What It Takes to Be a Great CMO


A green road sign that reads Greatness Ahead - Great marketing concept

According to the CMO Council report (registration required) on the state of marketing, 80% of executives surveyed see the top goal of their marketing departments as to drive revenue and sales growth. More than three-in-five (62%) of survey respondents see the CMO as the “customer experience advocate and champion” in their organization. More than half (54%) view of the CMO’s role as “digital transformation/marketing automation leader.”

So what are the traits that CMOs need to be able to deliver on these growing expectations?

The CMO Needs the Traits of a “Survivor”

“I’ve probably hired around 100 people during my marketing career,” said Julie Preiss, CMO at Appgate. The best ones have the traits of the winner of the TV reality show “Survivor,” they outwit, outplay and outlast the others.

Outwit: Successful marketing leaders must be able to maneuver around external forces, Preiss explained. Competitors are following you, gauging what’s working, and imitating successful behavior. If a competitor ‘copies’ you, it means you’re doing something right. It’s also a sign that you should reassess your strategy and look for the as-yet-unturned stone.

Outplay: A marketing leader must be able to develop a solid game plan, but you also must be willing and able to adjust to circumstances as they unfold and course-correct when needed, Preiss added “A tactic that worked a few months ago may not work now — COVID taught us that lesson. When face-to-face meetings disappeared overnight, marketers had to get creative to figure out how to develop relationships virtually.”

Outlast: Persistence serves you well in any leadership role. You must also be willing to fight for your point of view. If you’re under-resourced, know how to develop a business case to get what you need. If a plan goes awry, figure out the next best way to carry the idea forward. If a problem seems too thorny to tackle, volunteer to take it on. Make yourself an indispensable part of the team by adding value in unexpected ways.

Related Article: CMO Leadership Challenges and Opportunities 

A Curious Nature and Desire to Continually Learn

“All successful marketers I’ve worked with have had an ongoing sense of positive curiosity,” said Katrina Klier, PROS CMO.

Marketing leaders need to be curious about uncovering new opportunities as the world is constantly changing, Klier explained. They should always be asking themselves, “How can I better serve my customers? How can I better take care of my marketing team?” and continually seeking out ways they can create a positive impact.

A marketing leader will also be endlessly curious about how customer behaviors are changing, understanding what causes new preferences and wants, and anticipating how shifts in sentiment open new market segments and opportunities. Delivering an optimal customer experience is a competitive differentiator for companies, Klier added. “The best marketers listen to the space in between what customers tell them. It’s important to fully understand this white space in order to stay in front of the market, find new ways to add value to the customer and anticipate what customers want, before they even realize it.”

Related Article: How Winning CMOs Are Driving Growth

Data Comprehension and Analysis

“If it’s true that there are many guides to successful marketing, then it’s also true that data should serve as the lighthouse,” said James O’Connell-Cooper, director of marketing, Americas, for Xero. While understanding a customer’s point of view from anecdotal findings (e.g., focus groups) is important, those findings are inherently hard to find in volume — but Big Data changes all of that. As a marketer, you need to be able to analyze large sets of data and make changes accordingly — and it’s only going to become more important as digital avenues reign supreme. Combining both what the data is saying and what the customer is saying is a unique art that, once mastered, makes for a powerful marketer.

Machine Learning and AI Savvy

Closely related to the ability to use effectively use data is machine learning and AI savvy. “The only way marketing leaders and marketing teams can operate at scale and keep up with the myriad of market, customer, data and digital complexities is to apply the power of machines to marketing work,” said Amy Heidersbach, Persado CMO. “AI is taking the guesswork out of creative and delivering true personalization. Marketing leaders must embrace ‘the machine’ (AI software) as an integral member of the team — one that’s needed to succeed, and, like any other team member, be held accountable for delivering results.”

Successful marketers are usually on the leading edge of technology, Klier agreed. Marketers who are not looking at how AI can support their marketing efforts to drive faster, profitable growth are doing their organization and their customers a disservice. AI can help refine your customer experience more quickly than you ever could in the past. Marketers need to set aside budget, time and resources to figure out how best to take advantage of these emerging technologies to make sense of the wealth of customer data available to us now, in order to stay ahead of their competition.

Omnichannel World: An Understanding of Today’s Fragmented Media

Years ago, marketing a brand was a simpler task, it was entirely about awareness, said Angelina Lawton, Sportsdigita founder and CEO. “Be it coverage in the media, buying billboard space along the highway or airing a television commercial, marketing was thought of very broadly: either people knew about you or they didn’t.”

In the digital age, however, the ways in which people become aware of a company are entirely more fragmented, Lawton added. One person might stumble upon your efforts to promote the brand or others might become aware of your company via a Google search. The latter has become so prevalent that it’s divided marketing into two silos: brand and performance. While both are equally as important, it’s critical for a marketing leader to have a universal understanding of all the ways in which a customer demographic can be reached — brand development, SEO strategy, paid social, public relations, banner ads, traditional advertising, organic social strategy and more.



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