Aligning marketing priorities at the C-level

Aligning marketing priorities at the C-level

For any leadership team, forging consensus on strategic priorities is critical to building a successful and progressive business. However, a recent Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) survey uncovered a disconnect between chief marketing officers (CMOs) and the rest of the C-suite over marketing’s priorities.

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The survey found that while CMOs tended to focus on the delivery of new products and services and customer acquisition, 60 percent of surveyed non-marketing executives – CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and other functional heads and board members – prioritise driving revenue, with customer acquisition and new offerings following behind.

Curiously, the two sides of the surveyed executives also had different views on how to best track return on marketing investment (ROMI).  More than half of the C-suite favour customer satisfaction as a measure for ROMI, while the majority of CMOs believe sales leads are the top metric for tracking.

Other results that left me surprised were the views on the role that CMOs currently play across different activities in the organisations. Over 40 per cent of non-marketing executives say the CMO in their organisation currently has no role in deciding on new IT investments, nor do they play a role in shaping customer service (31 per cent) or selecting new markets to enter (29 per cent). At the same time however, according to 64 per cent of the group, customer insight is an increasingly important skill for the CMO in their organisation.  

The CMO title first nudged its way into the C-suite nearly two decades ago and yet many organisations still seem to have trouble defining the CMO’s role and responsibilities. Part of the problem is the far-reaching portfolio that the role manages. With this broad scope, comes the responsibility to increase marketing’s influence across the organisation, while highlighting a key challenge – achieving consensus on marketing’s priorities.

This lack of clarity might prove to be costly for some companies facing big data challenges, which are often driven by customer data. In many organisations, marketing is now a fundamental driver of IT spending, which spells trouble for companies who do not fully appreciate the role of marketing as the steward of customer data and how marketing influences the activities that generate that data.

One way for CMOs to increase their internal influence and change the lingering doubts about marketing’s strategic contribution to the business is to consistently deliver insights and tools that benefit others across the organisation, from salespeople to call centre agents to merchandising teams.

Increasingly, we recognise the importance of hiring marketers with a more balanced mix of functional, business and analytical skills to the table. Organisations would benefit from investing in new training programs for their product marketing teams, with an emphasis on hard skills such as search engine optimisation, business process engineering and even user interface design. Many of these skills did not even exist 10 years ago, but the changing nature of businesses today has meant that marketing professionals have needed to upgrade their skills in order to foster a shift in their organisation’s culture where the priorities at the C-level align in a strategic vision.

To gain more credibility and influence in driving strategic change, CMOs will be required to provide a more comprehensive view of how a customer interacts with the business as a whole.  This is one area in which CMOs and their C-suite colleagues seem to agree: Both groups believe that investing in customer relationship management (CRM) is an important way for marketing to drive business value. Across the C-suite, executives believe investing in customer analytics will become the most important contributor to the business in three years. This investment will be critical to helping marketers demonstrate how data-driven insights create value for the business.

At SAS we are working closely with many organisations to develop their ability to draw behavioural insights about their customers. And every day, organisations are experiencing the benefits of having a single view of the customer so that every part of the business can recognise the individual customer and cater to his or her specific needs. The next step in the marketing evolution and justifying a seat at the C-suite table is for marketers to translate that insight about customer behaviour into commercial value, and align the marketing function around the delivery of an exceptional customer experience through all channels.

When marketers demonstrate how the business can take customer insights, translate them into strategies and actions, and measure the impact from a sales growth or customer satisfaction index, there will be closer alignment of C-suite expectations and the CMO’s responsibilities.

David Bowie is managing director, SAS Australia and New Zealand

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