More Focus Needed on the CMO and CEO Relationship

CMO’s are the Stretch Armstrong of business, especially with B2B tech companies where they get pulled and twisted in multiple directions. CMO’s develop market strategy and manage new channels of customer engagement and identify new opportunities for core innovations. CMO’s have to coach and partner with Sales.They have to drive the revenue pipeline – at light speed. And when the strategy is finally mapped, CMO’s often get pulled in infinite tactical directions where they react instead of lead.

It’s very popular and cliché that many blogs focus on the apparent feud and relationship that CMO’s have with CIO’s because of the spectrum of marketing technology available. (Laura McLellan’s 2012 Gartner prediction that CMO’s will outspend CIO’s on tech was the tipping point of this sentiment.) Yes, a strong partnership with the CIO is critical but it’s not the most important executive relationship. Remember, technology enables business strategy and process. Technology does not automatically make process or strategy a success. The CIO is a steward to help guide and counsel the business functions, including Marketing.  Before even getting to the tech side of marketing, the CMO needs to have a solid relationship with the CEO.

The CEO Trumps the CIO 

The CEO is the most important executive relationship for a CMO. Period. It’s peculiar to me that more people aren’t openly discussing this issue. If the CEO and CMO are synchronized with strategy, customers, innovation, and the market, everything else will fall in line. That’s not to say there won’t be healthy debate and contention during the journey. Unfortunately B2B CEO’s often just don’t “get” marketing, let alone “modern marketing” in the 21st century, which hinders the CMO relationship.

The CMO can and should provide leadership and counsel to the fill the white spaces a CEO has in marketing understanding. Problems arise when a CEO doesn’t trust the CMO and doesn’t understand or trust the marketing process. It’s easy for some CEO’s to revert to a comfort zone of product engineering, finance or sales, especially during  tough period. That’s when the outdated perceptions creep in that marketing is purely an activity-based function and should operate that way. It’s no wonder CMO’s and their staff commonly turnover after only 12-18 months in the job. Unreasonable expectations on delivering results in unrealistic time frames are deadly. And the cycle repeats itself again and again.

A strong CEO-CMO relationship greatly benefits a business. Conversely a weak CEO-CMO relationship has significant implications on the business more than any other executive relationship. More so, in fact, than the much publicized CMO-CIO relationship. The CEO-CMO effectively set the business strategy which is enabled through other executive relationships and functions.   How the business goes to market, engages customers, identifies new market opportunities, drives demand, positions the company, aligns the workforce with the mission, and measures the results are huge effort requiring absolute synchronicity at the executive level.

Strength in Trust, Knowledge and Understanding

Somehow B2B CEO’s are commonly hamstrung with a self-inflicted lack of marketing understanding. This causes static interference that hinders strategic implementation, which in turn impede results from winning new customers and generating revenue. B2B CEO’s often don’t understand the breadth and depth of impact a strong CMO has on the business. The statistics are everywhere showing how Marketing drives more of the buyer journey and revenue pipeline than ever. Customer engage through multiple channels is a requirement. Marketing technology makes marketing efforts much more effective and measurable to demonstrate ROI.   When a CEO learns these concepts, understands and trusts them, Marketing is an overwhelmingly powerful force.

I am hopeful that B2B CEO’s begin to learn more about Modern Marketing that evolves from activity-based perceptions. An open-minded  approach and trust in a strong CMO will lead to business success. When the CEO and CMO relationship is strong, the business wins.