Tag Archives: CMO tenure

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Facing Professional Culture Clash

quote-i-don-t-like-that-man-i-must-get-to-know-him-better-abraham-lincoln-17-61-18The most recent survey of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) shows that not much has changed over the past 10 years. CMOs continue their struggle to make the connection between marketing activity and company performance, and they continue to shift the blame for their failure.

Despite the fact that financial results are rated as the most important factor in a CMO’s performance-based compensation, executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry’s CMO survey found that the majority of senior marketers claim they cannot make a direct correlation between their efforts and company performance.

The reason CMOs give for the disconnect? Nearly a third of the survey respondents suggest that their CEO “doesn’t understand the CMO role.” Specifically, they feel their boss fails to understand the complexity of brand building; the importance of a customer-centric approach; and the correlation between marketing and revenue generation.

Averaging job tenure of just 4.1 years – the shortest of all C-suite positions – CMOs are unlikely to win either sympathy or contract renewals from CEOs (with average tenure of 8 years), who are increasingly impatient with CMOs’ lack of results and accountability.

Tactics and Tools Fail CMOs

An oversimplified description of the CMO’s role is to promote the brand, and to generate viable leads for the sales team. To accomplish those necessary goals, and create some tangible evidence of their contribution to their company’s top line results, CMOs continue to rely heavily (or exclusively) on a large and growing inventory of marketing tactics and tools.

In addition to traditional methods such as advertising (a/k/a “paid media”) and public relations (a/k/a “earned media”), the marketing tool kit now includes everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs and Marketing Automation software, to Account-Based Marketing (ABM), which is the latest shiny object promising to deliver ROI Nirvana to CMOs.

Unfortunately, as the complexity of the tools and tactics increases, they become more difficult for CMOs to manage (and explain), and more likely that their CEOs will believe that marketing is disconnected from what they believe is most important…which is revenue generation.

Attitude Adjustment Required

If the most measurable portion of the CMO’s role is lead generation; if the sales force is an essential asset to convert those leads into clients or revenue; and if clients and revenue are what’s used to determine CMO compensation and tenure…then why does “marketing / sales alignment” continue to be a significant challenge for most companies?

The simple answer is that there is a longstanding culture clash between marketing and sales professionals. Sales reps believe that marketers are disconnected from customers and marketplace realities, never get their hands dirty, and provide them with leads that are worthless. Marketers believe that sales reps are self-interested, don’t understand the company’s strategy, and waste the leads and tools they are given.

In this ongoing tug-of-war, marketers will always stand to lose, because revenue trumps branding in the corner office, and because sales reps can more easily claim direct responsibility for revenue generation.

Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, studies people and teams seeking to make a positive difference through the work that they do. Her research suggests that fixing this marketing and sales professional culture clash starts with an attitude adjustment, and requires a new way of working together.

Lessons from a Chilean Coal Mine  

At a recent TED conference, Professor Edmondson explained the concept of “teaming,” where people come together to solve new, urgent or unusual problems. Recalling stories of teamwork on the fly, such as the incredible rescue of 33 miners trapped half a mile underground in Chile in 2010, Edmondson shares the elements needed to turn a group of strangers into a quick-thinking team that can nimbly respond to challenges. At many companies, sales and marketing teams are strangers to each other.

Here are three key points from Professor Edmondson’s TED presentation (well worth 13 minutes to view) that CMOs should consider in any serious effort to work effectively with sales professionals:

  • It’s difficult to learn if you believe that you already know the solution to a challenge or opportunity. Situational humility – simply acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers – is a necessary starting point for effective teamwork.
  • We need to be genuinely curious about what others think and bring to the table. The key to success in building an effective team is learning the strengths of others, and conveying what you can contribute to the effort.
  • Society has conditioned us to view each other as competitors. To wit: for me to succeed, you must fail. This underlying cultural bias needs to be eliminated, in order for sales and marketing teams to work together effectively.

