CMOs, It’s Time for Some Reflection: Response to Gartner Survey

Blog Post
September 18, 2017

Gartner recently released a new report: CMO Strategy Survey 2017: CMOs Go All in on Customer Marketing, but at What Price? The report’s conclusions are based on responses from 359 marketing leaders, split evenly between the US and UK. 

A few of the key findings include:      

  • CMOs face challenges with finance and IT.
  • CMOs are struggling with technology.
  • CMOs want to bring more capabilities in-house.

In this post, I’ll break each of these down and provide some suggestions as to how CMOs can successfully navigate these issues—and each requires some careful self-reflection.

CMOs Face Challenges with Finance and IT

Gartner explains that marketing has support from the CEO and the sales organization, but there is often friction between the CMO and the CFO and CIO/CTO. Gartner attributes this to a poor track record in deploying technology and the lack of focus on ROI.

However, there’s more to the picture. 

In many cases, the CMO is tasked with being the voice of the customer and coordinating the full customer experience across the organization—yet the CMO often does not have the authority to manage all the pieces of this complex puzzle. He or she must coordinate with other leaders that have competing interests, like the CFO and CIO, to get things done.

Kim Whitler, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, calls this being put in a “water-walking” role:

“…what tends to play out is that CMOs end up in high-influence roles. The expectations are broad (i.e., change the growth trajectory of the firm), but their authority is narrow, or limited to a single area such as marketing communication. The only way they can close the gap is through influence, or to encourage the other functions to support marketing-sponsored growth initiatives. This is what I call a ‘water-walking’ job.”

While classic marketing design often puts CMOs in high responsibility, low authority roles, this approach just doesn’t work—and it sets CMOs up to fail. This is one of the reasons behind the fact that CMOs have the lowest tenure of any role in the C-suite, averaging only 4.1 years.

To alleviate this situation, CEOs and CMOs need to work together to develop Heavyweight CMO roles with more strategic influence in the C-suite. To be at the table with the CFO and CIO and the rest of the executives, Mohanbir Sawhney and Robert Wolcott explain that CMOs need authority over 6 key areas of the business: customer insights, growth opportunities, the customer experience, developing talent, protecting the brand, and engaging stakeholders through communication.

Owning and adding value in these areas will help the CMO to develop relevance and clout with fellow executives. For example, "CMOs can add value to engineering and R&D initiatives by ensuring that technology and scientific innovations grounded in current and future customer needs and requirements." 

If you can answer 'yes' to at least eight of the following questions, you have achieved Heavyweight CMO status.


CMOs are Struggling with Technology

Gartner says that only 51% of CMOs believe they are “somewhat” or “very” effective at acquisition and use of marketing technology. These people think they’re doing okay—a lot probably see room for improvement. Then there’s another 49% of respondents that say they are “neutral,” “somewhat” or “very” ineffective at acquiring and using martech. In other words, most CMOs don’t have the necessary expertise to fully own the martech stack.

Considering that CMOs are driving a big piece of brands’ technology agendas, that’s a scary fact. It’s also a contributor to the tension between CMOs and CIOs—our needs in marketing are based on daily, weekly and monthly timelines, but CIOs see technology purchases as long-term infrastructure plays. 

When it comes down to it, most marketing leaders are not technologists at heart. To make effective decisions around martech acquisitions and to deploy those acquisitions to the brand’s advantage, brands should consider bringing on a martech partner that brings together both marketing and technological expertise while also understanding the timeline that CMOs operate under. (Remember that 4-year tenure? We need to see results fast!)

CMOs Want to Bring More Capabilities In-House

Gartner’s survey also indicates that nearly one-third of CMOs want the in-house marketing team to set the strategy and use agencies only for execution. Another 29% want strategy AND execution in-house, using agencies only to fill tactical gaps.

On the surface, this seems to make a lot of sense. It almost even feels like an obvious choice. But CMOs need to fully understand the expertise required to successfully drive business strategy, and that’s not always the case for those filling the role. While the mandate is there for CMOs to step up and take on more strategic roles, not all are equally prepared to do so. 

Whitler notes in her recent Harvard Business Review article that there are three types of CMO roles: those that focus on strategy and innovation (about 31%), those that focus on commercialization through marketing communications (46%), and those that do both (23%). Many CMOs’ background and current role focus is in marketing communications, rather than broader business strategy. They are often less experienced with the complexities of bringing together technologies, customer data, buyer’s journeys, etc. into a holistic plan that drives business growth. She explains in our interview:

"Not all CMOs have the same training, skill, expertise, and competency. Some CMOs started in consulting and have had predominantly backgrounds that focus on engineering solutions to problems. Other CMOs have worked predominantly on the selling or commercialization side of marketing, focusing on promoting, through traditional and contemporary vehicles, a company’s products or services. And some CMOs have primarily a General Management background, responsible for the P&L of the business. As you can imagine, if one CMO doesn’t have training, experience, and skill in setting strategy, then they wouldn’t be prepared or equipped to step into a strategy role."

CMOs therefore need to do some reflection as to their true expertise and capabilities before deciding to bring all strategy in-house. I can understand the drive to do so, but I would advise a careful balance between partnering with professional strategists and gradually bringing strategic planning in-house—should you ultimately decide to go that route.

The Big Picture for CMOs

All three of these issues that marketing leaders are facing today require some serious self-reflection. Our C-suite colleagues expect grand results from us, and we need to deliver quickly—or face the revolving CMO door. This requires, at the highest level, carefully considering the type of roles we accept through the lens of our own background and capabilities, as well as where we want to be moving forward. It also requires that we fulfill these roles with that lens in mind, partnering with external resources to fill important gaps in our own skill set. 

If we all keep our eye on this ball, we just may see that 4-year CMO tenure start to creep upward.