I like lining up the scenarios. Everyone understands the concept that you get what you pay for. You bring that logical construct into the conversation and make it clear that at different [budget] levels you have different outcomes.

BMA Buzz: You’ve offered to help your audience troubleshoot problems. What kind of challenges do you expect to face?

Wallace: The most common problem that I hear from my team and my peers is that they don’t know how to explain ROI to senior management. They don’t know the right metric. They are not sure how to help senior management understand what they did, what the process looks like and what they were able to achieve. But I have a special talent for that. I would argue that there is a metric for everything.

BMA Buzz: How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your budget?

Wallace: To get what I want, which is more budget, I have to prove that the budget that I have is working. It’s just that simple. I do whatever it takes to show that relationship.

It’s not a once-a-year exercise. It’s an ongoing, open dialogue with sales. It’s tweaking every program along the way. If something isn’t working early in the year then we recalibrate and start looking at how it is working better in the second half of the year.

This process is critical to marketing leadership. When you build a team, and they are working hard, you need to make sure they get the resources that they deserve. I want to equip my team the right way. It’s my motivation to fight for what we know will work. When we have confidence that a program will work with our audience, there is no reason we should not go after it.


"Building a Healthy Relationship with Your Budget."  BMA Buzz. 7/11/13.