Demand Gen Report

The B2B CMO Balancing Act

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John Steinert

John Steinert


Demand Gen Report: How has the B2B CMO role changed/evolved?

John Steinert: There’s never been a better time to be a CMO in B2B because recognition of the role’s contribution has never been higher. At the same time, as expectations grow, so do challenges — the job of meeting various constituencies’ needs only gets harder. Smaller companies are driving a lot of change into the CMO position. They’re making demand gen and pipeline impact a primary focus. Interestingly, this is pulling energy away from other CMO responsibilities around awareness and corporate comms leadership on the outbound side. Conversely, the CMO as a major source of insight on markets and customers is under real pressure. In more and more companies, Solution/Product marketing and now Customer Success as well are stepping up to shoulder much of this load as peer organizations.

DGR: As expectations for driving revenue and growth increase, does that put CMOs at risk as potential scapegoats for failing to hit sales milestones?

Steinert: I don’t really think that CMO’s are scapegoated as much as that we are exposed by the funding structures, we practice within. By their nature, departments whose budgets have a large variable expense component will always be at some risk. CMO’s who can contribute personally in a wide variety of ways — in both boom and bust periods — stand in clear contrast to the all-too-common handwringing. Most of the time, our tenure is more within our control than the headlines would lead one to believe. When we communicate clearly, execute transparently and adjust quickly, we’re only as exposed as any other leader.

DGR: In addition to increased pressure to drive revenue and show ROI, what are some of the other top challenges that CMOs are facing?

Steinert: Building the right team will always be the primary challenge for a CMO who looks to be in the role for more than a couple years. It’s your team that will figure out what needs to be fixed, what needs to be amplified and how to get it done. It’s the personality of your team and your leadership that makes or breaks delivery on the alignment imperative. The CMO needs to be an empathic collaborator with all peer-level management. We need to choose like-minded leaders to carry this attitude forward across our sub-departments. Strategy is a collaboration — if the strategy is right but others are not pursuing it, the CMO must help drive that for the CEO. One of the CMO’s roles is as chief internal diplomat — both a key player in keeping the CEO’s strategy on track and one who speaks truth to power when risks are not being adequately factored in.

DGR: What do you see as the top priorities for B2B CMOs in the coming years?

Steinert: Marketing requirements are dynamic. They change based on other inputs. To add value in this reality, CMO’s must continue to keep both the near term and the long view on their plate. They need to have an awareness of how markets and companies evolve in order to provide the right strategy inputs at the appropriate times. More than ever, a CMO needs to take stock of what issues are impacting client businesses and how, as a company, we can better deliver against those needs. This means being part of the conversation around what is developed and what is on the M&A docket.

DGR: Incorporating tech and aligning it with strategy has become a bigger imperative for marketers, but has the approach to technology changed for CMOs?

Steinert: As a businessperson, the CMO has to be as fiscally driven as any other leader. While the SaaS revolution made it easy to add functionality, that’s not the same as real innovation. Real innovation must deliver significantly to the bottom line. We’re looking to invest where there are out-sized returns and cut aggressively where there are not.

DGR: Which technologies do you see us the top priorities for B2B CMOs over the next year or two?

Steinert: First and foremost, we see the most competitive companies really making progress on the data elements within their stacks. Then, they’re adding automated analysis to understand the data better — like deploying AI to understand what they really know about a prospect or customer. Finally, they’re deploying this out to the market through tactical models that can deliver improved CX – like conversational marketing tools to better serve the interaction expectations of their constituencies.

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