Linkedin Exec Says Marketers Make the Best CEOs

CMOs own the data that drives sales

The rising importance of data to companies (organizations in general and marketing departments in particular) is changing the perception of marketing's value. In fact, marketing is now so important that CMOs will make the best next-generation CEOs—thanks to their understanding of data and the customer.

Meet Dan Siroker, a new kind of marketer.

As the Obama campaign's director of analytics in 2008, one of Siroker's key responsibilities was optimizing the campaign's website, a critical fundraising tool. Using sophisticated A/B testing, which involved comparing the results of 24 combinations of visuals, copy and calls-to-action, Siroker and his team identified the most effective combination for raising campaign funds from Obama supporters. Not only did this winning combination raise an extra $60 million for the campaign, as Siroker explained in this blog post, but the A/B testing also generated the data to prove it.

Marketing teams have historically found it hard to be considered a revenue center vs. a cost center. But when you generate $60 million—and show exactly how you did it—there's no longer any doubt.

Now the CEO and co-founder of Optimizely, Siroker is just one of many pioneering, data-driven marketing executives who have become CEOs. Former marketing executive Paul Pellman was the CEO of Adometry before it was bought by Google earlier this year. Audi, Royal Dutch Shell, and Gilt Groupe have all recently named former marketing executives to CEO roles.

Here's why this is a big deal
Only the marketing department has a clear window on the behavior of the prospect during 90 percent of the buyer's decision making—the time spent doing research via visits to websites, reading online reviews, connecting with peers on social media and conducting online searches.

With the data created by this online behavior, marketers possess tremendous insight into their companies' potential customers. "When I tell people that we can know, in real time, every single visitor when they arrive on our site and know what company type they are from and that we can target specific titles or regions or individual companies, they're blown away," says Bill Macaitis, former CMO of Zendesk, describing the company's ability to understand their prospects in real time.

Marketing now holds the key to sales commissions
Marketing's possession of this insight into the customer represents a huge shift from the past when the sales department played a much larger role in shepherding the prospect through the sales process. But now, the sales department has little direct knowledge of 90 percent of the buyer's journey. It is now the marketing department, using data gleaned from the digital footprints left by prospects, that has the insight into this major portion of the sales process. And marketing can supply salespeople with exactly what they need: the qualified leads that are their lifeblood.

So data brings marketing and sales together. And because data can also identify deals that were marketing-sourced, the finance team also gains a new respect for marketing and its contribution to revenue. And finally, these changes have brought marketing closer together with the IT department, which helps install the marketing automation software, analytics tools and dashboards it needs to read the digital body language of customers and prospects.

Marketing is now at the nexus of business
The CMO's team has the clearest window into customer and prospect behavior. To sales, the CMO delivers the leads most likely to buy to sales. To finance, the CMO shows his or her team's revenue contribution. And with IT, the CMO helps built out the marketing technology stack that mediates critical interactions with customers and prospects.

The winning companies of the future will be data-driven and customer-focused. No one is in a better position to lead this kind of company than the CMO—the executive who is eminently qualified to be your next CEO.

Russell Glass is co-author of The Big-Data Driven Business: How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors, and Boost Profits, and Head of B2B Product, LinkedIn.  A serial technology entrepreneur, Glass was formerly CEO of Bizo, the marketing platform recently acquired by LinkedIn.