The evolving role of the B2B CMO: Reclaiming the strategic high ground

April 25, 2019

Executive summary

With all the opportunities it presents for connecting with customers in new and deeper ways, the digital revolution has ushered in a golden era for marketing. Yet chief marketing officers (CMOs), in particular those who lead B2B companies, increasingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place. At B2C companies, marketing is generally seen as a growth function and therefore has access to significant funds. At B2B companies, by contrast, marketing is often viewed as a sales support function, and therefore mostly as a cost to be managed. Historically, at B2B companies, it is the sales function — rather than the marketing function — that has primarily owned budgets and end-to-end customer relationships. As a result, B2B CMOs are all too often relegated to managing tactical duties rather than being asked to provide the kind of strategic leadership that can position them to unlock value and drive incremental growth for the business. And yet at the same time, B2B CMOs are tasked with generating revenue and driving growth, even as they face continual pressure to cut marketing budgets and become more cost-effective. Meanwhile, digital technologies and the structural changes they’ve brought to the industry have blurred the internal lines between marketing, technology, product management, and sales in ways that have also muddied reporting lines and undermined marketing’s value-adding ability.

Simply put, the role of the B2B CMO is facing significant challenges. But there is a way for B2B CMOs to stay relevant and act as a true partner to sales, a steward of the brand, and a catalyst for growth. They can reclaim the strategic high ground by following a clear road map. The journey starts with an effort to align with senior management colleagues on the proper and appropriate role of marketing. Once alignment has been established, B2B CMOs should take the lead in inculcating a culture built on return on investment (ROI) and metrics. Even as they work on existing initiatives, they should focus on developing a clean-sheet marketing operating model design that will support the new trajectory. As they evolve the organization, they must invest in robust marketing automation. And, importantly, the transition should be phased in as part of an effort to minimize business risk. The climb to the strategic high ground may be a long and arduous one, but significant rewards lie at the top.

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A greater strategic role

Progressive companies are having marketers play a much more strategic role in developing customer segmentation, defining the product value proposition, identifying customer touch points, and determining a coverage model, along with branding strategy and execution. Marketers in these companies also play a strong role up front in the product development life cycle to ensure that their on-the-ground customer knowledge, competitive information, and market and product research are leveraged to develop products that better fit customer needs. While marketers are developing these leading-edge strategic marketing capabilities, they are required to ensure they do not drop the ball on the tactical marketing capabilities, such as lead generation, event management, and development of sales collateral. These capabilities are considered table stakes for CMOs if they are to ensure they have a seat at the table and drive the strategic growth agenda. At one global B2B information services provider, the business unit CMOs were grappling with a similar conundrum on what the role of marketing should be. They worked with sales, product, and technology teams to define key go-to-market processes with clear decision rights and ensure there was no duplication across various functional silos. One key difference in the outcome was better alignment between marketing plans and sales coverage models. Marketing had a strong role in developing a customer-segmented tiered sales model that was supplemented by strong account marketing capabilities targeted to capture incremental share of wallet.

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The evolving role of the B2B CMO: Reclaiming the strategic high ground

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