Friday, October 07, 2005

CMO Survival Guide

Headhunter Spencer Stuart (www.spencerstuart.com) clocked the tenure of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) at b2c companies as 23.7 months, up a full month since the last time they conducted the survey. It seems that CMOs like agencies are hired primarily so they can be blamed and fired after less than 2 years on the job by other C level players, whose average tenure is considerably longer.

Disposable CMOs suggest that marketers have dramatically less perceived value in corporate C suites than CFO bean counters or CIO chief geeks, both of whom hold their jobs, on average, a third longer. CMOs last only half as long as head honcho CEOs, who generally take the heat for overall performance.

Many of the CMOs I’ve worked with have been obsessed with advertising, too focused on their own organizations and unwilling or unable to grasp essential business realities to add value to the operation. Some have spent their tenure kissing the CEOs ass. Others have built themselves an empire which was often at odds with other C level players and frequently seen as irrelevant to the business.

CMOs are easily impressed with their own grandeur and frequently concerned with grabbing as many perks as they can get. They don’t understand that in most companies marketing is seen as a necessary expense and annoyance rather than the Great White Hope.

So for a bracing splash of reality, consider these CMO survival tips:


1. Don’t Automatically Fire the Agency.

Most CMOs fire the agency during the first 60 days on the job. They think they need to put their personal stamp on the brand, revamp the advertising and start fixing all the things that their predecessor screwed up.

This is usually a deadly trap. The agency can actually teach you about the business. The agency always has internal allies and partisans who then become your immediate enemies and detractors. And it’s rarely about the ads. Switching one parity agency for another just kicks over the table and builds in transition and ramp-up time, which for some CMOs means breathing room before they have to deliver.

In most cases the brand advertising campaign costs the most and yields the least tangible benefit to the business. Your big, bold, new idea not only has to pass muster with risk averse and troglodyte superiors, it’s rarely going to change things. And more often than not it becomes a lightening rod for internal or external criticism of your performance.

2. Learn How the Business Works.

CMOs are expected to be something more than traveling ad makers. Few CEOs and boards are happy for a senior player to travel his or her one big idea from company to company. And in spite of your experience, all firms are not essentially a like at the operational level. Get your head out of the clouds or out of your ass and focus carefully on how the business operates and how the parts come together or don’t.

The typical company is composed of a dysfunctional collection of duchies that tolerate each other and every so often interact successfully. Many CMOs can add value and gain allies by resolving internal battles, directly addressing outstanding pains or getting marketing to work better, sooner or more easily with some other part of the business.

Suck up your pride and embrace units like call centers, database teams, event units and field marketing; groups who handle lots of messy details and who are often either undervalued or frequently complained about. Integrate them into the marketing organization and get them supporting, rather than sabotaging, your plan of attack.

3. Make Nice to Sales and IT.

These are generally the two biggest competitors for CEO attention and corporate resources. In most companies the struggle between these organizations is on-going and titanic. Too many CMOs spent their time building a marketing empire to parallel or confront these other, larger and more potent empires. But when the inevitable clash comes, Marketing almost always loses.

Marketing is always the weak sister because unlike Sales, it brings in zero revenue. And marketing, unlike IT, is not perceived as mission critical nor can it quantify, justify or rationalize huge investments the way IT can. Therefore strategic concessions and a willingness to share resources is a much more effective tactic than trying to take on players who are usually more entrenched and usually perceived as heavier weights.

Smart CMOs align themselves with Sales and defer to CIOs. They avoid competing for technology resources by relying on agencies and outside vendors and they try to pick their battles over the choice and installation of CRM software. And they work hard to be sure that the campaigns running directly attack the same audiences that Sales is attacking and they get access to the pipeline and sales planning..

The smartest CMOs buddy up with the Sales leadership, throw them an occasional bone or boondoggle and get cozy with the CIO, who ultimately can save or screw you.

4. Measure Everything.

Because no one believes Marketing adds to revenues, a savvy CMO must prove that he or she carefully and productively spends the marketing budget and that allocations made yield strong returns in terms of awareness, leads, future sales and customer or partner satisfaction.

Soft measures like brand value, brand rankings and purchase intent don’t get attention or credibility among CFO and CEO types who are constantly looking to slice the marketing budget and apply the savings directly to the bottom line to meet Wall Street’s forecasts and expectations. Face it -- at the CMO level you are playing a different game than you are used to. All the big ideas and creativity in the world doesn’t matter.

Most C level players still think the marketing budget is too big and mostly wasted. The CMO has to prove them wrong and have the stats to do so at your finger tips. If you don’t know and can cite your cost-per-lead, cost-per-acquisition, cost-per-service call and if you don’t have a handle on the sales pipeline you are not in the game.

It helps if you can do more with less and document the efficiencies you’ve created. Often measures of internal efficiencies, de facto evidence of C level business management skills, can deflect questions about the ultimate impact of marketing spend on revenues. It’s a numbers not a pictures game at the CMO level. If you don’t have a dedicated and trusted numbers guy handcuffed to your wrist, you will not beat the 23 month mark.

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