Building tomorrow’s CMO

Leading a modern marketing organization isn’t easy. For two decades and counting, massive and constant disruptions have affected the discipline, and the expertise and discipline that were once world-beaters are now mere legacy baggage. Tomorrow’s chief marketing officers can’t predict which channels and media will be most relevant, but they do need to be ready to keep what works and jettison the rest.

CMOs who ride past success past the sell-by date will relegate their business to also-ran status. Those who mastered the linear messaging approach, that advance a prospect through a direct marketing piece that drives a call-to-action to a phone number or website now must learn to engage with customers at any point in the buying process, often in an unpredictable sequence and with little time to react before a competitor wins the business.

“The early dot-com era of marketing brought a lot of interesting concepts like the waterfall approach and solution selling and personas that were fantastic additions, but are now very dated,” says Chris Riley, analyst with Fixate, a content marketing agency. “A lot of CMOs are overly focused on demand generation and filling the top of the funnel, when the focus needs to be on the middle of the funnel—the point where you’ve got their attention.”

That’s why strategic focus not just on finding the right demographics and offers, but creating a customer experience that draws interest and inspires loyalty, is increasingly part of the CMO’s toolkit. “Marketers are now the orchestrators of the customer experience strategy,” says Liz Miller, senior VP of marketing for professional group The CMO Council. “And the reality of today’s marketplace is that customers can define where, how, through what channel and along which trajectory they craft their own customer experience.”

Customer knowledge is still king

To be sure, finding live leads and maintaining a clean database is still important to every business. But beyond simply being table stakes, top CMOs need to find ways to make those processes look effortless. “The top of the funnel isn’t dead, but the modern CMO needs to know how to automate it, to use tools that will reduce the human resources cost and manual effort, to have a social strategy that means you automatically know how to respond to a tweet about your company,” Riley says. “It’s the middle of the funnel, where you establish a relationship and credibility, where you build something you can grow with.”

Building those connections requires a CMO who steps out from behind the database and connects directly with the customers who matter most to the bottom line. “The best CMOs go to the point of impact and spend a lot of time with the customer, understanding how they buy and why they should care about you and your brand,” says Martyn Etherington, former CMO and chief of staff at Mitel Networks. “Getting tremendous insight into your customers, understanding them more than anyone else, and using that to ensure the customer is at the center of what you do is how you stay ahead.”

From brand ninja to business master

Today’s CMO is held to a different set of requirements than the earlier generations of CMOs faced. The position was typically first filled by a catch-all marketing/communications leader with strong brand skills, then handed over to database marketing wizards who were the first to attach strong ROI to the marketing department. Today’s CMO is first and foremost a business professional, not a disciplinary master.

“Instead of knowing a specific skill, CMOs today really need to understand the entire business, and how data and customer intelligence not only create new opportunities but can tie back into sales and R&D,” Miller says.

Building an organization that is flexible and nimble is one of the most important contributions a CMO can make, because marketing is characterized by constant change. “For example, Instagram has been increasing advertising. Right now it works, but very soon it’s going to drop because mobile methods have a very short lifespan before consumers get ad blindness,” Riley says. “You need to build a structure that is conducive to rapid change and responds quickly to conversations wherever they happen, and not rely on going five tiers up the organization with suggestions that are only executed on three months later.”

Choosing tomorrow’s CMO

For CEOs and board members on the hunt for their next CMO, consider some inside advice:

Etherington: “Look at their track record. What have they done to understand the game the company is playing and how the company wins it? Do they have an almost maniacal insight into the customer? Can they articulate results that drive growth?”

Miller: “I would look for someone who can quickly and easily entrench themselves across your business. You’re not looking for a branding engine, someone who will come in and say that sales are down because you don’t have a new logo.”

Riley: “Today, everybody is accountable for sales. I would challenge an incoming marketing leader: are you okay with that? Do you agree?”

The best advice for the CMO candidates themselves is to get used to the burdens of command, because life will only get more complicated in the top office. “Stop complaining about too many technologies and too many responsibilities,” Etherington says. “Your job is to create and maintain customers profitably, and it’s incumbent on you as the CMO to stay relevant and familiar with all technologies and disciplines.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.