Being a great CMO

August 27th, 2013 by Robert Pease

Greatness can be defined in many ways…

“To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

So what does it take to be a truly great Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)?  This too can be defined in many ways but we thought we would put forth what we think makes a great CMO:

1.  Be revenue-centric as this ultimately measures the value you bring

Yes, there are definitely many, many ways to measure the performance of marketing and to prove that “it is working” but the one that everyone can rally around from the Board of Directors to the CEO to the brand new employee is revenue.  This is not a truly high bar but can be unforgiving as you seek to find the best mix of programs, messaging, target markets, and products but great CMOs know that the best measure of their success is viewed through the sales pipeline – whether you are building brand awareness in a consumer world or qualified lead flow in a B2B one.

2.  Constantly try new things through lower cost trial projects

The pace of change and innovation in how people consume information, where they focus their attention (and for how long), and the channels available for companies to reach them is accelerating and evolving.  The only way to truly understand what works is to embrace what is new, test and validate that it works for you, and then pour it on when you see positive results.  Figure out what your test budget is and then use that for every new program and channel.  Never tried sponsored content before?  Time to understand how you can insert your awesome content (not ads) into the flow of how people are consuming information important to them.  Always outsourced this type of activity to an agency?  Ask them hard questions and if you are not in a position to experiment and try new things yourself, make sure it is part of your engagement scope.

3.  Replace qualitative with quantitative where possible

Marketing has always combined art and science.  The creative and the quantitative.  The good news is that the tools and behaviors of target customers can be analyzed and measured now on a previous unattainable level.  Wherever possible replace “we think” with “we know”, replace “we assume” with “we measure.”  Implement basic web site tracking and compare today vs. yesterday or last week or last month.  Understand the trends and whether they are going up or down.  Stop doing “one size fits all” marketing and make use of list segmentation for email campaigns or targeted engagement for social media.  Each of these activities can be measured and understood in terms of how they relate to #1 (Revenue) above.

4.  Build the right team mapped to how your customers gather information and make purchase decisions

People matter most and if you have the wrong skills on board or those not interested in learning new things, you are in deep trouble.  Since many new marketing technologies and approaches are not part of the traditional marketing playbook, don’t get hung up on the fact someone may not have “done it before.”  Look instead for those who are interested in experimentation, have a large social footprint, and are quick learners.  Grab the best talent you can that aligns with your industry, budget, and go-to-market strategy hiring veterans alongside rookies and getting them focused on the goals and objectives of your organization.

5.  Be transparent with goals, milestones, and progress

All this new experimentation, measurement, and innovation must be shared across the organization.  Marketing is not an exact science so something that works wonderfully the first time may disappoint the next time.  Own this and the successes and failures.  Marketing is a process and methods you use will determine the outcome so make sure you (and your team) know what you are trying to accomplish then share the results generously with others in your company.

What do you think?  What makes a great CMO?

Thanks to all around great guy and venture capitalist Brad Feld for the inspiration for this post.  He recently published a great blog post on “Being a great CEO.”  Read the whole thing!

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