The rise of the always-connected B2B buyer has had an equally empowering effect on the role of the CMO. As smart buyers use digital channels to do research, compare notes with one another, and demand more of their partners, organizations are raising their expectations about how marketers respond to those demands–and raising marketers’ influence within their organizations.
According to a recent Forrester report fielded with the Business Marketing Association membership, B2B marketers have more responsibility and impact than ever. More than three-fourths of respondents report that marketing’s influence on corporate strategy is greater than a year ago, and more than half say they are direct participants when the board develops strategy. As a result, CMOs are more secure in their jobs–with tenures up to 45 months in 2012, almost double from six years earlier–and more in demand as consultants to the business unit leaders.
The same report, by Forrester’s Laura Ramos, also sheds some light on the dark side of that rise of influence. B2B CMOs are being asked to do more with less. Almost 90 percent of survey respondents say they have more responsibility without any growth in their budgets or resources. And a little less than 70 percent say that the pace of change is making planning a serious challenge, while the very tools of disruption are making marketing’s impact more transparent, for good and for bad.
Ramos says there has never been a better time to be a B2B CMO, and while her report documents CMOs’ ascendancy, it also makes one wonder whether the rise of the CMO is really the right organizational response.
Almost 100 percent of respondents say that “marketing must do things that it hasn’t done ever before to be successful,” and a little more than 95 percent say the breadth of skills required to succeed in marketing has increased dramatically. Ramos counsels a reliance on partnerships, both internal and external, as one way to overcome the competency gap. That direction certainly offers some relief. In a networked world, we all rise or fall on the strength of our networks and our willingness to leverage them. But is that enough?
I worry that the rise of marketing as a function is a misdirection, an organizational response that is still very much born of how companies have traditionally worked. And I worry that it papers over a misunderstanding of just how big the digital, mobile, and social disruptions are. Today’s multichannel customer journey invites a larger organizational response, one that doesn’t simply pile on more to the marketing function–even if it’s more responsibility and influence. Rather, this moment is an invitation to disaggregate marketing, to embed customer insights and customer communication throughout the organization.
It is a call to rethink how we work and represent those choices in the products and services we deliver. It is an opportunity to stop forcing customers to navigate internal organizational structures that are meaningless to them.
The rise of the B2B CMO may feel like a moment of triumph for marketing as a function, but it may very well be the last gasp of out-of-date organizational structures. Don’t be fooled: It’s the customer who is in ascendency. The growing role of the marketer is simply a leading indicator of that phenomenon. And, in many ways, asking more of marketing is the easiest organizational response.
This is hard stuff. It gets at the very core of how we create value. But the answer cannot simply be for marketers to take on more. Smart marketers will move beyond shoring up the skill sets in their departments. They will recognize that their newfound influence is the front of a more powerful force: that it is the customer who is pushing the marketer forward. And they will use this momentum to truly rethink their own value proposition–and to bring the rest of the organization along.