Why CMOs Are Facing Extinction

The role of the CMO as we know it is facing unprecedented threats, and possibly extinction. If you are a senior B2B marketing executive or CMO, pay attention to these trends now. Here is why the time is ripe to reframe your role within your organization:

  1. Budgets are shifting. Gartner Group predicts that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs within the next five years. Lines of responsibility have blurred across these organizations. CMOs can no longer rely on their creative and business generalist abilities. Nick Eades, CMO of mobile technology firm Psion, stresses that "there's still room for the creative side of marketing, but without a data-centric approach, it would not have a proper context." Will CMOs choose to hoard their budgets, or create cross-functional teams with IT and sales to build initiatives that drive community-wide mind share and market share?
  2. Social media exacerbates cross-departmental and customer tensions. Changing social norms, fueled by social media, have caused unprecedented departmental tensions, and are driving CMOs to shift from pushing their ideas to listening more proactively to their ever-expanding community. In the world of transparency, how many companies can truly say that they are in control of their brand, message, pricing, and product quality? How can CMOs intelligently process and filter through the nonstop cacophony from Facebook, LinkedIn, customer forums, and countless media outlets?
  3. The democratized web spawns confusion and trust issues. Today, everyone can become a blogger and an expert in their field. I saw this trend take shape in 2002, when masses of displaced executives became coaches. All they needed to do was sell their services and launch a website to qualify. The same pattern has emerged with the "social media expert" movement. Whom can you trust, and who are the real experts in your field?
  4. Pressure to demonstrate a return on investment with marketing has reached a fever pitch. This came to light when I recently met the CMO of a large nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C. He lamented the cost and challenges associated with measuring marketing ROI. "When I seek approval for my key initiatives from the CEO, she wants facts and figures. I cannot always prove the return on our marketing investments in the short term. A lot of what we do is unchartered territory. And our Google Analytics can only tell a partial story. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place because we would love our online efforts to drive more revenue, but we cannot afford the high-end marketing analytics software." While the web has spawned powerful free tools and apps, SaaS vendors within the marketing analytics field are raking in huge profits. The disparity could mark the demise of pricey marketing analytics solutions and only fuel more angst among today's marketing leaders. (CRM deja vu, anyone?)
  5. Lines of responsibility across marketing and sales are disintegrating. According to sales guru Neil Rackham, many companies now expect marketing teams to drive transactional sales growth. Sales no longer has that exclusive responsibility. IBM and GE Solutions are starting to do this. In a recent issue of Marketing Week, Rackham explains that "GE Solutions has split its marketing into ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ groups. The upstream group focuses on product development, and the downstream group focuses on working with the sales teams.” Rackham posits that the downstream group "can create a lot of the tools and wisdom which can help the sales team to add value and select the right opportunities in the consultative process.”

I am worried about CMOs. These game-changing trends will threaten the old marketing guard. I want marketing organizations to gain greater influence and impact on today's organizations. I want them to thrive. We need CMOs to teach stakeholders the power of building a customer-centric culture and community. Who else can do that as adroitly as CMOs? They have direct access to customers, the board, and sales channels. That's why my upcoming posts will focus on organizations determined and destined to stave off extinction. Please share your thoughts and CMO success stories here, and I will continue to do the same.

[Image: Flickr user Jes]

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18 Comments

  • Lisa Nirell

    Virginia, thank you for sharing your prediction.

    After reading your commentary, I am left with these questions: How does the VP of Sales fit into the burgeoning CMO-CIO alliance? Sales has traditionally heard the voice of the customer on a daily basis. How will that communications channel support or collide with the CMO-CIO agenda?

