How a CMO Can Still Fail Even When Their Marketing is Running Smoothly

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Here’s an all-too-common situation.

A new Head of Marketing is brought into a stagnating organization from a confidential marketing executive search. Bravely adopting the new responsibility, they jump straight into overhauling the marketing department.

They audit the budget and reallocate resources towards the ROI factories. They streamline internal processes and workflows. They restructure the org chart, and identify new markets to tap into or unexplored digital channels with high potential. They hire new, innovative talent and make critical tech updates. Things aren’t perfect–but they’re the best they’ve been in years.

In short, it seems like the new hire is doing everything a good Chief Marketing Officer should be doing. But it doesn’t work.

More accurately; it does work. But it’s not enough.

Marketing is firing on all cylinders, producing more than ever. Despite this, the organization as a whole still isn’t seeing significant growth in business activity and revenue.

What gives?

Simple: while the new marketing leader was fixated on improving and modernizing the Marketing department, they neglected to bring the rest of the company along for the ride.

Clearing the Path Forward

Finding growth in today’s convoluted and fast-based environment is a pressing challenge for any business.

That success won’t be found through marketing alone, no matter how great it is. The entire organization needs to be evolving and improving in a variety of ways: technology, structure, culture, and more. If you’re relying on the Marketing department to be the “cool, hip one” that keeps up with the times, you’re going to get left behind competitors who are able to move forward as a whole.

In most cases, you need a dedicated C-level resource to navigate the way forward and execute a vision for sustained success. Change requires a big-picture understanding of the marketplace and the executive authority to back up their initiatives.

Given that, there’s only one obvious choice: the CMO. A few traits make them especially well suited for this responsibility:

  • Their bird’s-eye view of the marketplace.
  • A history of working across departments and collaborating with other executives.
  • An affinity for technology and digital progress.
  • Natural communication and motivational skills.

Escape the Title Trap

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I love what Neil St. Clair said last year in a column for Forbes: “There is no acronym so dangerous in the English language as C-M-O.”

His premise is a valid one: the title can be very misleading in the context of today’s business environment, especially among those who don’t understand the contemporary responsibilities of the Marketing department.

There’s little question what, exactly, is expected of a Chief Financial Officer or Chief Information Officer. After all, the job description is right there in the title!

Unfortunately, you’d be mistaken if you tried to apply that same logic to the Chief Marketing Officer. Organizations clinging to the archaic idea that the CMO’s domain begins and ends at the “M” are setting themselves up for failure.

Today’s CMOs must be ready to take on far more than marketing. As a Chief Marketing Officer executive search firm, we find time and again that clients have additional leadership needs and challenges beyond marketing improvement. In order to achieve true, meaningful growth, the Head of Marketing must be prepared to act as an agent of change for the entire business.

The Bottom Line

If your business is to shake off its inertia and start moving forward, the individual running your marketing should also have the emotional maturity, credibility, and executive presence to take on the mantle of “Chief Change Management Officer” and move the organization forward at a digestible pace. They’re simply best suited to do it, and your business can’t afford not to have a leader that’s accountable for driving evolution.

Go Digital or Go Home

It’s undeniable that businesses of all kinds are reliant on digital strategies, systems and channels for a multitude of operations. Companies that fail to transform accordingly will get left in the dust of those that do. From gathering better-quality data to communicating with customers on the most favorable terms to tracking finances, nothing works without a heavy digital influence. The CMO is in an ideal situation to champion organization-wide technology decisions and policies to make the transition as smooth and valuable as possible.

Mutually Beneficial Improvements

Marketing relies too heavily on other business pillars to operate and evolve in a silo. If Sales is dropping the ball with messaging, or the Product team isn’t making appropriate adjustments to cater to changing consumer tastes, then even a flawless marketing strategy will falter. At the same time, the Marketing department often has the best perspective on shifting consumer trends and tech developments, which should be leveraged by the rest of the organization to improve.

Thriving in the Era of the Customer

Consumers’ experience with your brand has never been more important. Expectations are high that you provide a positive and consistent experience every time they encounter your brand. So when your marketing, website, customer service and sales are all telling them different things, your message becomes ineffective. The CMO needs to oversee the customer journey through every possible touchpoint to make it as compelling as possible.

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