CMOs Need to Grow Up to Sit at the C-Level Table.

by George Hollister on July 12, 2010

George Hollister

George Hollister

In a previous post, I suggested that with the increased importance of technology in today’s marketing world, CMOs needed to play a more active role in the selection of technologies for their companies.   And Trish Bertuzzi commented that the CMO’s job “…just got a whole lot harder.”

It’s true.  Increasingly, CMOs have an active seat at the C-level executive table and, for those CMOs who don’t, gaining that seat is a key priority.  But the fact is that thinking and talking about branding, lead generation, and CPMs won’t vault you into that coveted seat.

For marketers to earn a seat at that table takes a different mindset and different internal communications.  I believe that being technologically savvy helps, but I also agree with Pete Krainik, founder of The CMO Club, who says that there are three key practices that lead to that seat:

(1)    Think like a CFO

(2)    Speak business, not marketing

(3)    Be the voice of the customer

Think Like a CFO

Rather than defending the marketing/advertising budget relative to last year’s spend, CMOs need to understand that the marketing budget is only one of many alternative investments.  They need to present their budget case as if they were pitching an idea to venture capitalists.  A dollar spent in marketing is a dollar that the business isn’t investing somewhere else.  The CFO wants to know why spending that dollar in marketing will generate a better return than spending it elsewhere.  Creating “a clear line of sight” between that dollar and the result it generates is the best way to make your case.

This is not a new idea.   In a 2003 Marketing Science Institute report titled, “Can Marketing Regain Its Seat at the Table?” authors Webster, Malter and Ganesan suggested that one of the ways marketing can regain its strategic influence was to “…develop ways to measure marketing productivity in terms meaningful to CEOs, CFOs, and investors.”

Speak Business, Not Marketing

Half of the CMO’s responsibility is marketing to internal constituents—educating internal stakeholders on the value of marketing.  Do it in the language that they understand.   Rather than discussing marketing measures such as campaign response, lead conversion and opt-out rates, marketers should talk about business measures such as EBITA, revenue growth, gross margin, and market share.

Be the Voice of the Customer

The CMO needs to have the most comprehensive understanding of the customer.  Whether through analytics, focus groups, user groups or through social media channels (or all of the above), marketing needs to listen to the customer and, more importantly, communicate that information back into the company.

There is a general consensus that marketing is both an art and a science.  With the increased importance of technology in today’s marketing environment, it’s clear that the pendulum has swung to the science side of the equation.   Technology, analytics, and measurement are at the forefront and, with the pace of change expected to quicken going forward, they’ll only increase in importance in coming years.  A technology-enabled CMO will help companies prosper in this new world order of marketing.

As Trish indicated, it’s a “whole lot harder” to be a CMO these days.  And it is a lot to put on one person’s plate.   CMOs must expand their perspective to sit at the grown-up table.


Bloomberg Business Week

About the Author:

George Hollister is a B2B Practice Leader with SIGMA Marketing Group.  Connect with George on  or follow him on .

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