Demand Gen Report: How has the B2B CMO role changed/evolved in recent years?
Allison MacLeod: The B2B role has certainly changed in recent years from a leader who was somewhat representative of being brand first to now having, not only a seat at the table, but also responsibility for being a revenue driver of business. Recently, the CMO role has been under the microscope questioning the need for the role moving forward. With the emergence of more focus on technology, revenue and customer success we are seeing a lot of big brands do away with the traditional “CMO” role such as J&J, Uber, Hyatt and others. There is currently a lot of speculation that there is no longer a need for the role, but I believe it couldn’t be further from the truth. A big issue with a head of marketing role is that often companies are looking for a unicorn to be an expert in all areas of marketing — brand, PR/Comms, Product & Go to Market strategy, demand generation and operations. Oh, and throw in the requirement of the internal communications piece too! Here is the reality — if the expectation is for a CMO to be an expert in all those areas we may all have better luck playing the lottery. The requirement is for a strong leader who can lead and orchestrate all those functions, but typically their superpower is strong in one area or two areas of marketing — the demand CMO, the brand CMO or the product/go to market CMO. For example, as head of marketing, my strength and expertise are squarely in the growth and performance aspect of marketing and driving a revenue number. I can lead all marketing functions, but my superpower is closely tied to driving an acquisition and engagement engine.
DGR: As expectations for driving revenue and growth increase, does that put CMOs at risk as potential scapegoats for failing to hit sales milestones?
MacLeod: It only puts CMOs at risk as being the scapegoat if they are not aligned with sales leadership and expectations of delivery on both teams. It is easier to say another team isn’t doing their job if they aren’t aligned on the goals and have clarity and understanding of roles, responsibilities and true partnership. The alignment and focus on the objectives and key results (OKRs) is critical to partnership. I strongly believe all B2B marketing teams and sales teams should share goals, which could include marketing owning that top piece of the funnel, i.e., driving awareness and brand, and interest, and depending on the go to market and business model could be by way of leads, product trials and engagement, events, or even further in the funnel through account based marketing and surrounding key accounts to drive deal velocity or focusing on content and strategy to help sales close and nurture accounts.
DGR: In addition to increased pressure to drive revenue and show ROI, what are some of the other top challenges that CMOs are facing?
MacLeod: First and foremost, it is building the BEST team possible. A CMO should always be hiring and meeting talent even if they don’t have a role open necessarily. Having the right team is critical to success and knowing where the key strengths are needed first to prioritize — i.e., communications, demand, operations, digital product marketing. CMOs should hire leaders and team members who are better than them and let them run their functional areas — provide the guidance, strategy, coaching, support and goals and then get out of the way and let them perform!
Second to that, ensuring you have strategies that align with your business goals. If you are in a product driven SaaS business with a need to grow through digital and online channels, build your team and investments in the best way to do so. Would an account-based marketing strategy with high touch work in a highly transactional model? Likely not, so make sure your focus and goals align with the business priorities.
Another thing, which is always easier said than done: Make sure you are prioritizing internally communicating and “marketing” what the team is doing, goals, focus and team. Marketing should have a mission and clearly defined goals they are always pointing back to. A former leader I worked with had given me the good advice to make sure everyone knows what your “bumper sticker” or flag says and what you stand for. As a marketing team you can’t be everything to everyone so be clear in your mission. Product teams have been notoriously good at sprint updates and roadmaps, sales organizations report on pipeline, revenue and growth regularly, and marketing needs to do the same! It is easy for internal team to say they don’t know what the priorities are or what the marketing team is up to if they aren’t regularly sharing them.
DGR: What do you see as the top priorities for B2B CMOs in the coming years?
MacLeod: In the coming years I see an enhanced priority on driving customer acquisition through marketing, continuing to stay ahead of technology trends with buyers and offering ways to easily engage with their company and brand. Along with that, driving customer advocacy and customer success will and should become a bigger priority for marketing. It’s no secret that no matter how far technology has come and how digital you make your brand, B2B still sell and serve people. As people, we rely on our network to help us make business decisions and we want to work with brands and companies we trust. Humanize your brand and focus on providing value to the customer from the moment of first touch and keep the focus throughout the entire customer lifecycle — from engaging customers to building the product and service roadmap for the future, to helping to build a strong brand and story.
As marketers, we have more data available to us than ever before, but having a keen eye on what matters and what drives your business and customer strategy forward to help you make the right investments and build the best team are the only ones that should matter and be focused on.
DGR: Incorporating tech and aligning it with strategy has become a bigger imperative for marketers, but has the approach to technology changed for CMOs?
MacLeod: I would say it isn’t a matter of how many applications or how new and cutting edge they are that matters — it is how they are used in your ecosystem. How many of us (myself included) have purchased technology over the years to fit a need or purpose only to find out it wasn’t what we needed, become shelf-ware or didn’t solve the problem we were trying to address? The tech investments should be implemented and leveraged to drive and support your strategy to create efficiency and gains in impact across your brand, acquisition, engagement and customer strategies.
DGR: Which technologies do you see as the top priorities for B2B CMOs over the next year or two?
MacLeod: Along with many of the “expected tech,” like automation, CMS, analytics, and ABM tools, a focus on digital platforms and technology, and putting investment in the right platforms to find where your buyers are. As our world becomes more global, staying on top of the tech and channels that matter most to your audience is important. For example, optimizing a digital strategy through google tools in the US won’t work for China. Also, technology that focuses on driving the customer experience and building customer advocacy.