The Two CMO Types

category design market building growth stage marketing consulting mark donnigan
Mark Donnigan

If you are a CEO who feels your B2B marketing does not have a clear connection to the business, you are not alone. A study completed by the marketing consultancy Fournaise discovered that 80% of Chief Executives are not happy with the work their top Marketing leader is doing. 

I submit that the cause is not due to lack of capability but having the wrong type of Marketer in the position. There are two types of marketing leaders. Hire the wrong type for your business objectives, and it won’t matter how impressive a pedigree, education, or years of experience they have. They will fail. 

You should only hire a Chief Marketer able to lead your company to category domination

The two CMO types.

Marketing executives favor one of two foci—1) brand/campaign-driven marketing justified by positive ROI on the marketing spend. 2) business/revenue-centered marketing measured by enterprise value creation. 

In today’s winner takes all competitive marketplace, and with the explosion of choice in the market, the value of branding is not as it was. 

Be wary of the brand marketer CMO.

A brand-focused Marketing leader comes to the company with a remarkable education and pedigree, having held significant titles with big companies. There was a time when the marketing team could control all corporate and product information and messaging with the industry. If a buyer wanted to learn about a new product or explore whether a solution could meet their need, they had no option but to contact the company. 

And then, the Internet happened. And as a result, marketers lost control. No longer did the buyer need the marketing department to give them a one-dimensional and contrived view of the product. Buyers could reach out to others in the industry with whom they respect to get unfiltered information about the market and claims by companies selling into it. 

Answers to questions such as, Who’s real and who isn’t? – Who’s product works, and whose doesn’t? – What’s coming? Now, answers are available with a single post on the appropriate forum or LinkedIn group, and as a result, power has shifted to the buyer.

A brand or campaign-focused marketing leader may stumble today because they view the task of marketing as executing a series of campaigns in which the measure of success is to prove ROI based on previously agreed engagement metrics. This approach is problematic for multiple reasons. 

We know that marketers are no longer in control of the buyer’s journey. It is essential to define a funnel that outlines the gates a prospect must pass on the way to doing business with the company. Buyers can interact with us on the platform of their choosing. As the buying team has expanded to as many as two dozen people, the notion that they will follow our process as we’ve prescribed is rarely true.

If your CMO benchmarks the marketing team’s performance to industry averages and “norms,” watch out. Startup and disruptive innovation companies by definition, do not represent an average. 

Business schools have trained Marketers with a curriculum centered on concepts and strategies that are 50 years old, and this means many CMO’s enter the job thinking their number one mission is to build the brand, when in fact it is to drive revenue.

You need a value creator CMO who is revenue-focused.

A revenue-focused CMO will control the engine behind a CEO’s growth plan. The shift from companies being physical product creators or service providers, to digital technology companies where the product is distributed as software or software as a service through the Internet, has diminished the role of advertising. And is the reason a revenue-focused CMO who is a value creator is what all startups and disruptive innovation companies need today.

Today, marketing requires higher levels of technical capability as a result of the explosion of digital media and the marketing technologies that are associated with online advertising. This transformation has been highlighted by Forrester, citing a 20-year-old transition to digital as the driving force behind CMOs moving from being brand-builders to revenue drivers. Forrester goes on to report that a value creator, revenue-driven Marketer, must be a story maker and not just a storyteller. 

The CMO today must be an expert at designing and leading creative engagement and business strategy to build a category for the company to dominate.

Here are a few ways that a revenue-driven CMO should operate:

  • They will work closely with the sales team to discover and map the buyer’s journey. Where assumptions do not match what is happening in the market, a value creator CMO will get out of the office and spend time in the field. This leader knows that you cannot drive revenue if you aren’t close to where the sale happens. 
  • A revenue-focused CMO creates content targeted at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Think of the buyer’s journey as a set of gates where the content answers the primary questions a buyer has at each step so that they can complete the buying journey.
  • The new generation CMO will collect engagement metrics for each gate while analyzing the success of the end-to-end marketing cycle to deliver the most timely and qualified leads to their sellers. A value creator CMO sees marketing as close allies to the sales team.
  • The revenue-centered CMO is always learning from and refining the process so that they can improve the quantity and quality of leads that contributed to the pipeline and closed business. 
  • Revenue attribution and marketing ROI models will reflect actual results, not extrapolated or “assumed” standards. This information is critical for the revenue-focused CMO to get right because they care about marketing’s impact on the business. 
  • A revenue-focused CMO will focus on how their marketing efforts map to closed/won deals that drive the revenue and business objectives of the company. Vanity metrics like traffic, click-thru rates, CPM, and CTA conversions tell only a piece of the story. 

What to look for in your next CMO.

In the dynamic state of business today, hiring an effective CMO is one of the most challenging things to do. Every market, company, and industry segment is different. Even where you can identify candidates from the same business ecosystem or environment, it’s not enough to simply look at years of experience or education. You need to examine the motivations and thought patterns of the person. Ask: 

Is the CMO a problem solver?

The most significant risk today is on the market side and not technology. A marketing leader who isn’t a problem solver will struggle to deal with the fast-changing nature of the market and ecosystem construction.

Are they a doer?

In most marketing teams, there will be specific experts who can function at the highest level across the range of capabilities required. It’s incumbent for a marketing leader to command respect as a doer. The CMO, who can demonstrate functional ability in the core areas that the team operates, will be more effective than a manager only.

Has the CMO held cross-functional positions?

The best way to ensure that you attract a CMO who is revenue and not brand-driven is to hire someone who has come up through product, sales, and corporate strategy. Having exposure to the inner workings of product and sales is especially useful as business strategy is becoming a more significant part of the CMO’s range of responsibilities.

Do they think in systems or approach business in a structured manner?

As digital has exploded the number of marketing interface points, allowing buyers to disaggregate the company from the buying journey, a CMO must be able to think of systems and frameworks rather than tightly defined marketing lanes. It is no longer sufficient to plan in terms of the social campaign, content marketing campaign, events, and PR, all as separate activities. The successful CMO will start with the business objective they are serving and be willing to question everything. 

Can they communicate outside the walls of the company to the industry?

To become a story-maker, you must be worth listening to. A CMO is in the ideal position to assume the evangelistic role for the company. The most successful CMO’s in any industry are highly visible spokespeople for their company. 

Are they a motivator?

As the CMO will need to work cross-functionally to ensure that they have alignment with product and sales, the marketing head must be a motivator. To build a category requires discussion, negotiation, and the ability to seek and reach an agreement.

Do they enable their team, or operate by command and control?

A CMO who attempts to lead with ultimate authority will struggle to achieve the business goals of the enterprise. Marketing teams today must work as engineering groups function in an agile fashion. Instead of neatly organized 90-day campaign cadences, an agile marketing team executes a steady flow of initiatives while maintaining the flexibility to adjust as the market or business needs dictate. 

Does the CMO understand category design?

I’ve written about category design and why every business needs to own a category to achieve its maximum potential. There is a framework for executing category design. Still, whether a Marketer follows the outline or approaches category design another way, a CMO should be putting regular thought and planning into how they define the category they intend to dominate. Without input from the CEO and other members of the executive team, there is no way to complete a proper category design. 

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