The evolving role of the B2B CMO

Laura Ramos

Laura is a leading expert in business-to-business (B2B) marketing with hands-on senior management experience in corporate, industry, and product marketing; demand management; and social media. Her research addresses the marketing organisational structure, skills, technology, process and customer experience concerns that top marketers need to understand and integrate into programs that address ongoing evolution in buyer behaviour, markets, channels and competition. Laura worked at Forrester from 2001 to 2010, where she started up its B2B marketing practice. Prior to Forrester, Laura held marketing leadership positions at various companies in California's Silicon Valley, including Verity, Stratify (now part of Iron Mountain), Vitria Technology, Sybase, and Tandem Computers.

Digital channels, online social activity, and mobile technology give business buyers unprecedented purchasing power. Just look around your next sales or customer meeting, count the number of smartphones and tablets, and see if you disagree.

To capture the attention of the perpetually-connected business buyer, we see B2B CMOs taking on significantly broader, and often unfamiliar, responsibilities. To learn exactly how top marketers respond to these new world challenges, Forrester teamed with the BMA to conduct a joint study about the pace of change, skills required, and degree of collaboration needed to deliver the always-on experiences business buyers now expect.

Kathy Button Bell, 2013-14 BMA Chair, and I presented the findings from this study of 117 marketing leaders during the BLAZE conference last May. I'm now following this presentation with a new report that takes a closer look at the evolving role of the B2B CMO.

The survey shows that it’s never been a better time to be a B2B marketer. To begin with, B2B marketing executives are enjoying more company clout. Those surveyed indicate that they have taken on greater responsibilities during the past two years that create more peer and boardroom attention. For example, a majority 88 per cent of respondents said their peers turn to them more often for data and insight needed to strategize and plan, and 78 per cent agreed that marketing’s influence on corporate strategy is greater today than it was just two short years ago.

This is a welcome change from the days when marketing's role seldom ventured beyond its confines as the bastion of advertising or the "make it pretty" department.

This new peer and boardroom attention energises many B2B marketing leaders. Yet many also express concerns over the skills and cross-department teamwork needed to meet the rising tide of business expectations. Practically all those surveyed (96 per cent) feel that the breadth of marketing skills needed for their teams to succeed has increased dramatically.

To fill the gap, 60 per cent said they seek out younger workers in the hiring process who have greater technical comfort and facility.

As its role evolves from brand steward and corporate megaphone into custodian of the voice of the customer, marketing leadership is finding new ways to work across functions to architect a customer-obsessed culture companywide. Who are marketers collaborating with today? IT.

Because IT underpins customer-obsessed competitive capabilities, and firms like Amazon.com, Best Buy, and IBM use technology to learn continuously about their customers. This means marketing and IT must work closer together than they have in prior years to ensure that systems support customer expectations as well as business decision-making. More than half of our survey respondents (54 per cent) agree, making IT marketing's most popular collaboration partner.

The report contains many other key insights that show how B2B CMOs have graduated from a walk-on role in some ‘Off-Boardroom’ play to headlining the executive show when they embrace new job mandates and:

  • Keep an eye on strategy, not tactics: Contributing more to business strategy means closer scrutiny from the CEO and the chief financial officer around marketing's impact on company goals. Effective CMOs embrace executive demands for accountability by adopting objectives and metrics linked directly to overall business goals like customer acquisition, retention, market share, and account penetration. They also drop marketing-only metrics — like cost per lead, conversion rates, and campaign return on investment — when reporting on marketing results.

  • Collaborate with peers to obsess over customers: Marketing execs deepen customer engagement when they coordinate input across the enterprise to identify gaps in sales, purchase, and support experiences that inhibit fanatical attention to customer interactions. Empowered customers demand that sellers know them as well as they know the sellers, even before the first sales calls occur. Developing a customer-obsessed perspective to meet this expectation requires more than the marketing department alone. CMOs committed to deeper customer engagement gather input across the enterprise — with the chief information officer (CIO), chief operating officer, and the head of sales, for instance — to identify gaps in customer insight, purchase and implementation experiences, sales engagement, and thought leadership that inhibit fanatical attention to customer interactions.

  • Delegate effectively: Top marketing executives hire well and give their staff, agencies and service providers increasingly more responsibility. Rather than taking on more tactical activity, CMOs prioritise their calendars based on three factors: Strategic importance; customer value; and long-term brand health. If the request doesn't fit one of those categories, they give it to someone else to do.

  • Transform internal perceptions about marketing: Belief that marketing equals brand and advertising persist despite the broader mandate our respondents describe. Top marketers break this mold when they challenge enduring views with data-fuelled insights about marketing's role in driving revenue growth, new market penetration, and customer-led innovation.

Looking beyond this research, we see B2B CMOs who improve their team's agility and simplify peer working relationships moving on to greater corporate leadership opportunities. Key to this transition will be his or her ability to span organisational silos and focus corporate strategy, energy, and budget on enhancing knowledge of and engagement with customers. Those who fail to achieve these ends will move on to different company roles or other careers.

Please find more details of Forrester's research here.

Tags: CMO/CIO relationship, CMO role, marketing career

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