  • Virginia Sharma

    Interesting PoV. As a regional CMO I am already evolving my role into becoming a "Chief Marketing Technologist" which will enable me to deliver better ROI through technologies such as analytics, social business, smarter commerce. Earlier this year about my 2012 predictions on the CMO role and here is what I shared: We will start seeing marketing and IT come together on key initiatives to drive significantly higher ROI of both marketing and IT budgets. Marketing and IT will go into business together and the successful alliances in the market will financially enable more strategic risk taking by CMOs. Both roles will collectively wield more influence in the boardroom, than individually and if played well, they will become the left and right hands of the CEO and define the long term business strategy for the company. CMOs will become the voice of the customer; will come out looking like heroes; because IT initiatives with strong business alignment and sponsorship are inevitably successful!  I discuss this more on my blog:

  • Olivier J Cale

    This is once again the same old song: that one being taunted by all sorts of new age marketing experts, trying so hard to look & sound oh so avant-garde by displaying a  breakthrough headline to sell their next episode:  as for those who invented the Internet or decided to dress cool by blaming global warming on modern industrialization for the past 50 years rather than considering the bigger picture, the data & the documented global temperature cycles that existed well before human CO2 contribution, the CMO’s extinction is an easy-sell theme, a popular urban legend in tabloid marketing circles…I find that not only the reasons given in this paper for the theory of extinction of the CMO are distorted, redundant & incomplete but that, on the contrary, we are indeed living a defining time of evolutionary stage for marketers that should eventually see us regain more leadership in the C suite of more & more corporations; read my substantiaited 5 points response on my own blog: leBrandDoctor.blogspot

  • Olivier J Cale

    why are not posting my comments after more than 24 hours ? Are you filtering comments or analysis that are  exposing contradiction from your "expert bloggers" ? Is it a scripted, non open discussion  ?

  • Lisa Nirell

    Martin, Sorry, I meant to say "myriad CMO interviews I am conducting." :-)

  • Lisa Nirell

    Martin, Your comments are congruent with the myriad CMOs I am conducting. Thankfully, new companies such as Marketo, Hubspot, and Eloqua provide tools that help them track the ROI of their initiatives.Some things, however, cannot be measured. How do you measure the health of your brand? The quality of customers you attract? The cadence of innovation compared to your peers and competitors? That is where the right brain and the left brain of the CMO need to work in harmony. Thank you for posting!

  • Olivier J Cale

    This Fast Company published blog is once again the same old song: that one being taunted by all sorts of new age marketing experts, trying so hard to look & sound oh so avant-garde by displaying a  breakthrough headline to sell their next episode:  as for those who invented the Internet or decided to dress cool by blaming global warming on modern industrialization for the past 50 years rather than considering the bigger picture, the data & the documented global temperature cycles that existed well before human CO2 contribution, the CMO’s extinction is an easy-sell theme, a popular urban legend in tabloid marketing circles…
    I find that not only the reasons given in this paper for the theory of extinction of the CMO are distorted, redundant & incomplete but that, on the contrary, we are indeed living a defining time of evolutionary stage for marketers that should eventually see us regain more leadership in the C suite of more & more corporations; here’s why:
    http://lebranddoctor.blogspot....

  • Martin Gilliard

    This is a great article that highlights trends that have been evolving for years. For the CMO, the issue has mainly been that unlike operations, sales or finance departments, marketing lacks the appropriate tools to measure their business decisions. Making decisions on gut will lead to either the fall of the CMO (currenty only an 18 month tenure on average) or a redefinition of the role which may mean combining with sales.

  • Teri Ross

    I disagree. Per point #4, the role of the CMO is changing. With metrics available to them with which to identify the ROI of their marketing efforts, it just steps up the game. As marketing pioneer John Wanamaker once stated, "I know that 50% of my advertising works, I just don't know which half" is no longer viable. CMOs are now accountable for driving revenue. Their new role is a hybrid of the CMO, CTO and CFO, which means that the new CMO is tech savvy and knows how to automate and analyze all marketing efforts across multiple channels so as to identify ROI and better utilize marketing dollars. They aren't becoming more extinct, they are becoming more valuable ... at least the good ones are.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Teri, In SOME companies, CMOs are being held accountable for driving revenue. In other firms, they are still being measured on activity levels (e.g., number of marketing programs at play, number of Twitter followers, etc.)

