Old CMOs, New CMOs and Broken Marketing Organizations

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This is the first in a series of posts about CMOs and the challenges they face.

Our team recently spent time pondering common threads pertaining to broken marketing departments, CMOs who fix (or try to fix) them, and how executives in other functions perceive their performance. Some blog posts and articles from GigaOM, Tippingpoint Labs, and Marketing Week fuelled our discussion of this complex set of issues.

It’s no secret that the average CMO tenure is short relative to those of other executives. What accounts for this? That’s not an easy question to answer, but here are some of the usual suspects:

  • poor sales performance
  • perceived CMO’s contribution value is low in the overall profit-loss context
  • inability to tie marketing investments to specific sales or improved productivity
  • CMO’s emphasis on more abstract values (e.g., branding) instead of the concrete (e.g., metrics)
  • dependence on technology instead of fixing behaviors and processes

Note that we’re not assigning blame. The list represents perceptions, which are usually more important than reality.

Forbes contributor John Ellett is writing a series of CMO profiles and recently interviewed Kimberly-Clark president Tony Palmer. (Palmer was promoted to that position after an outstanding six-year stint as CMO.) In that article, Ellet distilled his wisdom about CMO departures to four causes:

  • They failed to meet expectations and were asked to leave.
  • The boss failed and was replaced; and the new boss cleaned house.
  • They attained their goals, became bored, and sought a new challenge.
  • They had a dramatic positive impact on the business and earned a promotion to president, CEO or COO.

Here’s another interesting (if tangential) facet of this discussion: Adrian Ott, in a Fast Company blog post, reports on career expert Kathryn Ullrich’s new book that describes career paths to the CMO/VP Marketing position. It turns out that only 1/3 of individuals who arrived there did so by virtue of their marketing experience. Significant numbers of these folks had other backgrounds, e.g. domain expertise, sales, analytic/strategic. The analytical background might be a surprise, but it makes perfect sense with the current emphasis on search engine marketing and social media.

New CMOs typically face difficult challenges. If a predecessor was great, matching that level of performance will be the minimum expectation. And in some cases, the bar will be even higher. On the other hand, landing in a broken organization is fraught with peril. Meeting the “miracle worker” standard – always implied, if not stated explicitly – can be very tough.

Would an immediate investment in the latest marketing technologies and tools – if none are in use – yield significant improvements quickly?

We are (obviously) huge technology fans and believe in the power of automation and the Internet to dramatically improve marketing effectiveness. That said, we do not recommend undertaking a technology implementation without a thorough review of a new environment.

Where does one start?

We’ll explore that question in subsequent posts.

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