CMOs still struggle with proving they belong. Marketers said demonstrating impact on financial outcomes is their No. 1 C-Suite communication challenge, according to the CMO Survey Spring 2019 by Deloitte. We get that. Marketing’s not as easy to justify as, say, hard sales. 

So wherein lies the biggest challenges for marketers in 2019 and why? We caught up with some CMOs who shared the challenges they face, like customer acquisition, putting customers at the center of storytelling and ensuring customer data drives healthy account-based marketing (ABM) strategies.

CMO Priorities

  • Proving ROI
  • Customer Acquisition
  • Using Customer Data to Drive ABM Strategies
  • Better Use of Analytics
  • Getting People to Graduate from a Freemium World

Customer Acquisition, Proving ROI

The No. 1 challenge for CMOs and any marketing team is customer acquisition and proving your team's ROI, said Paul Ronto, CMO and director of content at RunRepeat. “This is a constant issue,” Ronto said. “Every team I've been a part of was understaffed, underpaid and under-budgeted compared to other departments. Marketing is the last to get funding usually and the first on the chopping block when things are tight. There seems to be a universal confusion about the importance of the customer pipeline, and what it costs to get new users no matter the business.”

Here’s what Ronto is constantly working on to address these challenges:

  • Knowing your CAC and LTV: Without knowing your customer acquisition costs (CAC), you can't price your product appropriately. For CAC to be a meaningful metric, and for a business to be financially successful, CAC needs to coincide with lifetime value (LTV).
  • Knowing which channels produce: You have to meticulously track each channel and know what's driving traffic, but more importantly what's driving conversions and double down on the channels that work. “This is really hard in 2019,” Ronto said, “because there is so much noise out there, and so many channels to segment your audience.”
  • Finding the right people: Hiring is hard, Ronto said. “As marketing teams usually have smaller budgets than operations or product,” Ronto said, “it's really hard to justify the added expense which will raise your CAC if you're including overhead in your calculation.” 

Related Article: The CMO Challenge: Success Depends on Customer-Centricity and More Collaboration

Putting Customers at the Center of Storytelling

Leela Srinivasan, SurveyMonkey’s CMO, said her team’s goal has been to drive more awareness of its enterprise product. However, she cited her own company’s research that shows that 60% of consumers think marketers are selling them things they don’t need. 

“We are putting customers at the center of our storytelling so they can share where we add the most value,” Srinivasan said. “It’s not always easy to surface these great stories, but we are definitely getting better at it as an organization. We found that building human relationships and championing customer triumphs is the most compelling path to building trust and influencing purchasing decisions today.” 

Customer Data Must Drive ABM Strategies

Customer data drives the success or failure of ABM strategies, according to Daniel Raskin, CMO of Kinetica. “The more we can personify our customers, and their preferences, motivations and challenges,” he added, “the more we are able to make connections that resonate, leading directly to our next calls and next meetings. In fact, not only is data and the hyper-personalization that stems from it critical to our core business, but it's also essential to our customers.”

Raskin spends his time trying to align data from across business units to create a customer 360 view that brings together a wide variety of data streams from cloud applications, mobile applications and IoT devices. "The infrastructure needed to process real-time data is very different from standard off-the-shelf marketing automation and ABM tools,” Raskin said. This, he said, leaves marketers with the onus to piece together a real-time engagement platform for personalization.

Related Article: Traveling the Road from CMO to CEO

Making the Most of Buyer Intent Data 

The challenge of generating more leads, more pipeline and more revenue for the organization never goes away, according to Mediafly CMO Isabelle Papoulias. “Beyond our usual demand-gen tactics, a big focus for my team is making the most of buyer intent data from different sources to inform our ABM and outbound strategy,” Papoulias said. “While we have had some initial success, I want to see how far we can push that.”

Learning Opportunities

Papoulias said she expects to see marketing teams eventually passing these types of data insights to sales more and more rather than simply inbound leads. “At Mediafly, we already work with a few technology partners that help us do that, there’s much innovation to tap into,” she said. “We are just starting and it is exciting.” 

Building a Strong Brand

There have been calls that branding efforts are dead. But not for Papoulias. “Building a strong brand keeps me up at night,” Papoulias said. “We have lots of work to do to define our brand and differentiate our message in the growing sales enablement category. It takes constant internal debates, iterations, testing, scrutiny about what our differentiators are and finding the right balance of emotional and functional messaging. We want to build a sophisticated brand in line with the sophisticated user experience our software provides."

Related Article: What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Marketing Technology Stack

Using the Right Analytics

Analytics software is readily available for marketers but it’s using it effectively that weighs on some CMOs. Sanjeev Agrawal, CMO and president of LeanTaaS, said he is working to improve the use of analytics to choose the right marketing channel to drive the right type of engagement. 

Getting People to Graduate from a Freemium World

Olga Mykhoparkina, CMO of Chanty, said the greatest challenge his team has right now is getting more paid users for its SaaS offering. “We have quite a few users on our free plan and getting them to upgrade is showing as quite a challenge,” she said. “We want to address this problem by learning more about our customers — through calls, surveys, emails — and finding out what features would make them pay for our product. We also listen to all of their suggestions and add new features according to their feedback."

Start With Inbound

In summary, Ronto, CMO of RunRepeat, suggested starting with inbound as a strategy for improving marketing and ultimately showing marketing’s worth. “Hit your users while they are in the buying mentality,” he said. “Build your customer base off people looking for your solution. Prove you can drive sales before you spread your efforts to lower converting channels.”

Nothing, he added, kills faith in the CMO or marketing team faster than wasted efforts, wasted money and no proof that what you did actually drove sales.