    In a future post, I will share an infographic that demonstrates the multiple elements that a CMO needs to master to become more valuable. Stay tuned and be sure to register for RSS feeds here, or at blog.energizegrowth.com.

  • Jon Russo

    A thought provoking article…that said, I’d
    suggest a different title and broader view looking through the eyes of the customer. 
    A B2B buyer’s approach to buying has changed, and as
    that happens, marketing, sales, and organizations overall need to change else
    risk business relevance.  Bullets 1 and 4
    are symptomatic of the trend that with newer technologies (CRM, marketing automation,
    social via Radian6, etc.), B2B marketing can for the first time really account
    for its investments and track to a granular level what is happening with new
    customer acquisition as well as upsell opportunity.  With this new accountability and new way of
    thinking, the ‘older’ way of acquiring customers leveraging ‘squishy’
    non-accountable creative or broadcast-type advertising acquisition or those
    organizations rooted in ‘trade show mentality’ is no longer relevant.    Marketing also has to be as fluent in finance as
    they are in the business strategy overall.  

    Sales
    leadership are feeling a similar pressure of change, too – why hire pricey, global
    field sales reps when automation can do the heavy lifting, identify the most
    ripe prospects, target more selectively, to then focus on the meaningful meaty
    prospect conversations rather than the fatty suspects? 
    This lends to the rise of importance of less expensive, more
    transactional inside sales roles and clear roles for revenue accountability
    between sales-inside sales & marketing. 
    So to net it out, good start of an article but would suggest a different
    title and broader view.  Jon Russo

  • Lisa Nirell

     Jon, It looks like you have the foundation to write your own article: "Why Traditional Sales and Marketing Roles are Becoming Extinct." Nice work.

    My post was not intended to discuss the current trends in Sales.
    Feel free to share your future article with me offline at lisa
    search, I will quote you in a future post. Thanks!

  • Erin McAfee

    Incredibly relevant. I am finding CMOs are becoming CROs - Chief Revenue Officers. Rightly so. CFOs count the money...but we make it. Marketing must always maintain their importance as a BU within the framework of their organization. The beauty of being a marketer in today's global business climate is this: we are the creatives and muses while analyzing and recalibrating...reinvention is our stock and trade for our external brands...why not let it be our mission for our internal business strategy as well!

  • Lisa Nirell

     Hello Erin - Good comment! NOTE TO ALL CMOs and VP's of Marketing: Gandhi was onto something when he said "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." The same applies to CMOs. The highly valued, precious currency in our new economy is resilience.

  • Louis House

    Great read Lisa! Thank you! I think the CMO as defined by the "present structures" in the business world, is on the brink of extinction. A new "job description" is needed in order to maintain the value and unique role they play. You said it very well, their viewpoint, access and understanding is something an organization cannot go without. It is unique to the role and the skills it possess. Markets shift, consumers mature and evolve... as a result roles, structures and players must also evolve. I can't wait to read the next post! 

  • Lisa Nirell

     Hi Louis, the next post is underway. I will also include a video from my recent interview with Mike Volpe, CMO of Hubspot.

    What key traits would you recommend for the CMO role of tomorrow?

  • Sharon Little

    This just scratches the surface of the changes coming. I think measurable social will shift how CMO's allocate budget, staff their teams and enage customers in significant ways. Impact to brand, advertising, collateral, lead gen - success metrics will change.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Sharon, Very intriguing comment.

    I am going to report on my lessons from Friday's Mid Atlantic Marketing Conference soon. One of the panelists indicated that "return on engagement" versus "number of page views" is one example of the new success metrics in play.

    How are CMOs allocating budget differently these days? Would love to hear more about your experiences.

    Thank you for the comment, Lisa