The CMO role is transforming, in large part due to how fast social, mobile, cloud, and big data megatrends are becoming pervasive and changing the very nature of business.
It became clear during the course of several conversations I've had recently that there are recurring themes the modern CMO must address. How these issues are addressed can largely determine whether today’s CMO will succeed in shaping company success or be relegated to the role of merely owning branding and communications.
For this post, I discussed some of key themes with Joe Payne, the former CEO of Eloqua and one of the leading authorities on modern marketing.
Old Versus New
The old CMO was focused primarily on corporate marketing and communications, without full operational responsibility or a regular table seat in the C-suite. Maintaining an operational focus, while regularly looking over the horizon to what's coming next, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore is certainly a balancing act. The new CMO has to figure out how to do enough of both in order to increase impact on organizational growth and success.
“Without question, the biggest change is how active marketing is in the selling process. Marketing is right, front, and center, facilitating the buying process,” Payne said. “It used to be that, especially in B2B, marketing would create collateral and sales tools and do a little carpet bombing [provide air cover to sales]. Then the Internet changed everything and caused the company Web site to become a transaction engine.
In the old days, many marketers could assert that "half of my marketing spend works, but I just don't know which half." The rise of digital media, combined with the ability to measure the effectiveness of the increasing amount of digital marketing spend, means that marketers are now accountable for the results of marketing expenditures. But it goes beyond just measuring marketing ROI. Modern marketers need to become experts at understanding digital customer behaviors and data mining so they can architect a customer strategy that maximizes the efficiency of how their company targets, acquires, and grows customers and increases market share.
“A CMO today has to be analytical,” Payne said. “Since the buying process is now all measurable, you must have the analytical skills to understand what’s happening at every stage of the buying process and how to optimize marketing to drive better results.
From a career-path perspective, marketers traditionally have educational backgrounds rooted mostly in liberal arts and communications, rather than science. With the rapidly increasing role that technology plays in helping companies optimize their operations, engage with and convert customers, and build life time customer value, technology adroitness is now a mandate that no marketer can ignore.
Marketers need to not only understand the broad range of technologies that can help the company compete more effectively, such as predictive analytics and marketing automation, but also how to create a technology adoption road map. Except for CMOs starting out at new companies, most of us have a technology infrastructure that is a collection of capabilities and not fully capable or integrated to serve current business mandates. Closely partnering with CIO peers to articulate a cogent road map to acquiring, improving, and integrating marketing technologies that help the company meet its strategic objectives is now the order of the day.
“It can be daunting to make sense of all the technologies, create a road map, bring it all together and build an operational dashboard,” Payne said. “Sure, you still have to have great creativity and communication skills, but as a CMO you need to marry that with the technical and analytical skills. When you combine those things, you will be a modern marketer.”
Alignment used to mean that the CMO needed to inform sales on what new products or services were about to be announced, as well as new marketing campaigns. Alignment was approached in a siloed fashion, seeking it when needed, such as for budget approval for major expenses, and avoiding it where unnecessary, such as testing messaging to increase response rates.
It's a lot different nowadays. CMOs are expected to contribute to the shape and trajectory of the business and bring ideas, energy, and inspiration about how to grow more profitably and compete more effectively. It takes a lot more effort and cycles to drive companywide alignment than functional alignment, especially when any significant change is contemplated. It takes someone with more business understanding than marketing may have been expected to possess in the past. It also takes a lot more gravitas today, both in and outside of the boardroom.
“It starts with simplifying the data, benchmarking vs. your company, competition, and industry best practices. CMOs worry about getting fired if they report a decline or a bad number. That’s wrong,” Payne said. “I respect a CMO more if they know their numbers. Identifying an issue and addressing it quickly is better than pretending it doesn’t exist. You also need to know if we are getting better, worse, and how we compare vs. others. Help us understand where we need to focus. When you do that, you’re an equal at the table.
Being connected to the customer is more critical than ever for CMOs. In nearly all companies, the CMO does not have direct control over the entire customer experience, but he or she must somehow get meaningful insights into customer needs and behaviors through the customer journey to influence and shape the right experience at every moment.
Marketing has traditionally led cross-functional strategies and tactics around the customer life cycle, from contact to acquisition and from cross-sell to retention. But leading an organizational shift to become truly customer-driven is a much bigger undertaking and one that requires both fortitude and stamina. But there's no going back. In the Web 2.0 world, customer experience and loyalty have become the key differentiators between leaders and laggards. While the importance of delivering great experiences for customers is generally understood by most companies, executing well (and consistently) across all customer touchpoints remains a challenge and thus an opportunity for CMOs to make a major difference.
Many companies are approaching this shift to a more empowered customer by driving greater integration in customer management across functions and systems. The CMO is naturally one of the primary executives that companies are asking to orchestrate a cross-functional, strategic initiative to enhance customer lifetime value and operational efficiencies across many functional areas, including sales, marketing, service, and support. Without appropriate department, process, and systems linkage, however, the impact will be diminished, so taking on this critical leadership role is no small task for CMOs. But that's precisely why we are all evolving; figuring out how to increase our contribution to the business, what to do differently, what to discard, and what to amplify is what makes this role intellectually challenging and immensely rewarding.