Why today's CMO will be tomorrow's CEO

Scott Brinker

Scott Brinker is the CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company specialising in post-click experiences. He is also the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where he covers the intersection of marketing, technology and management.

It's not easy being a CMO today. The scope of your job is larger than ever.

Your biggest increase in responsibility is the definition and delivery of customer experiences. It started with responsibility for marketing-oriented digital touchpoints, such as your website, your mobile apps, and your social media presence – no small mission unto itself.

But your responsibility has grown even more because in search engines and social media, most of what is associated with your brand is what other people have to say about you. Your best bet for assuring your brand is represented well is to make sure that people have great experiences with your company, at every stage of the customer lifecycle. This means you're now working closer with product development, operations and customer service to authentically live up to your brand promise.

You're also working more closely with sales. Part of this is because prospects are spending much more time engaging in their own pre-sales education – the domain of digital marketing – before connecting with salespeople. But in addition, once they're ready to talk with someone in sales, they expect greater continuity with their online experiences. This raises the bar on sales enablement and marketing/sales alignment.

Of course, you're partnering with IT on how to leverage technology to deliver all these great experiences. You're up to your eyeballs in data and software, and you're becoming increasingly experienced with the dynamics of technology strategy and operations. You're developing your own technical staff, from data scientists to marketing technologists, and learning how to manage them effectively.

As part of the new accountability of marketing, and the evolutionary shift from marketing as merely an expense to marketing as an attributable source of revenue, you're working more closely with the CFO and the finance side of the house. Also, since your budget is growing, now incorporating more capital investments, and you have a more direct stake in investments made by other departments, your proficiency with the language and logic of corporate finance is steadily increasing.

Is there any department in the organisation you're not collaborating with these days?

At the same time, your traditional responsibilities within marketing are still as important as ever – arguably more so.

Marketing communications must fight to be heard over a cacophony of content. To stand out, your storytelling must be far more compelling than the schlock brochures we could get away with 10 years ago. You are pushing the boundaries of creativity.

Thanks to social media, public relations has outgrown fluffy press releases and canned analyst briefings to become the art of genuinely relating to the public, especially around difficult moments that can erupt on Twitter within a flash (#holycrap). You are becoming adept at operating under the pressures of real-time marketing.

Your own department is a microcosm of disruptive innovation. You're reorganising to deal with converged media. You're restructuring for a new generation of marketing operations and marketing technology capabilities. You're embracing data-driven decision making, without losing sight of the value of experience, intuition and judgment. You're encouraging widespread use of controlled experiments to pursue bolder ideas with less risk. You're adopting new management approaches such as agile and lean.

You're practicing the diplomatic role of change agent every day.

And beyond the walls of your company, you're now managing the intersection of a plethora of external providers: Ad agencies, digital agencies, specialist agencies, marketing service providers, design firms, management consultants, systems integrators, PR firms, research analysts, and a rouges gallery of freelance experts, contributors, and influencers. Your contract negotiation skills are well-honed.

As I said, it's not easy being a CMO today. But can you imagine any better preparation for being CEO?

You will be experienced collaborating with nearly every function in the company. You will understand not just marketing but also strategy, finance, IT, sales and operations. You will be accomplished at coordinating and balancing these different interests. You will have a successful track record of championing innovation. And you will have brought all these elements together under the banner of delivering amazing customer experiences in a demanding world.

Your experience, knowledge and sheer stamina will be invaluable.

And that's why today's CMO will be tomorrow's CEO.

Tags: leadership, data-driven marketing, marketing careers, CMO role

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