Do Companies Really Want the Ideal Chief Marketing Officer?

As a past direct response agency executive and present direct marketing consultant, I have worked with CMOs in multiple industries. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
From time to time, clients ask me for input on candidates and my perspectives on what they should look for when selecting their new CMO. And I wonder if companies really want the "ideal" Chief Marketing Officer.

Christopher C. Nadherny, global search consultant for Spencer Stuart wrote an article about this in the December 17, 2007 issue of DM News. I want to comment on his points as it relates to the reality faced by direct marketing executives who seek positions and qualify on all of these fronts.

Bear in mind that Mr. Nadherney's following list of five qualities that define the ideal candidate refers to CMOs in organizations that have a substantial investment in the direct marketing strategy. So my comments assume that the organization has a diverse distribution system that does not rely 100% on direct response.

1.    Mr. Nadherty says clients are looking for customer-centricity. That is, customer empathy and being able to stand in the shoes of the company’s best customers. He states that this ideally includes direct selling to customers that demonstrates an understanding of what works in practice, not theory.

This may be true, but most hiring managers operate in cultures that are shareholder rather than customer driven.

Another challenge direct marketing CMOs may face involve organizations that focus on the easy way that does not butt heads with the company’s internal operations.

CMOs confront significant internal barriers because they change things that help customers, but these changes often make life more difficult for employees. In short order, the needed changes do not happen and the CMO does not achieve the desired sales goals.

This makes me question whether companies truly want their CMOs to act as the company's customer advocate. What they may really want is a CMO that can achieve tremendous growth doing it within the company's sometimes-narrow comfort zone.

What is your take on this?

2.    Ability to integrate data into actionable and effective marketing. Good analytical skills.

Most senior managers respect this skill because it implies the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising dollars.

But once in the fold, CMOs find resistance to results that contradict the body of anecdotal evidence top operational executives carry in their brains.

CMOs are in the unique position of wielding the power of customer knowledge if they are truly skilled in interpreting customer purchasing behaviors. But this knowledge does not always fall on receptive ears.

The big question is, will the company accept the findings and allow the CMO to act on them? In my experience, facts alone rarely create major changes in many organizations.

In spite of the company's assurances that they want this analytical skill, they want it as long as it confirms what top management already believes.

The symptom: the CMO presents startling customer behavior information that requires a major strategic change, but the CEO and other top management states that they do not trust the customer data. So the conclusions are invalid.

What experiences have you had? What was the end result?

3.    An appreciation and instinct for technology grounded with basic selling and direct marketing savvy. Technology without customer connection costs money and is ineffective.

Well said by Mr. Nadherny! There exists a wide gulf between technical knowledge and translating that to media integration for maximum financial return.

The two technologies most relevant to direct marketing CMOs include online marketing and the management of the marketing database.

Technology knowledge without a firm grasp of marketing strategy leads many companies to trash sound marketing principles in exchange for novelty.

Testing, analysis, campaign development and all marketing strategies require first and foremost an understanding that customers buy using a large diversity of channels.

The direct marketer must also realize that the primary growth opportunities and knowledge for future growth reside in the customer database.

Unless the CMO has a strong direct marketing background, this gold mine called the marketing database will never contribute its full moneymaking potential.

For example, lead generation and sales conversions fail due to a lack of knowledge and attention to the database.

Have you seen technology running out of control? If so, how did you tame it and unlock its moneymaking potential?

4.    Financial know-how in controlling budgets that generate profitable revenue.

Direct marketers in particular should be experts at budget control.

Sales analysis and testing make the direct marketing skill set particularly useful to today’s marketers. Yet many companies need high-speed educations in understanding how much they can invest in new customers or what these customers’ lifetime values are. Asking them to evaluate marketing efforts in these terms is rarely achieved.

This is not usually a problem for companies that rely on the direct marketing strategy for most of their sales. But with multiple distribution channels or large sales forces, such in-house analytical skills may not yet exist.

This is not an insurmountable problem in itself, but the absence of such tools creates another, often debilitating problem. After successful testing, the money is not allocated based on results, but rather as a percentage of what was spent last year.

Top management in non-direct marketing driven companies sometimes has little understanding or appreciation of how the direct marketer develops advertising budgets.

Marketing is an investment and not an expense. So many direct marketing CMOs run immediately into this brick wall based on how the organization allocates the advertising budget.

5.    Experience across multiple industries and across multiple disciplines/channels to provide breadth of understanding and perspective.

I disagree with one point Mr. Nadherny makes here. Many industries do not appreciate multiple industry experience. In fact, they want most (if not all) of the CMOs’ experience concentrated in their industry.

For example, when was the last time you attempted to set up an interview with a financial institution or a high tech company without long term experience in those industries? Such companies will not even consider you for a CMO position without specific and recent category experience.

They do this at their peril in my opinion, because they inbreed to the point that they do not benefit from the marketing successes and failures marketers glean from other industries.

The bottom line --- companies want this ideal candidate,
but candidates appropriately want the ideal company in return.

What other skills define the ideal CMO in your experience? 


Posted on December 31, 2007 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy.