Being a chief marketing officer is an exhilarating experience — it's a lot like running a triathlon and then following it with a base jump. Not only do you play an active role in building a company and brand, but the decisions you make have direct impact on the company’s business outcomes for years to follow.
The role of CMO has evolved significantly in the past several years. Previously, the job was predominantly about establishing an identity — advertising, brand management and thinking creatively — but today it’s a lot more complex. CMOs are now charged with a variety of responsibilities that span technology, analytics and growth strategy, and because they’re often held accountable for contribution to company revenue, today’s CMOs are also responsible for optimizing operational processes and demonstrating measurable impact.
My personal roles in marketing have evolved over the years as well. Before leading worldwide marketing strategy and execution at ThreatMetrix, I directed the go-to-market strategy for IBM’s portfolio of Software-as-a-Service solutions. Prior to IBM, I served as vice president of corporate marketing at DemandTec, focusing on building a modern demand generation engine and repositioning my company’s business to drastically increase revenue.
In all of my years as a marketing leader, I’ve learned a few key lessons about what it takes to stay effective and deliver a positive return on investment for my department. Below are five tips for CMOs working to navigate today’s ever-evolving digital and mobile-focused business landscape:
1. Think like a CFO. Embrace financial metrics and look beyond top-line spending numbers. Get comfortable speaking with your finance department about topics such as return on capital, budget variance, accrual accounting and revenue recognition, as it applies to your marketing operations. Not only will this help build your credibility amongst other company executives, but it will also help streamline your decision-making process. Furthermore, being well-versed in the responsibilities of your CFO will broaden your business acumen and can also help refine your marketing strategy.
2. Align with sales. In addition to embracing financial metrics, it’s important to establish a close relationship with your sales department because by deeply understanding the customer journey, you’ll be able to strengthen marketing alignment to revenue and ultimately yield a stronger marketing-generated sales pipeline. To build a stronger empathy for your sales team, I’ve found it helpful to start by moving outbound sales development representatives out of the sales team and into marketing. Also, make sure you’re comfortable giving detailed product demonstrations (as sales and development reps do) and work to ensure you’re prepared to step in and lead the sales department should there ever be a leadership transition.
3. Hire creatively. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to fully understand that the people you hire will drastically impact your productivity and efficacy as CMO. Build a marketing department of leaders who complement one another. Hire people with extensive business and marketing experience, and also hire recent college graduates who can offer digital fluency and an aptitude for lifetime learning. Different perspectives from different generations of workers can offer enormous value, often leading to more creative solutions and better business outcomes. Additionally, by bringing together employees with different backgrounds, you as the CMO can unify your department’s strengths to benefit your individual employees and the business as a whole.
4. Embrace ABM. The school of account-based marketing (ABM) may just be gaining traction, but I predict will be a strategic pillar for all CMOs in the near future. If you currently have a B-to-B demand-generation model that focuses exclusively on qualified leads, consider expanding the point of view to qualified accounts. Implementing ABM can result in a variety of benefits, including a more focused sales and marketing strategy, a more closely aligned sales and marketing team, an improved buyer journey, and additional revenue.
5. Prioritize content. It’s easy to get caught up in the slew of marketing-specific technologies, analytics solutions and metrics, however, to achieve long-term success, it’s important to not lose sight of one of the marketing basics: content. Prioritize writing excellence amongst your team and orient your department around content publishing. Maintain an editorial calendar to ensure your content marketing themes are upheld, and make sure the content you’re creating is forward looking and centers around what the market cares about (rather than just what you know or sell).
The role of CMO can be challenging at times, and while it’s unclear how the job may evolve in the future, it’s certain to grow even more complex and all-encompassing as technology and data continue to permeate our world. However, by practicing greater interdepartmental empathy and combining new industry techniques with effective, traditional methods, success can be realized. Perhaps most importantly, in moving beyond the chief "marketer" title and embracing the comprehensive business influence they’re capable of, today’s CMOs can seize the opportunity to serve as dynamic leaders and key, corporate decision makers along with their CEO and other C-suite colleagues.
Armen Najarian is the chief marketing officer at ThreatMetrix.