The CMO Challenge: Success Depends on Customer-Centricity and More Collaboration

PHOTO: John Cameron

The expectations put on CMOs to spur business growth continue to mount higher – and the uptick isn’t likely to let up anytime soon.

While challenging, this landscape gives opportunistic CMOs a chance to really differentiate themselves, not just as marketing leaders, but also as broader innovators playing a crucial role in guiding their brand’s overall business strategy. To reach that promised land, today’s CMOs must adapt to – and thrive within – a marketing environment that is quickly shifting from a focus on promoting the brand itself to a focus on the customer and their experiences at each brand touchpoint.

For more traditionally-minded CMOs, a clearer blueprint is emerging as to what this change looks like. A select group of their colleagues have been blazing a trail of success by truly advocating for their customers, shaping their organizations around customer experiences by fostering closer collaboration among previously siloed business units, and achieving undeniably impressive growth metrics.

CMO-Led Collaboration: The Key to Customer-Centric Organizations

A recent study from Accenture (pdf), which surveyed 935 CMOs and 564 CEOs across 17 industries and 12 different countries, found the CMO’s role is undergoing a rapid transformation. Of that large sampling, only 17% of CMOs reported distinguishing themselves as growth drivers. The signature attribute among this minority? An obsession with the quality of customer experiences, and a dedication to spreading that obsession to every corner of their organizations, such that it becomes embedded into every brand interaction.

The survey also finds a common acknowledgement of this fundamental change: three in four CMOs agree that traditional techniques cannot compete with the efforts of collaborative CMOs who focus on customer-brand experiences. At the same time, these top-quintile CMOs are undeniably effective growth generators. Analysis from this study indicates that an investment portfolio of businesses employing collaborative, customer-focused CMOs would outperform a portfolio of traditionally-led businesses by an average of 11% per year. That is the real, achievable difference in growth and success that these initiatives bring to the table.

Related Article: Beyond the Campaign: The Times They Are A-Changing for CMOs

CMO-Led Collaboration Spurs Growth

Brands are realizing (arguably much later than they should) that every decision and practice at every level of the business ultimately impacts the experiences the brand provides to customers. For this reason, collaboration between teams, departments and members of the C-suite is non-negotiable in order to pursue flexible strategies and realign the organization around delivering experiences that will win customers over and keep them coming back.

A majority of organizations now acknowledge that the CMO is the right leader to orchestrate this pan-organizational collaboration. The CMO’s visibility and insights into who customers are and their specific wants and needs, as well as the CMO’s role as the chief customer advocate within the organization, uniquely qualify the CMO to oversee a culture of customer obsession.

Related Article: Are We Developing the Dickens of Customer Experiences?

Sparking Customer Obsession From Top to Bottom

CMOs need buy-in from senior leadership to be effective in this role. Often easier said than done, this calls for opening entrenched silos across sales, customer service, marketing, and other business functions to new and more collaborative processes. And while a corporate culture devoted to customer experience must start from the top, the CMO’s leadership must bring this mindset to each employee to fully achieve the desired results.

That said, building a customer-centric organization can naturally go hand-in-hand with building employee satisfaction, as employees take pride in the positive customer experiences they’re delivered and gain satisfaction in their closer coordination with colleagues.

Unfortunately for brands, only 34% of organizations surveyed have thus far established a culture of customer obsession. To overcome the challenge of deconstructing silos and establishing cross-functional efforts, CMOs should identify and utilize KPIs that are shared across teams and functions, while aligning each internal process with the delivery of positive customer experiences. The survey also indicates that the earlier a business adopts a collaborative customer-focused culture, the earlier it will begin to reap the benefits.

Related Article: How Winning CMOs Are Driving Growth

Leveraging Marketing Technology – Within the Right Strategic Framework

To create and deliver personalized, hyper-relevant customer experiences, elite CMOs are quick to replace legacy processes and embrace new marketing technology that provides the agility to meet evolving customer needs. This includes utilizing powerful analytics and data-backed insights to more confidently introduce new customer experiences and pursue unconventional growth strategies. There is plenty of room for improvement here, as only 31% of CMOs reported having made investments in new marketing technology, such as AI.

As CMOs foster collaboration across the C-suite to unite efforts around delivering stellar customer experiences, the CMO’s relationship with the CIO is one to pay particularly close attention to, as collaboration here can breed shared ownership and responsibility over marketing technologies.

Related Article: When it Comes to Martech, Do You Swing Right, Left or Are You a Centrist?

Collaboration Goes Beyond the Organization

High-growth CMOs champion collaboration both inside their organizations and beyond, working closely with external partners as well. These partnerships can – and should – draw in new capabilities that support the delivery of innovative, ideal customer experiences, while also bolstering internal behaviors and culture by providing tools that align with customer obsession.

Today’s most successful CMOs are fierce customer advocates, unafraid of technological innovation, savvy business strategists and, above all, collaborative leaders shaping the cultures of their organizations. By adopting the mindset and techniques of these high-growth CMOs, their peers can transcend traditional practices and join the elite 17% at the top of their profession.

Jason Michaels is the B2B Marketing Strategy Lead at Accenture Interactive. His direct experience with business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing initiatives includes brand and product launches, repositioning, product development, and go-to-market strategies for Boeing, ConAgra, HP Enterprise, Intel, Lowe’s, Microsoft, and other large international brands.


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