6 Things That Make Modern CMOs Stand Out

I remember when marketing was more about printing flyers, sending direct mailers, attending events and mass advertising. Selling was heavy on cold calling, or “dialing for dollars” as many professionals affectionately renamed it. And snail mail and these dinosaurs called “fax machines” handled most other parts of the business.

While many of those tactics still work, the digital age has brought us a range of new capabilities that are not only scalable, but efficient and much more effective.

With Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to automate sale activities and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to handle the back office operations, those two business areas have established solutions for the digital age.

Marketing, on the other hand, suffers from a fragmented wealth of options. Reactionary point solutions have popped up for everything from email marketing to ad server targeting. The world of marketing has grown in complexity as we continue to work out the best, most efficient ways to manage the function in today’s high paced, ever evolving world.

Naturally, with changes in capabilities, processes and objectives, our skills and responsibilities must also transform if we as marketing professionals aim to keep up and excel. That starts at the top: the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

See how your own CMO stacks up against this list of six most important skills and behaviors of a CMO. And if there are areas to improve, now is a great time to re-evaluate and adjust.

Digital Marketing is Not an Option

Digital is the crux of what it takes to succeed in marketing for most businesses today. And the CMO is the figurehead that drives the focus on digital marketing.

What do I mean by digital marketing? Anything that capitalizes on electronic marketing to accomplish the goals of the program. This includes email, social media, online advertising and the website itself.

Think about it, would you attend a marketing event that didn't have online registration? Or frequent an e-commerce store that never emailed you at all?

Digital is so ingrained in our lives as professionals and consumers that it’s required for all. I’ll go one step further and posit that it isn’t just digital, but mobile-optimized digital. With old school form factors nearing the end of their useful life, it’s only a matter of time before what we call mobile today is the pervasive computing platform.

Embrace Data

Data should also be a strategic focus. This is one of the ways digital pushes efficiency -- better targeting and personalization. Both of those depend on data.

Think about it. Have you mastered how to use the following types of data to optimize your own marketing activities?

  1. Prospect profiles
  2. Customer behaviors (purchase, interaction, repeat purchase, etc.)
  3. Individual campaign or program results
  4. Sales conversion efficiency
  5. Marketing operations efficiency
  6. Customer loyalty and word of mouth
  7. Social media return on effort

This list could go on, but even in abbreviated form it gives you an idea of the amount of data available for strategic decision making. Individual departments under marketing might not care about data points that fall outside their focal area. That’s fine for them. But CMOs need to see the big picture, and understand how all the moving parts move in tandem to create a successful marketing machine.

And the only way to get that right is data.

Customers First

Companies fall at all points across the spectrum when it comes to customer centricity. Some industries might still get away with building the best widget and duping people into buying it without caring. But for most of us, the customer should top our list of stakeholders.

You might argue that this is nothing new. To some extent you would be correct. I’m not just saying to focus on the customer, I’m saying to obsess over the customer.

In spite of all the talk of shareholder value, the customer and potential customer hold more importance in your existence and success. Without customers, you have zero value to present to the shareholders. 

This requires some fundamental philosophical shifts for some companies. For example, different metrics for success might be put in place, which value retention more than acquisition. It shifts the ROI conversation from dollar spent for dollar earned, to customer satisfaction and lifetime value.

When shareholder value alone drives decision making, it opens you up to gaffes like cutting customer service budget to save money just as your customer satisfaction scores (and therefore sales volume) are on the downturn. Hiding from a problem doesn’t fix it, but it just might make the problem louder and more damaging to your brand.

Customer first, everyone else benefits later. The smart CMO knows and lives by this mantra.

Content is a Strategic Asset

Content was once referred to as being “king,” but it is much more than that. It is your brand’s voice to the world. It helps you frame the conversation on your own terms, and helps guide prospects through the buyer’s journey without a hard sell.

The smart CMO breaks out whatever customer lifecycle or buyer’s journey model works for her and maps the conversation to that model. She figures out what questions a prospect might ask at each stage and prepares answers to those questions.

CMOs who understand content properly align marketing programs and tactics according to the journey and the questions that will influence the content. They think about how to measure not only the tactics themselves, but the words used to drive engagement or conversion.

Think about it -- what is an A/B Test? It’s simply a face-off between two content and design concepts. We often focus heavily on the design, but design is only half of the game. Score content just as diligently. Make it a strategic asset, rather than something you “have” to do to get a landing page out the door.

Help Staff Members Thrive

This goes beyond just the CMO in many ways, and speaks more to management and leadership skills. Pretty much any CxO should practice empowerment and encouragement, as well as staff development and growth.

Smart CMOs know that they are only as good as the team they take into battle. Micromanagement and controlling behavior are completely out of the question.

We spend a great deal of time finding, screening, interviewing, and negotiating with smart marketers to add to our teams. Once hired, it makes absolutely no sense to tie their hands behind their backs. You hired them for key reasons -- skillset, experience, work style, demeanor -- and the effective CMO allows them the freedom to shine with those characteristics.

It’s okay to let people make mistakes, so long as they learn from them. In fact, the best way to learn a lesson is to fall flat on your face! Guidance might help reduce the sting when they fall, but patience and mentoring after the fact can help aim them in a direction that will benefit the whole organization.

I get it -- CxO types are often overscheduled and too busy to get involved in the day to day. In those cases, hire middle management who can take the time to help the team. Then trust them and their direct reports to do what you brought them in to do. It will pay off over time.

Reach Across the Aisle

Corporate politics can be a real challenge. CMOs who know how to communicate with other departments are well positioned to succeed in 2015.

Take IT. Some companies don’t mind handing over the marketing infrastructure decisions to the CMO. For companies that like to keep technology with the IT teams, the CMO needs to be in lockstep with the CIO and possibly the CTO as well.

And then there’s sales. Anyone who has done marketing for a company of 100 or more employees has seen the finger pointing between sales and marketing. One side complains they are not getting enough quality leads to succeed, while the other side argues that there’s volume, but a lack of sales follow up. This type of dysfunction is unacceptable.

IT and sales are marketing's biggest collaborators, but certainly not the only ones. How about engineering in hardware companies or development teams in software companies? Have a dialogue to ensure alignment between product planning and customer targeting.

If you want to succeed as a CMO, you have to collaborate across division lines. Not your skillset? Probably not the right job for you.

The role of the CMO continues to evolve. What other skills do you think should be included in this list? Why do you find those important?

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