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CMOs still struggling to connect within the C-Suite

From The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today

CMOs are under increasing pressure to drive growth, but new research indicates they may be missing opportunities to connect with their C-suite colleagues and meaningfully influence the bottom line.

Today’s CMOs understand they have more responsibility to drive growth than they’ve had in the past, yet many are still largely unprepared to affect the business areas that matter most to others in the executive suite. A joint study from the CMO Council and Deloitte LLP finds top marketers are often uncomfortable embracing responsibilities such as developing revenue strategy and owning the entire customer experience.

The study, “CMOs and the Spark to Drive Growth,” finds 34 percent of 200 surveyed CMOs see their role within a company as being the organization’s chief storyteller, while only 20 percent see themselves as the person identifying and mapping new routes to revenue. The new research follows a previous study from 2016 that found CMOs have increasing responsibility for driving growth but spend the majority of their time on tactical activities rather than on business and brand strategy.

“We’re seeing marketers who are trying to drive growth by being the best storytellers they can be,” says Liz Miller, senior VP of marketing at the CMO Council. “Their new role requires a more expansive approach—finding opportunities to generate revenue, knowing their customers better, and delivering data and intelligence throughout the organization to properly reach, gauge, and reward customer loyalty.”

In this interview, Miller and Sheryl Jacobson, principal and CMO customer transformation leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP, discuss how CMOs can become true drivers of business growth.

What has changed since the last survey two years ago?

Miller: In 2016, the message we heard loud and clear was that the CMO role had changed for good. There was a definite sense that the CEO viewed the CMO as the C-level officer who would identify growth opportunities and then engage in a variety of different tactics, activities, partnerships, and collaboration across the organization to make those opportunities real in the form of revenue improvement. What we’re seeing now is a bit of a struggle for CMOs to fully embrace that mandate. They tend to fall back on what’s comfortable from their marketing heritage, rather than really pushing forward on the tactics, the know-how, and the knowledge to move the needle forward.

What surprised you the most from this year’s survey?

Jacobson: Only 37 percent of surveyed CMOs are aligned with line-of-business leaders, and only 34 percent are aligned with the CFO, which suggests they are not fully collaborating and communicating with these executives about meaningful business matters. Yes, part of the CMO’s role is storytelling and owning the customer, but they’ve got to be able to demonstrate how those practices are tied to the metrics these business heads and the CFO care about.

Miller: The poor alignment between the CFO and the CMO is not just surprising, it’s a bit embarrassing, especially as marketers are talking about efficiency and performance improvements. Learning to align and speak the language of the business is the first stop on the road to transformation. It’s a step forward that marketers are increasingly concerned with generating revenue. Looking beyond that, however, there’s a real problem in that marketers often do not fundamentally understand how elements like growth margin, market share, or customer lifetime value affect the business. CMOs are defaulting back to brand recognition and brand value, and that’s a problem.

What is the cause of this disconnect? Are CEOs not giving CMOs more responsibility, or are CMOs not embracing it?

Miller: There’s absolutely a huge call here for marketers to change their vantage points, shift their conversations, alter their language, and act as true business marketers. The only way organizations will evolve to embrace marketing’s role as a growth driver is if marketers themselves learn to speak the language—and solve the problems—of the business. For many organizations, that shift is only going to happen when they have a strong marketing leader who is growth-driven and will intentionally partner across the organization.

How can marketers more effectively influence growth?

Jacobson: Part of the responsibility of being the voice of the customer and a growth driver is looking for opportunities, whether that’s new markets, new customer segments, or new customer needs, and thus new products or experiences. Having the ability to identify those opportunities is incredibly important in getting a seat at the table to help define the corporate strategy and growth agenda, rather than just executing on it.

—by Aaron Baar, writer, Deloitte Insights for CMOs

This content was originally published on the Wall Street Journal CMO Today.

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