person on a tightrope
How can CMOs balance today’s immediate priorities, while creating healthy, high-value organizations built for the future? PHOTO: TranceMist

Like all executives, CMOs are on the hook to hit ever-increasing performance targets. Tasks like creating markets, precise positioning and a predictable pipeline. 

But with these big hairy audacious agenda items come day-to-day expectations of demanding sales teams, finicky customers and impatient executive peers: “I need it NOW!”

This is the classic conundrum of “pay me now or pay me later.” With this monstrous agenda, how can CMOs balance today’s immediate priorities, while creating a healthy, high-value organization that’s built for the future?  

Here are a few approaches and tools I’ve seen help keep things in balance.

Finding the Right Antidote: Painkillers & Vitamins

Mastering the balance of short- and long-term CMO needs is like balancing painkillers and vitamins to ensure our body’s wellness. When you have an ailment, it’s important to be thoughtful about when to take painkillers for immediate relief and how to feed your body consistently with vitamins for sustained health.

CMOs and marketing teams often fall prey to relying on painkillers to relieve what ails the organization.

When used abundantly, the painkiller masks the real issues, allowing a chronic pain to spread and disable your organization. This is a common problem, for example, with demand marketing. Marketing teams — faced with hitting monthly targets — often throw heaps of money at the top of the funnel, using gimmick promotions to generate lead volume that looks good to the C-level in the short run, but in the long run don't convert to much meaningful value (opportunities, customers, revenue). 

A long-term focus calls for taking your daily vitamins by putting in place data-driven tools and processes to prevent funnel blockages. Short-term lead volume may not be as substantial, but more of those leads will convert into real business value — such as a healthy pipeline.

It’s important to note that there is a time and place for painkillers. Not every effort, process or investment warrants a mid- to long-term effort (i.e., a vitamin approach). One tip I have found useful is to categorize your major initiatives and investments into “PAINKILLER” or “VITAMIN” approach. This way stakeholders can prescribe the best antidote.

Blueprints and Roadmaps to Define and Drive Your Plans

You’d never construct a new building or renovate a property without a set of architectural, electrical and plumbing blueprints. The same thinking applies for CMOs.

Today’s marketing organization is powered by data to drive informed decisions, processes to create scale and technology to increase efficiency and performance. These elements need to be assembled in a blueprint that everybody understands and uses when both developing and executing your marketing initiatives. 

Blueprints can be a visual(s) in a PowerPoint or an intricate set of documents that capture the marketing technology infrastructure (systems, data and processes) used to run marketing. They show how data flows, the organizational roles and responsibilities, and the KPIs that define success.

While blueprints document the current state, marketing roadmaps serve as the compass to help navigate where marketing is going or needs to go. Roadmaps lay out what is needed and what’s going to happen next. Like playing chess, the roadmap illustrates your next moves — timelines, projects, initiatives and investment — over the next quarter or year to assure marketing hits its more far-reaching goals and business commitments.  

Both blueprints and roadmaps need to be shared regularly with internal and external stakeholders (team members, execs, colleagues, partners, vendors) for feedback, buy-in and organizational-wide focus on today’s goals and tomorrow’s aspirations. They also should be reviewed regularly during planning and quarterly business review meetings, as well as used when investment priorities and decisions are discussed.  

Dashboards to Measure Marketing’s Impact 

CMOs are creating loads of dashboards today. On the surface, this seems brilliant. But with so much data, it can become confusing, and worse, can cause a state of inaction as marketers become frozen in data overload. 

A smarter way for CMOs and their teams to effectively manage marketing priorities is using dashboards that:

  1. provide diagnostics to meet short-term KPIs, and 
  2. guide investment in developing a healthy, high-performing marketing organization.  

Let’s tackle short-term first. In my previous CMO gig, we called this dashboard “Core Marketing Business Metrics.” This dashboard reports on both business results and marketing activities that drive marketers to meet critical KPIs. 

We tracked core metrics like lead/pipeline velocity, marketing-influenced pipeline and closed-won business. To guide the day-to-day for marketers, it also included essential marketing activity data such as integrated program performance data, website traffic and conversions, social engagement, event leads, etc. 

These aren’t just vanity metrics. The purpose is to understand marketing’s activity on business KPIs and how to adapt to improve results.

The longer-view dashboard — we labelled this one “Marketing Health Monitor” — was typically made up of key signals and progress indicators, while providing insights into the health of the marketing organization. It looked at things like customer (experience) satisfaction (for example, Net Promoter Score), brand awareness and lift, lifetime customer value and churn, and consistency in hitting annual milestones. It could also include staff health and readiness. For example, the number of marketing tech or program certifications and marketing employee promotion and turnover rate.  

It’s All About Mastering the Balance

It’s quite difficult to be a great sprinter and an enduring marathoner. But that’s the challenge for CMOs today. 

To master this balance, CMOs can use tools and techniques to manage, guide and plan. The real trick is recognizing the need for balance and developing a learning organization that can execute against short-team needs while also building a healthy organization that performs consistently at high levels for the long term.