Why the Next Wave of CEOs Will Be from Marketing

Years ago, the idea of a marketer becoming a business leader was farfetched. Below CEO Today hears from Jamie Anderson, President, EMEA at Marketo, who discusses the evolution of CMOs to the positions of CEO, and the next generation of business leaders.

Marketing has shifted from cost centre to revenue driver, and CMOs are adding new technologies to their armoury to help track this contribution. Gartner’s prediction that CMOs will even outspend CIOs on technology is now fact.

Today, with the confluence of technology, business and social trends, CEOs with marketing experience have not just become a possibility, but an imperative in many enterprises.

Marketing’s role in the boardroom continues to strengthen, as it continues to hold the key to understanding customer behaviour. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, 75% of marketers are expected to be responsible for the end-to-end customer experience over the next three to five years.

With the dawn of data analytics, CMOs have found themselves in senior board positions alongside strong CSOs, CFOs, CIOs and CPOs and as they bring strategic planning capabilities and understanding of the customer they are determining company strategy. Now is the time for CMOs to catapult from that seat to the highest rank. We are already seeing this happen as some of the UK’s largest businesses are run by CEOs with marketing experience. For example, Tesco’s chief executive was previously the marketing manager at Unilever, and M&S’s boss was a marketer at British Airways and McDonald’s before joining. This number will only multiply as companies look to truly understand what motivates customers.

CEOs are expected to interact with different departments within the business, which is not dissimilar to the role of today’s marketer. They are not only required to cover all aspects of marketing, but align with sales, product development, finance and data analytics teams, and be able to anticipate what will come next. Their job is to bridge the gap between short term tactical requirements (i.e. ‘making the quarter’ and satisfying investors) and longer-term strategic requirements, such as product innovation and maximising lifetime customer value.

Showcasing leadership qualities in areas beyond that of marketing, helps CMOs learn and become exposed to other aspects of the business and get a big picture perspective. This can tee them up quite nicely in terms of assisting with bringing the customer perspective into strategic planning.

The importance of customer data

Crucial to the CMO’s role is having a track record of success in moving profit and reputation needles. Being able to align marketing metrics with company objectives is key here. For example, reports on clicks, page views and likes aren’t going to mean much to an executive board. However, having a tiered metric system that enables a CMO to report in a similar way to that of their board, helps to improve the lines of communication.

Today’s CMO really needs to think like the head of a business. They should walk into the board meeting with confidence as they have the tools and data to prove their contribution to business success. That comes from a strategic approach to marketing that involves planning, engagement and measurement. It also comes from aligning with departments and communicating that with the wider business, using these approaches for support:

  • Ownership of the customer lifecycle – From start to finish, the end-to-end customer lifecycle comprises a plethora of touchpoints that yield a wealth of valuable data to power strategic business decisions. The more of the lifecycle that marketing takes ownership of, the more data-driven insights a CMO can present to influence overall business strategy. CMOs can also establish alliances to extend customer lifecycle ownership across all touchpoints, using the data to leverage the resulting insights.
  • Position to listen, learn and engage – Use all customer touchpoints to learn what is desired by the customer to create and communicate a vision and roadmap for meeting their needs – whether it’s products, services or values they can relate to. Check in with those customers who have helped sales meet the company’s short-term goals, be their advocate, and engage with them for the long haul.
  • Ability to enable sales to execute – Provide a pathway for future generations of products that are in sync with customer needs and enable sales to execute effectively on the cycles of product innovation. CMOs are in a perfect position to facilitate this since they sit between sales and product development teams.

Fearlessly leading the charge

Today’s CMOs have two charges to lead. One is on behalf of the marketing profession to take possession of the corner office. There are signs that this is already underway and picking up momentum.

The other is leading the charge of the business into the engagement economy. CMOs are ideally equipped to do this. And the CMOs who recognise the valuable position they are in to drive overall business strategy, and who fearlessly capitalise on that advantage, will be the ones who quickly rise to the role of CEO.

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