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As The World Churns For CMO’s

Posted by Tony Zambito on March 15th, 2012 at 8:08 am
English: Churning paddle wheel, higher ferry, ...

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The good news is that CMO tenure continues to rise. Spencer Stuart, the executive search consulting firm, in their study released early last year reported that average tenure rose to 42 months. Up from 35 months two years ago and up from 27 months in 2007. The bad news is that the CMO position still churns and remains one of the riskiest positions in corporate business. Additional bad news is that the rise is largely due to economic instability and CEO’s desire to stay the course during uncertain times according to Spencer Stuart. Not the best reason for a rise but nevertheless it presents opportunities for CMO’s to succeed in longer tenures.

Economic instability and uncertainty will remain constant variables I believe for the next two years. Compounding the complexity for CMO’s is the state of the buyer. Or, a better expression may be - the ever changing and unsettled state of the buyer. CMO’s can and should play an instrumental role in leading organizations out of economic instability and providing a clear picture of the state of their company’s buyers. There are several guiding ideas that CMO’s can consider to ensure not only a longer tenure but solidifying a leadership role:

Caught In A Spider Web

The CMO role is first and foremost one of leadership. Their role defined by the challenge of leading their respective organization and the company as a whole into the future of marketing to the new hyper-connected and hyper-networked buyer. The cautionary tale here is to avoid getting caught in the spider web of hype and tactics. The state of the new buyer has sprouted new buzz words, touted tactics, and channels all promising the chance to lift marketing up to higher levels. When uncertainty reigns, the temptation can be as alluring as rich chocolate to bite into these new tactical measures. Good CMO’s today will focus on setting the entire course as opposed to thinking about the dessert.

Spinning Wheel

CMO’s today must figure out how to keep the marketing wheel turning. Looking at what relevant spokes in the wheel will result in the right balance. Some of these spokes will come from internal while others may come from external. Sound assessments are needed to determine where it makes sense to bring in outside expertise to keep the wheel balanced and spinning. External spokes can come in the form of customers, partners, and consultants – all being brought together to help them navigate the risky and uncertain road ahead. Balancing expertise in new forms of marketing and direction providing is a skill that CMO’s can develop to ensure less churn.

The Vision Thing

For most organizations, CMO’s can shape the role of not only being the eyes and ears of customers and buyers today but also help to give vision of where they are likely to be in the future. CMO’s today can cause fundamental shifts in buyer understanding through the balance of quantitative predictive analytics and qualitative predictive buyer modeling. When combined, helping CMO’s to offer a vision of the future buyer and how their company can best respond.

Using A Periscope

CMO’s will need to rely on the use of customer and buyer insight to guide strategy planning and gain foresight. Taking care to realize insight gathering should be ongoing and not a static moment in time. Repeating the refrain of balance, endeavors must include balancing quantitative insight and analysis with that of qualitative insight and analysis. CMO’s will need to use these twin periscopes to look out above the turbulent waters and gain deep understanding about buyers that informs them where to find land where buyers reside.

Time For Good Behavior

In significant fashion, buyer behavior continues to be metamorphic as the heat of change rises each year. CMO’s can influence how their company connects with buyers with deep analysis and portrayals of buyers that extend beyond demographics and firmographics. Instead, focusing their sights on a more penetrating view of Business Buyergraphics aimed at understanding the purchasing behaviors of buyers as well as what tangible and intangible drivers are influencing these behaviors.

Getting All Techie

Understanding new technologies today, especially those related to digital, social, and Enterprise 2.0, remain an important function of the modern CMO. New technology can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Some CMO’s, at least gleamed anecdotally, have had their tenure cut short by placing a big bet on implementing a new technology that turned into a sinkhole with little to show for it. Careful assessment can result in good choices whereby new enabling technology moves the needle forward. More profoundly, CMO’s of this era need to engage in the role of determining how introductions of external new technologies change buyer behaviors and what impact they have on their organization.

Don’t Forget Your Best Friend

It might be a good idea to get your office next door to that of the CSO and become fast friends. Neither can exist without the other in today’s complex world where there is elusive understanding of not only buyers but how to create synergy in go-to-market strategies. The marketing and sales alignment issue over the years has revolved too much around tactical concepts as opposed to strategic common sense about buyers. It’s like two assistant coaches arguing about how to get a first down versus how to score points. Get on the same team and worry about scoring points with buyers.

Going To School

On the job learning is critical to keep up with new understandings about markets and buyers. This should not be confused with trying to learn all about the intricate details of social media, content marketing, and etc. The focus on learning should be on understanding buyer behaviors and making sound assessments of what means help organizations best respond to these new behaviors and win over customers. My sense is that the Spencer Stuart tenure numbers will fluctuate downward each time new technologies are introduced and new economic environments arise – caused primarily by skill gaps.

Can any of these guiding ideas ensure longevity beyond 42 months? No, that would be a bet worth not making in these complex times. What I do believe is that it increases the probability and that CMO’s will be better off than when they first started their tenure. Regardless of how long the tenure, it will also enhance preparedness for the next assignment. There is a ying and yang that comes with churn – if you are on the exit side you can always be sure that there will be an entry side somewhere waiting.

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2 Responses to “As The World Churns For CMO’s”

  1. Kurt Indvik says:

    Can't remember which speaker said this at a recent iMedia Summit, but the basic observation was your first day on the job as CMO the CEO fires a bullet and you're job is to keep running as fast as you can until the day it finally catches up to you.

  2. Ted Grigg says:

    Marketing success is a corporate venture rather than a solo role carried by the CMO. The CEO, CFO, the board and every employee in the organization exist to make the company a successful selling machine.

    Until the company’s culture supports this hypothesis, then true CMO success remains unachievable.

    The Apple’s of the world are rare. As a marketer, I long for opportunities to associate myself with such forward looking enterprises. I believe they do exist.

    Are they rare? Absolutely. All one has to do is look at the growth records to see how rare they are. Even talented CEOs cannot succeed until the organization is ready for them.

    CEO tenures do not look that much better than CMOs. And they survive longer only because they (or the organization’s culture) manage to make CMOs totally responsible for marketing success.

    The CEO and all company leaders must understand that their role was stated long ago by Peter Drucker. He made it clear when he said:
    “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."

    The bottom line: no CMO can succeed in his mission until it becomes everybody’s mission in the company he works for.

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