Why CMOs need to adapt their skills to their corporate environment

Former chief marketing officer and now president of Tibco's social computing division, Ram Menon, shares his thoughts on why marketing today must be a data-driven game and why the role of CMO isn't one-size-fits-all

The role of chief marketing officer (CMO) is dependent on a company’s maturity and organic lifecycle, not a one-size-fits-all approach, even as data-driven outcomes become increasingly important.

That’s the view of former CMO and current president of social computing at infrastructure management software vendor, Tibco, Ram Menon, who caught up with CMO to discuss the changing nature of marketing as well as its role in technology companies today.

A former engineer, Menon moved into the enterprise software space 20 years ago and made his marketing debut at Tibco in 1999. After eight years as CMO, he founded the vendor’s social computing business in 2011 and is now responsible for leading beta products creation, product vision, global sales and pre-sales strategy, and driving new customer acquisition around its tibbr social workplace platform.

According to Menon, not all CMO jobs are alike. “Most of the changes people talk about around the role of CMO are not really related to their skill set but the company they are marketing, and what stage of the organic lifecycle it is at,” he claimed.

“If you are a product-oriented CMO, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unfit, you’ve just got to focus on doing that and joining companies in that phase of maturity where your skill set will be highly valued. If you are a brand CMO, choose the place where the brand is the next big mission for the company to complete.”

Menon outlined four stages in a technology company’s evolution to reflect how the role of the CMO differs depending on maturity. For example, marketers in startups need to focus on pre-sales, and have historically had an emphasis on crafting material about their products, as well as keeping the websites running, he said.

“In our early years at Tibco, it was very important to have someone who understood the technology to do the translation to market,” he said of his time initially at the US-based vendor.

The second stage is where a company has been successful and needs to reach a wider audience. “At that point, the strategy is different [as a marketer] and the skill set changes,” Menon continued.

“The ability to translate complex technology into three or four crisp value propositions is now highly important, because you’re talking about a more mainstream user and not an early adopter who you can dance the jig with because you’re technology nerds. Now when you sell to a mainstream person, you need to speak in a clear marketing language.”

The third phase of corporate evolution requires the CMO to have a greater role in product development and direction, and to increasingly focus on revenue growth, Menon said. “Everyone in the company is looking to him or her to drive growth and lead generation,” he said.

“Then you get to the final stage, which is where Tibco is at now, where you are a recognised brand. Our brand denotes trust, great technology and we have 4000 customers in more than 80 countries. It’s at this point that umbrella brand marketing becomes important. What does your brand stand for, and what’s your direction?”

Data-driven necessity

Whatever stage CMOs are at, Menon strongly advocated taking a data-driven approach, pointing out that CMOs must think in terms of outcomes and ROI. Although data isn’t a new phenomenon for marketers, Menon claimed the way it is applied in these emerging scenarios is new.

This has become more achievable thanks to the rise of cost-effective and simple data analytics tools available via the cloud, he said.

“Marketers are crossing their own personal chasm and realising that colour, palette and font are not as important as knowing how many people could use the product; what their demographic or sub-demographic is; what the buyer inflection point is; and what are the right engagement metrics to use,” Menon claimed.

“These are the new weapons you use to stalk your prey.”

Menon also linked the need to utilise data back to his four stages of marketing.

“When you’re a product-oriented CMO, you used to print a bunch of data sheets and mail them out, or you went to a trade show and handed out bags and information. If the colours were right, you got an A+,” he said.

“Today, almost 57 per cent of technology buyers and even many consumer buyers have already done their research and have made an opinion before they come to talk to you. Data-driven marketing means trying to influence that process even before those customers find you.”

Growth-led CMOs need to data to drive more effective lead generation, making their website the primary lead generator to address more digitally savvy customers while utilising other channels, such as social media, to share how their organisations can solve their problems, Menon continued.

Brand-oriented CMOs, meanwhile, need to find people who may not even know what their company does. In this case, data helps an organisation to understand whether the brand is associated with the right sentiments, emotions and how to measure that, Menon said.

Data is at the heart of how Tibco’s social computing business operates. The division is tasked with for driving uptake of the company’s social platform, tibbr, which launched in 2011 and is an extension of its global brand. Menon said it launched the sub-brand to attract both traditional enterprise customers as well as mid-market users.

To take its own message to market, the group has adopted a three-pronged marketing “trifecta”: Buyer profiling; trial software distribution and monitoring; and improving customer acquisition.

“Try before they buy is the most important goal for a marketer nowadays in technology,” Menon claimed. “Once those users are trying, you’re watching what they’re doing, how many times they come back, what is forwarded to their friends and you get a good sense of the buyer profile.

“You need data-driven tools to predict the buying signals. Software will help you translate what’s happening on your trial site, and that’s a buying signal you can take to your sales team. You’re not spraying and praying anymore.

“That’s what we’re doing in the social computing group with new products; marketing is in our DNA.”

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