If you had a chance to read the recent Korn Ferry article The CMO is Forever Changed, perhaps the statement “linking marketing activities and business results hasn’t always been the strong suit of CMOs” rang familiar. It did for me. For us at VisionEdge Marketing, it continues to corroborate our research benchmarking CMOs regarding their ability to prove their value, impact, and contribution to the business. Year after year over a period of 16 years we consistently found that only about 1 in 5 CMOs play a strategic role, serve as a value creator for their organization, and can link marketing activities to business results.

Based on the article, it would seem that progress has been slow. The article reiterates “the continuous pressure on CMOs to demonstrate how they are driving overall business performance.” To address this pressure, CMOs have invested significant resources, especially in terms of technology, to facilitate their ability to improve alignment, accountability, analytics, and operational excellence.

According to ChiefMartech the average enterprise now uses 120 marketing technology (Martech) tools. Tools for social media engagement, content management, email automation, demand generation lead capturing, project management and workflow, customer relationship management (CRM), event management, web analytics, and the list goes on.

Beware of Relying on Technology as a Replacement for Strategic Thinking

More technology and data than ever sits within grasp of every CMO. How has this worked out for the CMO? Rather than being an asset, in some ways, we believe the tools may be becoming a liability. Technology is not a replacement for good frameworks, processes and skills.

Which may be why Korn Ferry research reveals, “that 40% of CMOs cite strategic thinking as the biggest capability gap their teams face.”

Sometimes Martech reminds me of those robot vacuum cleaners. People buy these thinking that they will never need to clean their floors or rugs again. The idea of turning on the robot and poof the work is done is quite appealing. These robovacs may be useful to keep things from getting completely out-of-control but they will not do the deep cleaning. And they certainly can’t just be turned on and left unattended. Unattended technology can run amuck or become an investment that doesn’t pay off. As Andrew Martonik Section Editor for Mobile at Digital Trends tweeted out “My robot vacuum just went under the TV stand and unplugged my Wi-Fi router.” Or as a colleague posted on FB, “The best thing our Roomba is doing right now is being the ride for our 7-month old grandson.”

This is not a slam on robot vacuum cleaners. It is a reminder that when it comes to being strategic, the CMO and the Marketing team needs to have the skills to do the heavy lifting. If they don’t, someone else will step in.

And that’s exactly what’s happening.

Look at the plethora of new titles such as chief growth officer, chief experience officer, chief customer officer, chief brand officer, and more that have stepped into the gaps left by CMOs.

Avoid losing your Strategic Role as a CMO.

What’s troubling to me is the sense that the role of Marketing is regressing. Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with colleagues I’ve known for decades. Like me they have been in B2B Marketing for most of their careers and served in many Marketing leadership roles.

In these conversations, we did some reminiscing. Here’s a perspective based on being able to take a look back in time. In our early years (the 80s), Marketing in B2B organizations primarily served as sales support. We focused on producing events (industry trade shows), technical/product literature, print product advertising, direct mail offers and campaigns, product demos and sample kits, customer meetings, etc.

It was a tactical role. We had limited technology and limited data. We wanted more. We wanted to help shape the future.

We weren’t deterred. We optimized our resources. We initiated pilots to prove out ideas, conducted customer research, gathered market and competitive intelligence, segmented customers, mapped the buying journey, matched content to buying stages, created and implemented strategic account marketing, etc. All with very limited technology.

We took what we learned and made strategic recommendations about which markets to pursue, which customer to grow, ways to improve customer service and experience, what solutions to offer and how to bring innovations to market faster. As a result, Marketing leaders began to rise and earn the opportunity to participate in strategic planning and strategic conversations.

Fast forward.

Today CMOs have created an arsenal of tools and an army of specialists for social media, search engine optimization, content development, email marketing, demand gen, and more all with a heavy focus on sales enablement and less focus on shaping the future.

Five Ways Marketing Leaders Can Use Technology Beyond Sales Enablement

For organizations that want Marketing to play a strategic role and be a growth engine, what can Marketing leaders do? In addition to being adept at Upstream Marketing, to hold onto a seat at the table, CMOs must be viewed as more than sales enablement with tools designed to help the Sales team “hit” the number, improve productivity, and capture and analyze data. Here are 5 ways Marketing can use technology to earn and keep a strategic role:

  1. Come up with solutions to solve customer and business problems
  2. Bring new ideas to the table that will positively impact strategy: people strategy, growth strategy, retention strategy, go-to-market strategies, etc.
  3. Identify and answer questions about your market, competition, and customer requirements
  4. Drive innovation and enter new markets
  5. Create new business models

Technology cannot replace strategic thinking just like Robot vacuums can not replace old-fashioned vacuums.

Marketing is not alone in potentially becoming mesmerized by technology. Any leader can find themselves in the same risky situation. Every leader who wants to earn and keep a seat at the table needs to be focused on customer-centric strategic approach to sustainable growth.

Just like robot vacuum cleaners can’t match the power of—or clean as thoroughly as—a good old-fashioned vacuum; technology cannot replace solid strategic thinking. Strategic thinking takes more than tools. In the wise words of Liane Davey, author of The Good Fight, You First, strategic thinking takes “creating connections between ideas, plans and people that others fail to see.”

Tools make things more convenient. And while helpful on a day-to-day basis, over dependence may result in critical tasks being overlooked. Important tasks potentially to be taken over by others. Avoid risking your seat. Find ways to play a more strategic role and thrive.