CMOs: Don’t Lead a Cost Center, Be a Revenue Driver

This post was originally published on adweek.com. Shared with permission.

Gartner’s prediction that CMOs will outspend CIOs on technology is now a fact: CMOs will use 12% of their company’s revenue on marketing technologies in 2018.

It makes sense: Just as a consumer would look to Yelp before going to a restaurant, prospects today do research before talking to sales, meaning the marketing department owns more of the sales funnel than ever. Silicon Valley has jumped on this opportunity — over 5,000 companies are clamoring to help marketers meet this growing responsibility.

Armed with growing budgets and new technologies, you’d think CMOs would have lasting influence in the boardroom. But research suggests otherwise: CMO tenures now average only 42 months, and that number declines every year. Another study revealed that 2016 was a year of record turnover rates for marketing executives. It’s time for CMOs to either figure out why they’re not delivering the ROI that CEOs want or not bother to set up their office.

As the CEO of a martech company for the past 15 years, I’ve seen the role of marketing teams completely transform. I remember when I thought about our marketing spend much like I did about playing roulette — throwing money on the table hoping it would pay of. I assumed that like gambling our marketing budget was simply the cost of playing the game.

Digital technologies changed that and it changed the role of CMOs. But CMOs haven’t adapted quite yet. They now need to act like the CEO of their own business – the marketing team. And that ultimately means CMOs must redefine success in the same way a CEO does, with an unrelenting focus on revenue. This revenue-or-die mindset isn’t easy to adapt, but here are three ways for CMOs to start thinking like a CEO and keep their eyes on the bottom line.

Say no.

One of the toughest choices we have to make everyday is the decision to not to do something. It’s easier to latch onto a fad than to stand against it. But the rationale for a campaign or new technology can’t be for the sake of trying something out. Numbers speak louder than words, and CMOs who have hard data to back up their strategy, approach, and results give themselves leverage in the C-Suite and make any campaign, whether it fails or succeeds, defensible.

My CMO has a quarterly revenue target to meet, and every dollar spent needs to have an equal return. Digital technologies have empowered us to analyze the entire performance of our marketing channels and use that intelligence to determine our future investments.

Social campaigns are great for awareness, for example, but for our business, they don’t drive revenue. This realization led us to scale back our investments in Facebook and Twitter. We used those resources to double down on our own website, webinars, and in-person events because our data showed these channels yielded the best results. We certainly feel some fear of missing out, but once you know what drives revenue, other channels become moot.

Prioritize relationships.

Even in the digital age, I still believe a one-on-one, in-person conversation is the best way to close a deal and build a relationship with a customer.

As far as technology has come, no automation software, algorithm or predictive analytics has the power of empathy. Consider H&R Block’s partnership announcement with IBM Watson. H&R Block could have heralded Watson as the end to human tax professionals, letting the computers do all the work faster. But who wants to just deal with a computer?

To their credit, IBM positioned Watson as a tool to further elevate services H&R reps already provide to customers. It was not about replacement, but letting computers and humans do what they do best, together. Marketers need to take a similar mindset, where you’re not having data dominate your approach, but using it in a manner that supplements your human understanding of your customer and their pain points.

There’s tremendous value in freeing up marketers’ time by using automated programs to tackle more tedious activities. This empowers marketers to build key personal relationships, learn from customers, and think critically about their biggest challenges. Marketers will maintain their relevance long into the future, but it won’t be solely because of data — it’ll be by understanding customers on a human level, while using data to enhance this understanding.

Be accountable.

In order to enhance this understanding, data cannot just be superficial The actual strength of the interactions you are measuring must go beyond clicks, views and downloads, and examine length of time spent on a piece of content, the strength of their intent, and level of interaction that your marketing tactics achieve.

A single click only provides a mere glimpse into customer interests, and gives little background on what motivated that click. Marketers must focus on the data points that are rich with insight about a customer’s behavior, intentions, and potential actions. You should ask yourself: for my business, what are the behavioral indicators that have driven past behavior? What’s my prospect’s digital body language telling me about the best way to engage with them? How do I  get them further down the funnel?

In today’s age, where everything is measured, CMOs should constantly look to drive revenue in order to show the value of their efforts to CEOs. If every marketing initiative and campaign is tied to revenue, the only CMOs who will be leaving their jobs will be the ones becoming CEOs themselves.