Every day, firms face new and different challenges. Big data, consumer empowerment, and channel explosion are just a few of the topics they are trying to grapple with. To address these issues, CEOs are consistently “testing” and morphing top management team roles, attempting to best align similar skills and tasks with the most appropriate functional leader.
As an example, should the CMO manage product development, pricing, e-commerce, or analytics? How about IT? Should the CFO manage technology, or should the CIO report directly to the CEO? The amount of time firm leaders spend trying to get the right people leading the right areas can be significant–and costly, if done incorrectly. But this isn’t surprising given how important structure, roles, and responsibilities are to overall firm performance.
So after hearing about new and evolving CMO roles in the course of working on the CMO Impact Study (with CMO.com), I was intrigued when I heard about a new title: chief omnichannel officer (COCO). Richard Henley, a partner for executive search and management consulting firm Bialla and Associates, had contacted me regarding a search for such a position. The company looking for a COCO is Finish Line, a 659-store specialty retailer that sells performance and casual shoes and apparel. Because the role seemed broader than most retail CMO roles, I interviewed Glenn Lyon, the retailer’s chairman and CEO, and Melissa Greenwell, EVP and chief human resources officer. What follows are excerpts from the interviews.
What is the COCO role, and how is it different from a traditional CMO role?
Greenwell indicated that the COCO is a unique role–and much broader than the traditional CMO role in that this individual will be responsible for all customer-facing activities: store operations, marketing, call center, and digital (which includes all forms of nonstore-based commerce). It is considered to be a very high-ranking position that reports to the president.
What motivated you to create this role?
Lyon suggested that the driving motivation is to break silos and drive accountability. Traditional organizational structures often create silos, especially in retailing. The heads of marketing, finance, merchandising, HR, stores, etc., typically report directly to the president or CEO. This creates a challenge in driving ownership because the only place where all of the functions come together is at the top of the firm. In today’s customer-centric world, it becomes especially problematic because you have all of the customer-facing touchpoints under different leadership. Marketing, stores, and digital (e-commerce, m-commerce, etc.) are separated under different leaders. In an omnichannel world, it is important to drive synchronization and alignment across all customer-facing functions. This should improve the customer’s experience, which, in turn, should help improve the firm’s performance.
How is success measured?
The COCO position is a pure P&L role, Lyon said. The final measure of success will be firm-level P&L. While marketers have historically been relegated to a promotion-centered role that made complete P&L management difficult in retailing, this role is specifically designed to give the COCO responsibility for revenue-generating activities and a significant portion of the profitability (although this person won’t manage merchandising). By broadening the role to include promotion and store-level/digital-level execution, the COCO now has responsibility for the return associated with marketing investment.
What is the preferred background?
A blend of digital and marketing experience is required, Lyon said. While it may be difficult to find somebody with digital, marketing, call center, and store operations experience, Finish Line has talent and competency on the store side, which can provide support as a strong digital/marketing leader gets up to speed. Because the firm is born from the brick-and-mortar model, members from the firm’s bench have knowledge and capability with regard to store operations. What’s now needed is the ability to lead integration across touchpoints in a way that creates a holistic customer experience that drives superior results.
As Greenwell indicated, this role will provide a strong marketing/digital leader with the opportunity to finally be accountable and responsible for the customer’s experience. And it provides great CEO training by providing the right candidate with greater responsibility than a traditional marketer would get (e.g., store operations, call center, etc.).
At the center of all of these new titles is a desire by top management to create a competitive advantage through the superior structure, organization, and alignment of human resources. While many titles simply represent creativity in titling (e.g., calling a CMO a chief customer advocate without changing responsibility), this COCO title is just the opposite. It represents different responsibilities and greater accountability. For the right marketer seeking to become a CEO in a retail environment, it’s a great opportunity to take the next step toward that goal.
If you are interested in the position, please contact Carrie Hofer at 317-613-6701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.