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The Evolving Role of the CMO – Part II

This post can also be seen on 1to1 Media.

Part two of an ongoing series in which Pegasystems CMO Grant Johnson sits down with other CMOs and Industry experts to talk about burning issues that are top of mind for B2B and B2C marketers.

In the first part of this series published on February 8 I covered three of six key elements that define the new CMO. In this second part, I delve into the other three: achieving alignment, becoming a business partner, and being customer driven. As before, I include insights from three CMO thought leaders on what it takes to succeed in an increasingly digital world: David Cooperstein, vice president, CMO Practice Director, Forrester Research; John Ellett, CEO of nFusion and author of The CMO Manifesto; and John Neeson, managing director and co-founder, Sirius Decisions.

 

Achieving Alignment

Alignment used to mean that the CMO needed to inform sales on what new products or services were about to be announced, and what new marketing campaigns would be running in the quarter. We could approach alignment in a siloed fashion, seeking it where 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. Today, as John Ellett states, alignment means, “getting the rest of the C-suite unified around a central strategy. It’s about aligning sales, customer service, operations, and support around delivering a superior customer experience across every touch point.”

As CMOs, we 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 also takes someone with more business savvy (i.e. typically an MBA or advanced degree is required) 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. As David Cooperstein says, today’s CMOs have to “earn the right to the C&O (chief and officer), and not just the ‘M’ part of our titles.”

It’s about achieving alignment as well as sustaining it. With increasingly dynamic markets and competitive pressures, it’s easy for an agreed-upon strategy to be compromised, so refining and re-aligning are required more frequently. Plus, CMOs must continually demonstrate not only well-conceived strategies, but also deliver consistent, predictable results. In a 2012 Sirius Decisions marketing survey, John Neeson found, not surprisingly, “that the top challenge was demonstrating marketing ROI.” CMOs are more accountable than ever and also better equipped, with proper executive alignment, to demonstrate the value that marketing delivers.

 

Business Partner

In order to fully achieve alignment, a CMO must be adept and proficient at becoming a full-fledged business partner. While the opportunity to impact business results has increased for CMOs, the expectations have also risen commensurately. As Cooperstein says, the CEO now expects the CMO “to tell them about the things that are coming down the pike and bring new ideas forward,” so they can better navigate fast-changing global markets and seize opportunities more rapidly, and to have “a constant pulse on the customer to gauge how they are reacting or changing, and what that means for the business.”

The CMO is uniquely qualified to optimize the customer experience, but to do so successfully requires substantive insight into customers to fully understand their preferences, predict their behaviors, and drive measurable outcomes to marketing initiatives.

In the past, marketing could sometimes speak in a slightly different language, just as engineering might have. Today, however, as Ellett believes, “the biggest thing that a CMO can do is to talk to what they do in the language of business results. They need to connect marketing language and programs to key corporate objectives and priorities.” They also need to spend more time in crafting, articulating, and refining strategy to be the business partner that others in the C-suite now expect. Neeson believes that the tide has shifted and more CMOs are coming to the table with “very good business skills and a more pragmatic view,” which is a lot different than when their role and scope was narrower.

He believes that the “CMO comes to this role because it’s the one place where you can touch every part of the business. You can change market perception, your business, and have an incredibly positive impact on the longevity of the business and really move the needle more than in any other place.”

CMOs also have to have complete command of the metrics that drive success for both the marketing organization and the business. They have to have facts and figures at the ready on every aspect of what they do, from cost per lead and relative program success to customer engagement levels and website effectiveness—all to instill confidence and demonstrate marketing ROI.

 

Customer Driven

As I’ve alluded to earlier, being connected to the customer is more critical than ever for today’s CMOs. As Cooperstein says, “the roles of marketing have been revised, and CMOs are much more customer focused than before. How customers consume messages is being considered more significantly now. It makes the role a lot more fun if you are customer driven, but not so much fun if you aren’t.” In mostly all companies, the CMO does not have direct control over the entire customer experience, but he or she must somehow understand every contact the customer and company have with each other and drive, or at least influence, how to shape and orchestrate the right experience at every moment.

Marketing has traditionally led cross-functional strategies and tactics around the customer lifecycle, 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.

In today’s so-called customer-driven era, 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 rewarding, both on a daily basis and over the long term.

A Day in the Life of a CMO

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for nearly a month, however, as I’m sure other CMOs can relate, my days have been consumed by: a must-attend industry conference, a UK trip for a working session with my EU marketing team, striving to increase sales and marketing alignment, meeting my self-imposed and CEO-mandated deliverables, my 90% pre-booked calendar and, last but not least, making final preparations for our annual user conference, PegaWORLD.

Actually, this past month is also fairly typical in many regards. It’s always a continuing balance act  juggling incessant interruptions, fire drills and urgent requests with the ongoing need to drive strategy, planning and execution, not to mention keeping focused on the most important initiatives and also keeping the marketing engine humming.   That means balancing the need to deliver a steadily increasing contribution to the sales pipeline, and ensuring that all deliverables are on time, on strategy, and on budget with the need to improve current systems and processes, without interrupting the flow while improvements are being made. It might feel the same as installing a new boat engine while crossing the Atlantic!  This time crunch also means balancing the relentlessness of every day with the need to spend quality time with my family and recharge my overtaxed batteries.

As you can probably tell by now, CMOs are under constant pressure from customers, shareholders, peers, and of course CEOs to drive consistent, measurable and profitable growth. We are often asked to do more with less. In today’s customer-driven world, consumers are also more demanding than ever. With real-time, social, mobile and Web channels at their immediate disposal, customers will find competitive alternatives if their exact needs aren’t met every time. Today, CMOs have to work smarter than ever before to meet complex customer needs by delivering the right offers, in the right channels, at the right time.

I’ve been meeting with a number of CMOs the past several months and I’ve often asked, “Has it always been this challenging and crazy?”  Most agree that while email and the Internet have increased the pace significantly, the pervasiveness of social media and ubiquity of mobile communications are raising the stakes further on what is required to stay engaged, connected and relevant.   For some, this demanding state of being is understandably overwhelming, but most CMOs I know believe that if you’re up for the challenge, there’s never been a better time to be a CMO.

Another factor making my role more empowering and daunting simultaneously is that with the customers in charge, CMOs have the opportunity to not only be CMOs, but also CCOs, or Chief Customer Officers.  Forrester Research and Paul Hagan in particular, has written about the “rise of the CCO,” and regardless of whether a company appoints someone to such an encompassing role, Forrester notes, “The CMO is uniquely positioned to define how every touch point is a brand experience and should be consistent with other more traditional marketing channels. In order to ensure a superior brand (customer) experience, the evolved CMO should define a synchronized view of the customer.”  I’m spending a lot of time thinking – and often obsessing – about the customer, and I would go further to say you not only need a synchronized view of the customer, you need to synchronize how you serve customers, regardless of the channels they choose – spanning mobile, social, Web, call center, in store or with their unique combination.  To do this successfully, you have to address the customer holistically, understand and synchronize how customer processes work across your organizational silos so you can both improve the customer experience and optimize business outcomes (i.e. increase acquisition, retention and cross selling opportunities).

There’s another snippet of CMO life that I’d like to share, but my CEO just IM’d me, so I’ll have to save it for another day.  Keep focused, and remember to have some fun – we’re in marketing after all!

Categories: CMO, Customer Centricity