Why Marketing Automation Is Driving a Bigger Role for the CMO

Not too long ago I had a wide-ranging conversation with Steve Herrera on the expanding role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the marketing organization within the enterprise. Steve knows about such things because he’s a director with SEBA International‘s Go-to-Market executive search practice, which specializes in placing marketing executives within some of the most noteworthy companies in the country. He spends a lot of time speaking with chief executives (CEOs) and boards of directors about what they need their CMOs to accomplish.

There’s no doubt that the role of marketing is undergoing some rather radical changes. Once a sub-discipline to the sales organization and tasked with generating leads, creating sales collateral, and organizing customer events, “the CMO is playing a much larger stakeholder role these days, and expanding into just about every function in one way or the other,” says Herrera. “Take sales as an example. The hand-off from marketing to sales now happens far further down the funnel than it did just a few short years ago. Many CMOs now have revenue targets to meet.”

And that’s just the beginning. The marketing group now works collaboratively with product development, engineering, technology, and customer service; many CMOs are assigned specific goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for these added functions. And, thanks to their seats at the CEO’s table, CMOs are influencing the strategic direction of the company as a whole. Perhaps that explains why so many are asked to meet with the board of directors, and are paraded out at stockholder meetings to present the company vision.

What’s driving the CMO’s newfound cache? As Herrera rather astutely pointed out, it all comes down to technology. “Over the past five years we’ve seen the advent of sophisticated tools for marketing automation, demand generation tools, and audience segmentation,” he says. “As a result, we have a tremendous amount of information available that allows us to track the movements of the consumer, and it’s all measurable. The technology has led to the expansion of the scope of the CMO role.”

In other words, the tools that are now available to the marketing organization allow them to get super close to the consumer, and keep their thumbs on the pulse of the market. They can measure the smallest of changes in sentiment, and assess when consumer behavior indicates a need for new products or features. The earlier these signals are detected, the quicker the product roadmap can be updated to meet customer demand. No wonder the CMO’s input is in hot demand; marketing can quickly detect and articulate what the consumer wants, and provide ample data to prove it.

For their part, consumers tend to reward companies with that level of responsiveness with long-term brand loyalty.

Of course, collecting the data and knowing how to glean actionable insights from it are two different skills. And frankly, the data-collection technology is outpacing the marketer’s skill in knowing how to use it to make strategic business decisions. Right now the CMO’s biggest challenge lies not in data analytics, but knowing how to use those analytics to make recommendations on a wide range of issues that touch just about every department within the corporation. Marketing automation tools will get the CMO just so far, after that it comes down to instinct – the ultimate people skill.

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