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How to clarify the B2B CMO role

Updated: Aug 13, 2019


Only 1 in 3 marketing leaders feel that their role is very clear

CMO Survey 2019 (Deloitte, Duke, AMA)


How the B2B Chief Marketing Officer role has changed


It used to be that the Chief Marketing Officer role was thought of, by many, as a support role. However, as customers increased digital interactions with suppliers, marketing took front-line control of digital customer engagements. Digital marketing has opened a new world in understanding customers, finding new ways to engage, and finding new market opportunities.

Unfortunately, the change in the CMO role has thrown many companies into a certain degree of conflict. Why?

The expanded role of the CMO blurs lines between marketing and sales. The ability of the CMO to make cloud-based application decisions has blurred the lines between the CMO and the CIO. The CMO can now be a "citizen integrator" or even a "citizen developer."

Additionally, since the digitally armed CMO is creating new methods, processes, and customer engagements, they are often misunderstood by the CEO. There is no instruction manual. Even if there were an instruction manual, it would likely be out of date by the time that it was printed.

Digital marketing creates a network between the customer and your company, and that is hard to pin down. The advent of digital marketing changed the CMO from being mostly tactical (short-term) and supportive role, to being a front-line revenue generator in both strategic and commercial directions.


Why is the position volatile?

According to Korn Ferry, the average longevity of a CMO is 44 months, which is the shortest of all C-Level positions.

Isolating our data for Swiss companies over 500 employees, the average longevity of a CMO is around 30 months.

So, why so short?

In some cases, CMOs don’t succeed because they didn’t meet expectations. In other cases, many CMOs will often leave out of frustration because their empowerment does not enable them to achieve their own or company goals.

Some have too many internal conflicts. Others that can master the new CMO role are in high demand and can be quickly snapped up by other companies.

It is a tough job.

The way that companies implement CMOs can vary tremendously. Some companies focus the CMO role on lead generation (commercial) with the sole purpose of bringing leads to sales from digital sources.

Other companies will task the CMO to lead a massive transition of technology, culture, and skill and to frame future growth. The role can still take on many forms, depending on the business model, the company structure, market, or resources.

The bottom line is that the expectation of the CMO often does not match the empowerment of the CMO to meet the expectation.

1) The CMO must be empowered to do their job, and

2) The CMO has difficulty to succeed in a siloed organization

Assessing the CMO’s empowerment

It is one thing to say that “I am responsible for…”, and another to have to ability to make or influence decisions around that topic. One recommendation is to take time to assess decision making that would impact the CMO’s ability to affect the result. If the CMO is not empowered to either make or influence critical decisions, they are pretty powerless to make an impact.

How to assess the CMO's empowerment

  • Make a complete list of marketing topics that are directly related to achieving expectations. (For example; Market research, product positioning, website, and many others).

  • Duplicate the list; one list for budgetary decisions and another for technology decisions (you can also add strategy development and hiring decisions).

  • Make a cross-reference of the marketing topics and C-level roles. You will have a "technology decisions" list for all marketing topics, and the parts that each executive have in the decision making.

  • Assess how decisions are made by defining the influence that each manager has on the decision making (use a tool like RACI or RAPID for better clarity).


The result is that you understand who makes recommendations, which provides input, who needs to approve, who executes, and who decides for (example) advertising budgets, or Customer Experience technology and many others.

The goal is to understand how decisions are made with each of the marketing topics. Although this assessment can be difficult or tedious to put together, it can be a time-saver by reducing the amount of time clarifying internal processes, not to mention reducing conflicts.


By performing this assessment, CMOs have a better understanding of their empowerment, as well as the management-sphere in which they operate. It also may provide clarity to correct significant empowerment limitations.


Exhibit 2 is an example or poor empowerment for promotions and campaigns. The CSO decides the entire budget and actions for campaigns without consultation with the CMO. Since the CMO has a growth target, there is little or no influence of the CMO on reaching the goal.


Exhibit 2: Empowerment issue for budgeting promotions and campaigns

The CMO function of battling silos


Diplomatic skills are critical for most CMOs. They need to be able to collaborate with other functions. It is a challenge to do if the company silos and traditions are not adaptive to blending traditional functions.


The common denominator is the customer


Customers really do not care about your silos, especially in the digital world. Most customers demand consistency and do not want to be confused by different messages from your company. Digital marketing networks your customers with your company. When a company suffers from being siloed, the weakness gets magnified in the digital world with customers.


Being that a CMO is focused on the customer, the CMO needs to take the leading role in reducing the company's silos.


This becomes imperative in B2B marketing, where you may have different business units or lines of business engaging in similar markets or even the same customers. Despite the differences in what each line of business does, the customer still sees one company, one website, one brand. Yes, consistency is important.


Customer’s journey

Understanding the customer’s journey creates a common reference point outside of the company.


Mapping and understanding the customer's journey provides a good reference to reduce conflicts internally. Think of it as going on deck to look at the horizon to help your seasickness. Instead of endless discussion about what is happening internally, the conversation switches to what is happening externally and what to do about it.


Cross functional customer journey mapping sessions help tremendously to lower silos because they get all functions to focus on optimizing the journey in a collaborative way. Using a service design process, all functions can contribute in the customer experience.


5-C Method

The 5-C method is a proprietary Swanson method to create a collaborative framework between two managers. In this case, it is an assessment of different functions and how they relate to the CMO. By creating a common ground and understanding the customer journey, it allows a positive open discussion on how to achieve goals and reduce silos.


The 5 Cs are:

1. Common ground: where do the roles overlap?

2. Conflicts: where are conflicts between the two managers?

3. Concerns: what keeps the other manager awake at night? (does not have to do with the CMO).

4. Communication: what language does the other role use (that the CMO needs to learn)?

5. Collaboration: what specific JOINT projects or information sharing sessions can be used in the common ground to reduce the conflicts, reduce concerns, increase communication, and create a win-win.


The goals of the 5-C method are to gain a mutual understanding of conflicts, of each other, and find wins in the common ground between the managers through collaborative projects. Results can be immediate and long-lasting.

Exhibit 3: Example - Swanson 5-C method to increase collaboration and reduce silos

In some cases, the collaboration can help the CMO understand how they can help the other executive with their concerns. For example, how can the CMO create a business that can improve cash flow with the CFO? How can the CMO provide tools to help the CSO with forecasting?


Other times, it is the other way around. How can the CIO help the CMO with GDPR requirements?


The 5-C method is highly effective when either the CEO or the consensus of the executives feel that their marketing and sales operations are too siloed or when the CMO organization is isolated from the other units.