CMOs: Wield Powers of Influence to Gain a Seat at the Executive Table


Share on LinkedIn

As CMOs across industries continue to fight for a seat at the executive table, they should seize the opportunity to do so by helping their organizations become customer centric. In this age of the empowered buyer, successful organizations are the ones that shift from being product and company focused to organizing around prospect and buyer concerns and perspectives. According to McKinsey principal Mary Ellen Coe, “…CMOs need to be stewards of customer engagement and experience, which means they need to manage and influence the experience positively across the organization.”

Gaining the support of the CEO around this initiative should be simple—any CEO worth his or her salt grasps the value of a customer-centric strategy. In fact, Bain & Company has found companies that focus on delivering a great customer experience see revenue growth orders of magnitude higher than their industry peers who fail to do so. But once CEOs mandate this shift, work needs to be done to turn the vision into reality. This is where CMOs can make a noticeable impact.

Understand the Buyer’s Experience

The first step to becoming customer centric is to understand customers in depth. This means gaining insight into everything from the ideal buyer’s challenges, aspirations, attitudes, influencers, and motivators to their content and information preferences. Overall, it requires an understanding of the purchase process from the buyer’s point of view. According to a recent CSOinsights 2012 Sales Performance Optimization survey, a mere 11% of sales people have a strong understanding of their customers’ buying process. A turnaround in this area can boost the top line. The study goes on to say those sales teams that “exceed expectations” in understanding their customer’s buying process can expect their win rate to improve by 38%.

Many organizations understand the value of developing buyer personas to gain this insight. Yet, according to Tony Zambito—who originated the development of buyer personas in 2002—buyer personas are no longer enough. That’s why he developed a new model for understanding buyers, one adopted by the likes of HP with great success.

Once CMOs have undertaken the research necessary to understand their target buyers, they need to socialize the findings throughout the organization so a truly customer-centric understanding and approach can take hold. As Forrester Research analyst Kerry Bodine said, “Once the customer journey is truly understood, CMOs need to help their teams take an honest look at how they influence each touch-point along the way…In addition to understanding their own roles, marketers also need to understand how other internal employees and external partners influence the customer experience…” By rallying the organization and its partners around a customer-centric culture based on this understanding, CMOs can spur changes that affect all areas of the company.

Drive Alignment

If there’s one persistent thorn in the side of many B2B organizations, it’s failure to align sales and marketing. Often the resolution is a matter of someone taking the bull by the horns and dedicating the time and effort needed to hammer out agreements and define and implement processes. CMOs can and should be a driving force in getting marketing and sales seeing eye to eye because marketing is almost always the scapegoat when misalignment prevails. And nothing speaks louder than words when it comes to motivating sales:

  • IDC says B2B companies’ inability to align sales and marketing teams around the right processes and technologies can cost them upwards of 10% or more of revenue per year.
  • According to Aberdeen, 40% of the sales-forecasted pipeline among Best-in-Class companies is generated by marketing, compared with 22% among Industry Average firms and 13% within Laggard companies. Moreover, Best-in-Class companies report a 31.6% average year-over-year growth in corporate revenue, versus 18.7% for Industry Average firms and a 6.7% decline among Laggards.

Need more? F5 successfully aligned sales and marketing and reaped the rewards:

  • Marketing inquiries went from 1.7% of pipeline to 13.2% of pipeline
  • F5 drives $38.70 in pipeline (vs. $2.40 only two years ago) for every $1 in marketing spend

Here’s a case study of the technologies that F5 tapped into as it got its sales and marketing teams on the same page.

For more on the steps needed to get sales and marketing cranking in unison, download this eBook featuring recommendations from leading experts including:

  • Ardath Albee, author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale
  • Andrew Briney, Senior VP and Group Publisher at TechTarget
  • Brian Halligan, CEO and Founder of HubSpot
  • Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling
  • Joe Pulizzi, co-author of Get Content. Get Customers.
  • David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR

Champion Content Marketing

With 70% of tech purchases at the RFP stage by the time the vendor knows about the opportunity, content has become critical to shepherding prospects down the path to purchase. It’s no wonder that content marketing adoption is on the rise across industries. According to the 2012 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report published by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs:

  • 9 out of 10 organizations market with content marketing.
  • On average, B2B marketers employ eight different content marketing tactics to achieve their goals.
  • Marketers, on average, spend over a quarter of their marketing budget on content marketing.

By developing a comprehensive content-marketing initiative, ECI Telecom aligned its content with the buying journey so it could deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time. In the process it increased conversion rates by 136%. Check out this SlideShare case study for details on the process the company took to get there. For further inspiration, see how Kinaxis set itself apart in the marketplace using content (and social media). And for the specifics on how to go about it all, walk through this presentation by Eloqua on how to map content to the buyer’s journey.

Master Your Data Universe

In its first-ever global CMO survey, IBM found that nearly two-thirds of CMOs think that ROI will be the primary measure of the marketing function’s effectiveness by 2015. As Forrester analyst Jeff Ernst saysi , “…to gain respect, keep from being viewed as a cost center and justify budgets; marketing must be a driving force in what tops the agendas of boards of directors, CEOs, and CFOs: sustainable profitable revenue growth.”

With increased scrutiny of the value being delivered by marketing, CMOs need to dive into their data. It doesn’t matter whether that means bringing on dedicated data analysts, working with third-party firms, or tapping into the analytical mindsets and skills of those in the marketing group. The key is to unearth trends and anomalies and make the necessary adjustments, while also tying marketing activities to revenues generated.
Forrester, Metrics that Matter for B2B Marketers

Source: Forrester, Metrics that Matter for B2B Marketers, October 26, 2011

Just as important, CMOs can win influence by sharing these insights with others in the company. According to a McKinsey article on Forbes, “In one company, marketing partnered with the sales team in a ‘Commercial War Room’ to provide support and guidance across the customer journey such as providing customer analysis and developing tailored proposals that led to crucial wins in the field. The marketing team at an industrial wholesaler built a churn prediction model that fed data to the sales function on what and how much customers were buying, and pinpointing who was at risk of leaving.”

By aligning with the growing movement to establish customer-centric cultures, CMOs can spearhead a number of strategies that help their companies gain a leg up on the competition—and gain well-earned respect in the process.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stephanie Tilton
Stephanie Tilton is a content-marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that engages prospects and customers, nurtures leads and advances the buying cycle. She has produced hundreds of white papers, case studies and eBooks for a range of organizations, including some of the world's leading technology companies. She is a founding member of the Savvy B2B Marketing blog, and contributes regularly to the Content Marketing Institute blog.


  1. As you incisively point out, a key element of the CMO role is to help the organization create customer centricity and alignment, a cornerstone of which is to have a single, integrated view of the customer across the entire enterprise. I covered this, and the importance of customer journey data (which you also cited in your blog) shared by all, in a recent presentation:

  2. Hi Stephanie,

    Nice work on illuminating what I consider the many challenges facing the CMO today. There conitnues to be many unknowns and I believe it accounts for the many tactial trials that take place in content marketing as an example. Thank you kindly for the mention in your article and highlighting the need for buyer understanding. This is evolving to a much different level than just a year or two ago – forcing many CMO’s to get predictive and accurate. I am optimistic that plenty of progress will be made by 2015.

    Many thanks,


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here