There are no simple solutions to the challenge of marketing and sales alignment. But it’s more likely to be improved within a company by focusing on the hard work of listening and communicating, as Professor Edmondson suggests. CMOs need to begin that journey by looking inside themselves, and not to outside providers of marketing technologies.

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Your Marketing: Is it the Love Child of Warren G. Harding?

After nearly a century of fighting for the legitimacy of her “love child” daughter, the long-time mistress of President Warren G. Harding, was recently vindicated by new DNA testing.

The tenacity of Nan Britton and her family helped to prove that America’s 29th president fathered more than the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. Harding never met his out-of-wedlock daughter, Elizabeth Ann, but demonstrated presidential timber by providing financial support for her until he died in office at the age of 57.

For Chief Marketing Officers, the outcome of this juicy scandal might provide some hope that hard work and determination can help them to legitimize the often maligned marketing function, and perhaps increase their stature and length of tenure at the senior management table.

Unfortunately, there are no DNA tests to validate marketing as a legitimate member of the CXO family of business functions. But there are some unscientific ways to accomplish that goal within your company:

  • Clarify Marketing’s Role – The most pragmatic answer to “What is marketing?” may be: “Whatever your employer (or client) needs it to be.” Exploration of how marketing can be applied to achieve tangible benefits for your organization begins with frank and perhaps eye-opening conversations with senior managers to gain a first-hand understanding of their current perceptions and expectations of the function. You may be surprised at the depth of misunderstanding that exists within your organization regarding your activity and its value. This is an opportunity to clarify what marketing does and can do for them, to identify their needs and establish expectations.
  • Get Quantitative – The fuzzy nature of marketing can sometimes make it difficult to demonstrate a direct correlation between that activity and tangible business outcomes. Most senior executives accept that reality, and do not expect marketing to be a profit center. However, marketers who understand the bottom-line orientation of the business world make it a priority to connect the dots internally, by explaining and highlighting what role marketing has played in helping to produce results – whether those outcomes are measured by lead generation, search engine page rankings, revenue growth, employee satisfaction or customer experience.
  • Speak Their Language – It’s not necessary to understand all the technicalities, issues or nuances related to various corporate functions, but marketers need to know what’s important. For example, your CFO does not expect you to be up-to-date on Dodd-Frank compliance, but does expect you to be well-versed regarding the company’s business model (how it makes and spends money), its competitive landscape, key legislation and enterprise priorities such as market share, acquisition or going public. Speaking your company’s language has less to do with knowing balance sheet terminology, and more to do with being tuned into what’s on the priority list of its senior team and your ability to adapt marketing strategies to support those goals.
  • Get Strategic – As a staff function, marketing is often viewed as corporate overhead, and expendable when times get tough. Making marketing an essential element in line function strategies can build internal support as well as career longevity. To make marketing indispensible within your organization, focus on activities that are valued by senior management. These are typically tactics that make the phones ring, or move the revenue needle. For example, drive a successful effort to get your company’s whiz-bang technology included in a respected industry benchmark such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant (ideally, without paying Gartner’s hefty subscription fee), and watch the marketing department’s stature rise internally.
  • Act Like an Agency – Outside marketing firms live or die by the level of service and results they deliver to clients. An agency’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by an appreciation that if they fail to meet expectations or add value, they will likely be replaced. Corporate marketing practitioners who adopt an agency mindset – treating each operational function as an outside agency might manage a client – can build internal support across the organization. From a practical standpoint, this means understanding what your internal clients need, developing tailored plans of action, being accountable for agreed-upon deliverables and maintaining a sense of urgency.
  • Be Fearless – You must serve as the marketing function’s ambassador within your company. Keep the pom-poms in the file cabinet, but don’t be shy about discussing what’s working, as well as what’s not and why. If you don’t point out marketing’s contribution to the top or bottom lines, no one else will. Conversely, if you don’t put shortcomings out on the table, someone else is likely to do that for you. And if you’re in an environment where honest conversations regarding success and failure are not fostered, then it may not be a management table where you want to be seated.

