Why Old Marketing Definitions Fail to Deliver in the C-suite

Over the past month, I have met privately with dozens of CMOs. Many of them are feeling like the tree that fell in the forest. They cannot determine if anyone can really hear them.

Their biggest frustration–particularly among high-growth and mid-sized organizations–is their inability to win the hearts and minds of the C-suite. Is it because they lack talent, communications skills, or chutzpah? Not at all. I believe their current perceived role is limiting them from reaching their true potential.

When I reflect on the most common construct for an organization’s perceived definition of a CMO’s role, an image of “brand ambassador and service provider” emerges.

copyright 2012, Lisa Nirell, all rights reserved.

Don’t get me wrong. The above model has served marketing teams well for decades. It guides special events, social media experiments, re-branding, advertising campaigns, and more. The bad news is that it has three limitations: it has become outdated (see my previous FastCompany post), it forces CMOs into reactive order taker mode. Additionally, it makes many executives feel as if they can master marketing in just a few easy steps.

Here’s an example. During my recent CMO breakfast in Washington, DC, the VP of a fast-growing B2B firm told me that “our CEO keeps his hands in every aspect of marketing, which makes it very difficult to get things done. He really believes that he understands marketing.” A marketing-meddling CEO may work for a firm with 50 employees, but not one that is approaching 500 professionals.

The need for a CMO’s team to research, create, launch, and measure effective initiatives will never disappear. In fact, it will intensify, and revenue performance management will become commonplace at each phase of campaigns and buyer/seller interactions. But the “service provider” construct is just a narrow lens into a CMO’s leadership potential. As the lines across functional areas and budgets continue to blur, CMOs will continue to impact many other initiatives within their organizations.

I recently worked with a professional services client in the Southeastern U.S. who was stuck in the order taker paradigm. The CEO and Chairman of the Board aspired to be known as a client-centric firm with a strong brand. They boasted 87 years of success, a marquis client list, and highly experienced advisors. Yet they barely harnessed the power of their marketing team to achieve these goals. The VP of Marketing was essentially treated like an errand boy, available at the beck and call of their top sales producers. Their ability to truly become a market leader is gradually fading as the chief rainmakers and founders transition into retirement.

Let’s assume for a moment that your company is truly motivated and willing to make the shift toward a market leader and a customer-centric organization. What new responsibilities and knowledge must your marketing leaders embrace to accelerate that transformation? I see seven:

Old CMO competencies New CMO competencies
Lead generation and awareness builder Customer experience modeler
CIO ally Technology strategist
Marketing organization builder Cross-functional organization expert
Internal talent developer Virtual team leader (internal and external alliances)
Multi-channel sales enabler Revenue generator
Brand ambassador Culture ambassador
Marketing campaigns strategist Marketing ROI guru

copyright 2012, Lisa Nirell, all rights reserved.

In a future post, I will explore these key competencies in more detail and share examples of CMO revolutionaries. In the meantime, consider which competencies you are lacking, and the impact on your organization’s growth.

Will your marketing organization be known as an order taker or a market maker? Mastery in these seven areas could be the trailhead you need to navigate the ever-changing CMO landscape and thick underbrush.

copyright 2012, Lisa Nirell, all rights reserved.

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