Chief Marketing Officer Is The Most Dangerous Title Around
Updated: Sep 25
By Neil St. Clair
This article was originally published on Forbes.com (March 3, 2015)
At the top of most organization's marketing heap, you'll find a Chief Marketing Officer or CMO. This is the person who maintains the whimsical vision and executable strategy for your company's marketing plan. Inherent within this title, however, is one of the largest lurking dangers of the business world: a glorified role without any purposeful impact on the bottom-line. Indeed there is no acronym so dangerous in the English language as C-M-O.
What I'm advocating is not merely a departure from CMO or similar titles, but rather a reexamination and expansion of the functional role itself. In short, the title, whatever it may be, should always encompass the dual mandate of any modern marketer: pure marketing on the one hand, and hard-won business development on the other.
As for the title itself, I'd suggest, though a bit of a mouthful, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer (CMBDO). This to serve as a constant reminder that marketers simply cannot be one-dimensional anymore. And while there are those that advocate technical expertise in niche areas, I remain an adherent of the Riesian school of lean methodology, which means that marketers must wear many hats to be elementally helpful to any organization.
"Keep in mind that the pure CMO is the role of a bygone era. An anachronism that harkens to a time of expense accounts, three-martini lunches and patient shareholders. As such, the modern marketer must be accretive, and not destructive, to the bottomline if they are to play a meaningful role in any organization."
What is the Role of a Marketer?
At its core purpose, marketing is supposed to raise awareness to increase business. Too often, however, I observe fellow marketers engaged in campaigns and activities designed merely to do the former without true execution on the latter. There are certain oversized organizations that have the luxury of creating distinct roles, with the CMO purely a strategist and another executive leading the salesforce. This has a number of issues related to coordination between the two branches that needn't be addressed here, but these are the types of firms that can spend millions on mere awareness campaigns since their marketing pipelines are simply clogged with the flotsam of too many clients beating down the door. If you find yourself in this enviable position, by all means, please stop reading.
But suffice it to say that unless your company has money burning a hole in its metaphorical pocket, marketing, and business development should be thought of as one and the same. That's not to say that you should ignore the elements of marketing that purists hold to heart. Being thoughtful about brand, position, and look & feel must encompass part of the role. But these are nice-to-haves that require a large outlay of capital with any return on investment elusive or untrackable.
Instead of purity, let's think of modern marketing as would an alchemist--blending the best elements into a greater chemical brew. While a marketer may not necessarily be out in the field "selling" directly to clients, they must orient themselves, and as such architect their marketing plan, in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of the salesforce. To that end, any marketing head must be, if not completely, at least partially in charge of the salesforce with ownership of both spend and revenue derived from those efforts. If they do not hold to heart this responsibility, there will be a massive disconnect between marketing efforts and their return on sales. In turn, this leads to marketing being a massive cost center that simply aggravates the rest of the c-suite.
Marketers of Thought v. Marketers of Action
So how can you avoid this trap of the "thinking marketer" and embody/encourage an "active business developer?"
It's very simple. As part of the architecture of the CMBDO role, there must be five areas of practical expertise and expectation that too often are broken into discrete roles:
1) The Marketing Purist--Any CMBDO must be able to do the "soft" and creative elements of the role. That is, to strategize, research and discover while further creating or developing brand and its coordinated elements. There is of course a lot more to it than that, but this is the high-level read. And it is here, sadly, that we often find the focus and sole responsibility of many CMOs and other lead marketers. Over time, this department bloats to a gaggle of thinkers with very few doers.
2) The Competitive Intelligensia--The CMO must be fully apprised of the marketplace and how their firm fits into the current landscape. This involves deep, analytical skills and constant reading of the popular media and trades. In turn, you'll be able to help your firm better understand their position and how they can truly differentiate themselves in any pitch.
3) The Content Creator--A chief marketing officer must be at the head of content creation, including everything from website copy to collateral to ads to sales books to videos to white papers and beyond. While there may be more technical experts internally that ultimately generate certain types of content, the CMBDO must be the thread that ties it all together through both a comprehensive editorial strategy and a bit of whip-cracking on execution.
4) The Internal PR Flack--Most firms don't need an external PR agency. Your lead marketer must be able to generate "looks" and "awareness" through outreach and coordination with the appropriate media. This is really just an extension of your content plan.
5) The Business Engineer--As mentioned, as part of the CMBDO role there must be ownership of the firm's P&L. Marketing costs money, but it should also make money. This means for smaller organizations the CMBDO should be leading, or co-leading, the salesforce and help drum up lead generation. This can be done with everything from passive leads generated through search engine discovery to inbound interest via content to active outreach performed through cold-calling or LinkedIn trawling. Creatively thinking of new pathways to close (e.g. event marketing) is another core function of the marketer and provides the sales team with a meaningful tool in their kit. At the end of the day, sourcing leads, helping track those leads, and providing content and opportunities for your salesforce to close should be the main focus of any marketer. Inherent within this "engineering" role are the analytics that gear the marketing proving ground towards its cardinal directions.
You'll notice that I specifically left out social media and digital marketing as any consistent reader of mine knows how I feel about those practices for most businesses. However, if your business relies on SEM and social media as primary marketing channels, these should be requisite skills of a CMBDO as well.
The CMBDO in All Shapes & Sizes
Now, in smaller firms, the CMBDO role looks and acts quite differently than those that have reached greater critical mass. In the startup phase, the CMBDO role is typically wrapped up in one person with perhaps an outsourced firm helping on some of the more time-consuming elements. As business outpaces the time and resources of a single individual, the role of CMBDO becomes more of a diffused departmental responsibility with the Chief serving as key strategist with oversight and ultimate responsibility for execution by other members of the team. But in both modulations of the role the CMBDO must maintain a linkage and ownership of the core business goals.
Finding someone with the acumen and skillset for the roles here can often be a Unicorn search--though sometimes a Pegasus can be found. However, cost can become an issue as growth outpaces personnel. So looking for outsourced CMBDO services like those provided by AlleyWire's AW/CS service can be helpful in keeping lean.
But whichever route you take, keep in mind that the pure CMO is the role of a bygone era. An anachronism that harkens to a time of expense accounts, three-martini lunches and patient shareholders. As such, the modern marketer must be accretive, and not destructive, to the bottomline if they are to play a meaningful role in any organization.
Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation. Follow him on IG @neilstclair