The ancestors of President Harding’s mistress fought for decades simply to prove that Nan Britton was telling the truth regarding her love child. Marketing, as the love child of every enterprise, deserves an equal level of determination to prove its value to a skeptical business world. 

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Connect-the-Dots Marketing: A Gift from Steve Jobs

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered a “connect the dots” perspective on the random events that shaped his life.

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards…

For B2B marketers, this “rear view mirror” approach to connecting the dots in your tactical tool kit makes great sense.

The underlying appeal of any connect-the-dots puzzle is based on seeing a recognizable image appear from an apparent hodge-podge of numbered dots, simply by following a prescribed path.  But for most marketers, if the dots represent possible tactical solutions, then your challenge is that:

  • There are usually too many dots to choose from, and
  • The dots have no assigned numbers to follow

And that’s why Steve Jobs’ advice should be followed by marketers: Start with a specific business outcome you’re seeking, and build your tactical strategy in reverse order. For example:

Step One: Create Your Picture     One reason why average CMO tenure is so brief is because marketers often focus on the dots, rather than on the picture that the connected dots should create. If you’re a B2B marketer, one picture you might want to create is making the “short list;” which means being contacted consistently by prospective (or existing) clients as a candidate for assignments. That’s a picture your CEO understands and appreciates, because it can lead directly to revenue. It also leads to continued employment for CMOs.

Step Two: Ignore Your Dots     With your picture defined, it can be difficult to resist the urge to open the tactical toolbox immediately. But prior to selecting and numbering the dots, you’ll need to sketch the path the dots will follow. Using the “short list” picture, for example, you’ll first need to gain internal consensus on:

  • What your clients and prospects need right now or in the future
  • Why your firm is entitled to be on the short list (your value proposition)
  • How you stack up against other firms seeking a place on the short list
  • What’s likely to exclude your firm from short list consideration
  • How to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of your short list strategy

Step Three: Select and Number Your Dots     With your picture and path well defined, the selection and sequencing of tactical dots in often a no-brainer. To complete the “short list” picture example: your dots will likely involve:

  1. Top-of-mind Awareness: You’ll need to establish an internal discipline designed to communicate directly and consistently (ideally on a quarterly basis) with clients, prospect and referral sources. The old adage “Out of Sight / Out of Mind” rings true in B2B communication, and don’t expect social media to address that requirement.
  2. Thought Leadership: This label for intellectual capital may be a bit shopworn, but your firm must provide its target audiences with content (owned media or earned media) that validates intellectual capital and potential to add value. And you’re more likely to make the short list by providing content that’s interesting and helpful to them, and not simply touting your own credentials.
  3. Distribution Capability: This need not be an expensive or complicated CRM system. You simply need to build and maintain a robust database of targeted individuals, and use a distribution / tracking platform (such as Constant Contact) that gets your content to them easily, and in a professional format.

Step Four: Add Dots Selectively     When there’s little (or slow) progress being made toward completion of a “picture,” the temptation for marketers is to simply add more tactical dots, rather than trying to understand why the existing dots are not properly connecting. In general, additional dots should be applied only if they add incremental value to a picture that’s already completed. For example, if your firm is regularly making the “short list,” but wants to eliminate competitors altogether, you might add a tactical dot involving pro-active outreach (in advance of any short list) to select prospects, to introduce a proprietary or solution tailored to their needs.

It’s unlikely that Steve Jobs had marketing in mind 10 years ago, as he connected the dots of his life experiences. But if you connect the dots in rear-view mirror fashion, we think it’s likely you’ll produce tangible business results that are based on more than just passive, wishful thinking…as the second line of Job’s advice to Stanford grads suggests:

…So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

– Steve Jobs

Unfortunately for marketers, words like “trust” and “somehow” just don’t past muster in the business world.

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