Before There Were CMOs

My first marketing job was for a database company that had no viable CRM. In today’s digital marketing age it’s almost hard to believe, but less than twenty years ago most companies didn’t have one. As marketers we were largely flying blind, and everyone knew it. Generating leads could pretty much be summed up as a bunch of tradeshows, seminars and direct marketing, with a scattering of fun parties in between. Marketing leaders were usually brand and corporate marketers.

Lead management was also kind of ridiculous. Usually we knew just two things about a lead: the date we got the name and the first activity. Then we pushed leads straight to sales. Sometimes we knew the date it converted to an opportunity but in most organizations there was no rule for conversion, so time-challenged sales teams would just create net new opps, erasing the previous lead data. And nobody really cared, certainly not the heads of sales, who were focused on one thing: getting the deals done. And you couldn’t blame them; marketing then was not what it is today. The concept of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) didn’t even exist.

And Then We Got Data

When everyone started living more digital lives and marketing got data, the opportunity just exploded. We still do many of the same things but our ability to nurture people, predict outcomes and forecast business is significantly more effective now, and the role of the marketing organization has grown.

The difference is threefold: (1) the nature of how people gather information is changing and discovery is largely self directed; (2) we have a ton of data and more each day; and (3) innovation gives us new marketing tools each year, growing from about 100 in 2010 to almost 2,000 in 2015. This means we can better track behaviors and outcomes, and use those insights to cultivate people over time from raw lead status through win, loss and renewal.

The Emerging CMO

Having all this data means everyone ends up knowing more, from the most junior analyst to the CEO. But data in the wrong hands can be misleading. So increasingly, marketing—the team tasked with building the infrastructure, designing the data and workflows, and ultimately, understanding how everything on the front-end is working—are providing the key insights, which has increased the CMO’s influence across the whole organization.

  1. Today’s buyer is largely gathering information online. Whereas we used to think of sales as a selling process, we’ve know now it’s a buying process and the buyer is in control. By nurturing people from before they even know what they’re problems are, we educate them on our products and value while providing a framework from which they can launch active sales discussions with us and other vendors. Marketing drives this extended process.
  2. Deep exposure to the prospect and customer experience means CMO has a unique perspective on the state of the business, and can directly influence improvements to the bottom line: reducing sales and maintenance costs, increasing margins, driving repeatability.
  3. The CMO is increasingly charged with ensuring the organization has the right marketing and sales technologies, that they’re integrated and that they work—which is a departure from how functional IT was managed before. So while in the past the CMO mostly focused forward and outward, building interest, the emerging CMO also needs to understand technology and tech operations, and in smaller companies manage a significant IT program, including framing the program, acquiring and running the technologies, and designing critical data flows. In many organizations this includes the CRM.
  4. Cold calling is over. It’s smarter for sales to reach out to people who show growing interest than to work fresh names we know nothing about. And now that we can cultivate people and track their activity, by the time we push leads to sales, about 80% of the buying process is complete. Since marketing now formally controls more of the buying cycle, sales has time to cultivate opportunities that have a chance.
  5. Marketing contribution to making money (selling!) has been formally acknowledged. An anecdotal survey of my colleagues in tech marketing revealed that marketing is now tasked with delivering 70-100% of new business pipeline, which is the primary growth indicator for most companies and also the balance of revenue for earlier-stage companies. In effect, the company’s sales forecast depends heavily on the CMO knowing what’s up and getting it right. This has evolved marketing from a cost center to an acknowledged revenue generator, elevating the authority of the CMO. The CEO and board now look to the CMO for insights about the state of the broader business.

It’s Just the Beginning

It’s a long way from the days of marketing with no database, when there was no CMO role and we hovered around the top of the funnel, and success was based on top-of-funnel metrics like share of voice, event attendees and lead scans. Marketing’s presence in strategic discussions then was rare. Now that we can engage with people as they navigate their buying experience, everything’s changed—and as we get even better tools and more useful information, our opportunity and accountability will continue to expand, increasing CMO authority and marketing influence even more.

About Rebecca White
Rebecca is an experienced marketer with a passion for demand generation and content marketing, and delivering fast, sustained pipeline for high-growth companies. She’s has deep expertise building inbound and outbound demand generation programs and engines, with a focus on marketing strategy, content strategy, campaign design, marketing programs, SEO, PPC, channel marketing and marketing operations. Learn more about Rebecca on LinkedIn.