Change is hard. It’s slow. Scary. Messy. Frustrating. Risky. And vital.

A “change management” expert I am not, but anybody who’s spent a few weeks working for any company anywhere could easily attest to the corporate wrenching caused by organizational, operational, technological, strategic, and other kinds of change.

As it pertains to the individual, Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” If that’s the case, then the intellectual mettle of CMOs will be tested over the next 3 to 5 years, which figure to be defined by rapid change. In fact, in a recent IBM study, speed of change ranked second on a list of market dynamics that will have the most impact on CMOs and their organizations (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Most impactful market dynamics cited by CMOs (Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, in cooperation with the IBM Institute for Business Value)

Figure 1 – Most impactful market dynamics cited by CMOs (Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, in cooperation with the IBM Institute for Business Value)

I believe Einstein’s words also apply to companies. For the vast majority of B2B organizations, empowering an operationally-relevant marketing function as a means to become a more market-driven company will entail massive internal changes. And only the smartest and toughest companies and individuals will be able to stomach the metamorphosis. But the companies that persevere will emerge with profit-bearing differentiation, and the marketers that endure will develop skills all too rarely seen in their peers.

Start with the Mirror

If you’re a marketing leader, the first place to expect change is in yourself. Think about where your own and your team’s skill sets might need shoring up in order to credibly influence the four core elements of operations: organizational design, capital allocation, process engineering, and KPI management.

If you lack financial acumen, product or industry domain experience, or productivity tool know-how (e.g. Visio, Excel, Access), identify a few people in your company that have these skills and take them to lunch. Ask them about a typical day-in-the-life. Perhaps they can recommend some self-teaching resources. Build relationships with these folks, and ask them how you can return the favor. As you recast the marketing function, you might want some of these individuals to join your team down the road.

Groom an Advocate

As a CMO, you can make meaningful changes to your function without support from your CxO peers. But the support of the CEO, CFO, and/or COO will dramatically minimize your bumps and bruises.

It’s important to pick one of your management peers to bring into the fold of your thought process and to groom as a champion of your cause. It’s likely your fellow executives are not aware of what being “market-driven” means for your company financially and strategically or what the implications would be for their own day-to-day responsibilities. It’s also highly probable that they’ve never been exposed to a marketing function that has anything to do with the operational aspects of sales, product development, or customer management. You’ll need to educate them and immediately take the idea of this being a land-grabbing or empire-building exercise off the table.

Who’s your most logical advocate? Think about where the sales, product development, and customer management functions report into today. They might not all fall under one executive, but pick one that has oversight of at least one of these areas. Also, think about what drives your company today. Is it sales? Is it engineering? Is it the customer? Select your advocate based in part on how close he/she is to the current heartbeat of the company.

Once you’ve selected your advocate, invest in the relationship. Buy a few lunches and discuss the facts – not just opinions and anecdotes – that illustrate how having something other than the market driving your company might be hindering your collective success. I’ve been known to have monthly off-site “Beer Summits” with my management peers to work through the issues of the day.

Involve the Resistors

With at least one of your executive peers in your corner, you’ll be much more equipped for the road ahead. In all three of the operational war rooms discussed in previous posts – product development, sales, and customer management – CMOs pursuing a seat at the table will encounter resistance.

Most of the change management methodologies out there (e.g. Prosci) will coach you to identify the anticipated sources of resistance and proactively work to diffuse them. I would agree with this. If you’ve been at your company for longer than a few months, you could probably name the individuals likely to construct the most formidable road blocks. The goal is not to plow through their barricades. It’s to involve the resistors early and often in the cross-functional operational swat teams I’ve mentioned in previous posts so they feel like part of the change, not unwilling digesters of it.

Climbing mountains of change on your marketing trek? Post a comment and tell us about it.