What is the Value of a CMO?

As the weather starts to cool and pumpkin spice aromas fill the air, that means it’s time to start thinking about 2018 marketing budgets. And that’s when this thought pops back into your mind: What’s the value of a CMO? Do I need one this year?

Most small to medium sized B2B businesses and tech startups start out by hiring junior marketing folks (such as Social Media or SEO specialists), or even interns before they start thinking about bringing on a CMO. But this might not be the right thinking.

This is not the first time I’ve written about the risks of underinvesting in marketing.  My recent blog, Invest in the Bigger Jackhammer touched on the topic of marketing spend.

In this blog, we are going to focus specifically on the value of the CMO role.

Jason Lemkin of SaaStr opened the door for me with his recent blog post, The Problem with Jr. Marketing Hires. Jason has serious creds on this topic, as a 2x founder, 1x VC, and SaaS enthusiast.  He was named by BusinessInsider to “The 32 Most Powerful People in Business Technology.”

Marketing is Measurable

The key takeaway in Jason’s post that there is measurable ROI in having a B2B CMO early on. It comes down to a matter of leadership and ownership. With all of the analytics and tools available today, marketing is no longer a “soft” discipline.  It is directly measurable, which means you start with a number and can set measurable goals that tie directly to sales results. Yes, not just leads, but revenue. Connecting marketing and sales is essential. The thing is, your social media, SEO, newsletters, AdWords, PR, etc., all can’t be off creating activity in their own silos. You need a boss of the team to set the strategy, define the market and personas, to figure out the buyers journey, and then pull all of that together into unified, measurable goals.

Let’s put it more bluntly.  Your SEO expert doesn’t have the breadth of experience to be appointed VP or Chief of the team unless they’ve also spent time in PR, writing content, learning about social media, and have enough experience behind them to own a number. THE number that is the make-or-break-if-we-are going-to-survive-this-year-number.  And they MUST talk to sales. In my experience, none of these folks I’ve just named ever spend time talking to sales. Partnering with the VP of Sales is another requirement of a CMO.  At that level, your marketing and your sales leaders each “own” their numbers. They are peers, and one does not report to the other.

For more on what Marketing roles you need in B2B tech, read this recent post on Forbes by Kimberly Whitler: The 4 Types of Marketing in Tech.

Not Just Any CMO

So does this mean any CMO will do? Unfortunately, no. Honestly, now that you see the value of a CMO, you won’t be able to just search on “Tech CMO” on LinkedIn and hire the first one you spot.  As we’ve touched on, they need to absolutely “own” the numbers and align with sales. But because marketing as a science has been evolving so rapidly in the past two decades, the type of CMO you need today is a pretty rare breed.

Javier Recuenco posted a refreshingly forthright post on LinkedIn that compares the typical tech CMO to the American Bison.

Yep. Bison. Pretty much outdated and extinct.  But, wait you say, didn’t you JUST tell me I needed one of these beasts and now you tell me they are outdated?  Well, yes, and that’s why this is tricky. Social, mobile, and on-demand-everything has changed the way consumers buy and set their expectation levels in the stratosphere.  Let’s look at my career.  I started out with a DOS computer. I was an early adopter of email in one of my first jobs.  In the 90’s that was a big thing. No email marketing in the 90’s!  You wanted to announce things you put a press release “on the wire” or put it in the US mail. I did a lot of direct mail, print ads and tradeshows.  Then came the Internet and email marketing. I was one of the first customers of Salesforce.com, the first Cloud CRM, and one of the first customers of Eloqua, the first marketing automation engine.  The Google Toolbar was released in 2000, LinkedIn in 2003, and the iPhone 2007.  And just in case you weren’t counting, Google puts out a new search algorithm multiple times a year, so don’t get comfortable that you know anything about search or SEO this month. Today, we have a dozen (or more) different social platforms and digital is a way of life.  Buyers are connected 24 / 7 and can get any information, any time they want, from anywhere in the world, with a click.

Javier says it a little more succinctly,

“Point is, the complexity of the task ahead has multiplied tenfold from the Golden Age of Marketing to nowadays and CMOs have not been able to manage the humongous upping of the ante.”

The reason for my trip down memory lane was to make a point.  The Modern CMO needs to embrace change.  Put down the press release and get up to speed on how your buyers are engaging.  Realize that your Top of the Funnel approach now includes a Middle and a Bottom.  Get up to speed on the latest Google algorithm and the social platforms that YOUR buyers are using.  Get out of the office and talk to some customers.  Meet with the sales team, find out if they think they have the content and information they need, when, they need it, and in a format that the client wants.  Are those 60 minute webinars dying on the vine? Try about some 20 minute podcasts.

How to Find a Qualified CMO

The last bit of advice I want to give is to the B2B tech CEO.  Realize that you don’t know how this new marketing works either.  When were you last talking with a CMO as CTO or lead engineer or whatever the role was that you had before you founded this company?  Was that more than a year ago? Chances are that your understanding of marketing isn’t current. So having the junior marketing folks reporting to you won’t give you the results you need.

So now that I’ve convinced you of the value of a CMO, be sure to take a close look at your candidates to verify they have kept in shape and are on top of current trends, and will be a partner to HR, Sales, Customer Success, Product and Operations.  The Mad Men CMO of old had an office door.  The new style CMO is connected to every function in the organization. And if locally you don’t find the ideal candidate, consider an experienced outsourced or fractional CMO for a time. They can put in the strategy, get a structure set up, and help hire a team, identifying potential future leaders. Another option is to use a recruiter who specializes in sales and marketing roles. Getting the right CMO is an investment you should make early on.

One of the critical factors for success is ensuring that your sales and marketing are aligned.  If you have a CMO and they aren’t in lock step with sales, then there is no point.  Find out how aligned your sales and marketing are by taking this 2 minute quiz.