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This Is the Critical Role Every CMO Needs to Play Right Now

6 minute read
Rhoan Morgan avatar
Chief marketing officers might need to update their title in 2020 to chief marketing optimist.

The pandemic has brought dramatic change to every business function, but the way marketing leaders have responded to the challenge reveals a fundamental truth about their organizational role.

The unsurpassed adversity B2B businesses have faced has had a profound impact on marketers. As of July 2020, Gartner data showed that 44% of CMOs have experienced mid-year budget cuts as a result of the pandemic and 10.7% of those expected their budgets to be cut by more than 15%.

Yet marketing leaders have remained surprisingly buoyant. The same Gartner survey also revealed that 73% of CMOs expect the pandemic’s negative impact to be short lived, while their CEOs and CFOs are far more pessimistic. Gartner chose to interpret the trend as an indicator that CMOs may be falling out of step with the rest of the organization, but it could just as easily reveal a fundamental truth about CMOs: optimism is integral to their role.

Optimism Is Inherent to the CMO Territory

Ultimately, marketers are tasked with driving growth by identifying and cultivating new markets for the company's products and services. To do their job well, they need to believe in and plan for that growth — even when times are tough, their peers are doubtful, and the pipeline is sluggish. They need to maintain the vision of growth and find new paths to achieve their goals.

Those plans will look very different depending on the industry, but growth is always the objective. For example, a company like LogMeIn, which is in a prime position to grow by reaching a growing customer base of newly remote workers, the strategy may be focused on refining data segmentation, scaling marketing operations rapidly, and adjusting the marketing and sales messaging and channel mix to take full advantage of the opportunity.

For other B2B organizations whose pipeline is negatively impacted by the pandemic, CMOs must find ways to pivot strategy to support a protracted buying cycle. In these cases, marketing will need to reallocate budget to new channels, backfill the team's technical expertise, and optimize marketing and sales operations so that they can do more with less.

Whatever the reality, the CMO has to be the optimist in the boardroom, offering a window onto the opportunities in a fast-changing market and providing a much-needed counterpoint to the oftentimes ruthless cost-cutting mandate of finance and operations.

Related Article: Contemplating Laying Off Your CMO? You May Be Shooting Yourself in the Foot

How to Own the Role of Board-Room Optimist

Convincing the C-suite to believe in growth during a downturn isn't easy, especially when the message comes from marketing, a function often seen as being guided by intuition rather than data. These five best practices can help marketing leaders strengthen their credibility and gain buy-in around the executive table.

Use Trustworthy Data

If you're going to challenge the status quo, make sure you do it with reliable data. If the numbers don't pass the sniff test, you won't get the green light for a growth-focused initiative. You want to show that you have identified — and can trust — the metrics that indicate success at every step and are able to tie the initiative back to revenue. Hopefully, you have reliable data at your fingertips. If not, now is the time to pull that together in a format that will be well received by boardroom peers. If you haven't conducted an audit of marketing and sales data, do so before you present your plans.

Temper Optimism with Realism

A marketer's default setting may be optimism, but growth plans need to acknowledge the tough economic and market realities in order to be seen as thoughtful and credible. Be honest with yourself and others about the challenges. The world has changed, and the impact of those changes on the pipeline need to be recognized. According to Gartner research, in-person events such as tradeshows and in-house hosted events ranked as the second-highest source of marketing qualified leads for businesses, with nearly one in five leads coming from this channel and close to one-fifth of the budget being spent on generating these leads. If an analysis of your funnel shows opportunities stalling, account for that delayed revenue in your plans in addition to formulating a strategy for reallocating resources to recover lost leads through other channels.

Related Article: How to Deliver Credible Marketing Pipeline Forecasts

Learning Opportunities

Don't Forget Existing Business Assets

If budget constraints make it challenging to launch new initiatives, think about how you could get more value out of the business assets that you already own.

When attracting new leads is difficult, revisiting the potential in your current database can uncover new opportunities. Many marketers are only able to actively engage with a fraction of the leads already in the system because of poor or incomplete data. By cleaning, augmenting, segmenting, targeting and reengaging those leads, marketers can win new customers.

Likewise, reengaging and delivering more value to your customer base during this time can maximize customer lifetime value and minimize attrition — both of which can have a big impact on revenue.

This is also the perfect time to review your existing content assets to identify evergreen pieces that can be re-promoted and topical pieces to refresh.

Give Yourself Room to Fail

Marketers need to be accountable to revenue, but the reality is that not everything in marketing needs to—or should—deliver instant ROI. When we focus too narrowly on "proven" activities, we miss out on new opportunities that could transform the company's revenue potential in the future. Give yourself room to fail by allocating a small portion of the overall budget towards new initiatives. Companies spend millions on R&D for products that never see the light of day: marketing leaders need to defend their need to experiment, iterate and evolve by testing different channels and approaches.

Related Article: Agile Marketing Your Way Through the Next Recession

Wear Your Optimism as a Badge of Honor

Managing costs and minimizing risks are important objectives for organizations during a downturn. But for marketing leaders, the ultimate objective is growth. Sometimes, this will place marketing leaders at odds with the rest of the C-suite, but that's not a bad thing. Healthy leadership needs diverse perspectives to find the best way forward.

The research proves it: marketers are optimists. But what the pandemic has shown us is that this trait is far from a shortcoming. Rather, it enables us to lead with courage and help the organization stay focused on its central reason for existence — to grow profitably and sustainably.

About the author

Rhoan Morgan

Rhoan is the co-founder and CEO of DemandLab, an agency she launched in 2009 in response to the disruptive impact of technology in marketing. She is a leading authority on marketing-led customer experience and continues to explore next-generation technologies and analytics that accelerate revenue, prove marketing’s impact, support engaging customer journeys, and deliver valuable customer insights.