In this five-part series on the differences between a true Chief Marketing Officer and someone who merely heads a marketing department, we’ve talked about the need for strategic leadership, business results, customer focus and innovation. But the effective CMO also looks forward, continually asking, “How can I improve our marketing and our business?” This focus on the journey from good to great has to permeate not just the marketing team, but the entire organization. And it must be ingrained into the company culture.

Making all that happen takes four things, according to my Chief Outsiders colleague Kenni Driver:

  1. The right people working in a safe and trusting environment
  2. Willingness to change and grow creatively
  3. Gathering of feedback
  4. Communication internally and beyond

Driver has launched more than 40 products and services to record sales, broad coverage by key influencers, and numerous Product of the Year and Fast Tech 50 awards. She says that at one software company she helped lead she learned how great ideas for improving a business can come from places many executives fail to look.

“Though, as CMO, my focus was on improving marketing plans and processes, I was really responsible for overall communications,” Driver says. “Part of that was working closely with our developers. Once the developers understood the marketing effort, they began to come up with great ideas to improve our product. We found the same thing when we involved customer support, as these were the people who were closest to outside sources of information.”

Creativity as a Driver for Change

That’s important, she notes, because in driving continuous improvement, a CMO has to have not just an internal focus but a willingness to look outside the organization to help determine what customers want. She said this particular company learned a great deal from the training classes it held for its customers.

“In those classes, users were learning about the product, and we were gathering feedback about how they worked and how that was important. We also created advisory panels so that customers could play even larger roles in our improvement process. That level of input makes it very difficult for internal teams to work in silos.”

Driver acknowledges that in some organizations the whole notion of continuous improvement can be a scary thing because it creates change. “But if you really think about it, it is change that adds the creativity necessary to keep your company moving forward. I really like how Cornell University’s Margaret Wheatley put it: ‘The things we fear most in organizations — fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances — are the primary source of creativity.’ ”

'Is This the Best You Can Do?'

Driver first learned about continuous improvement as a youngster from her mother’s questions about a school assignment. “My mom asked me: ‘Is this the best you can do?’ When I replied that I knew I'd make an A on the project, she said, ‘That wasn't the question. The question was, is it the best you can do?’ ”

In business, we’re not just competing with others that offer the same product or service — we’re also competing against ourselves. It’s not enough to just do what we can do. We have to reach further. Continuous improvement comes from creativity, and creativity has to be fostered, especially by CMOs.

Editor's Note: This is the last in a five-part series. Read the first four posts here.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  eperales