4 Keys CMOs Should Consider as They Transform Their Organizations and Themselves

Marketing execs need to up their game in an era of change

CMOs are being challenged by new C-level positions, but organizations still need marketing leaders to represent the voice of the customer. Getty Images

Go on a digital safari

Staying current with ever-changing tech trends is now de rigueur for any modern marketing executive. One of the first things Jim Lyski did after becoming CMO of CarMax in 2014 was to go on a “digital safari” to Silicon Valley with the company’s new CIO and other senior executives. They spent three days meeting with leading tech and venture capitalist firms, getting up to speed on emerging technologies.

“Google is happy to show you not only what they’re doing but what they’re going to concentrate on over the next year,” Lyski says. “Facebook, Adobe, Oracle and IBM Watson will do the same thing. If you’re not talking to the experts that are reshaping our industry, you’re missing the boat. This industry changes at breakneck speed. If you don’t put in the effort to stay abreast of everything, you’ll blink and be left behind.”

Double down on data

In an era where the role of CMOs is being challenged by a slew of new C-level positions, organizations still need marketing leaders to represent the voice of the customer. Today, much of that voice is derived from data, but that information is often locked away in multiple silos, says Ingrid Lindberg, founder and CXO for Chief Customer, a consultancy focusing on customer experience.

“You’re still going to need a single source of truth about what customers really want,” she says. “You can’t go wrong if you double down on the data. Get people focused on where the power is, which is information, and share those insights across the organization and all those different silos.”

Seek internal partners

CMOs are often assigned broad responsibilities but with little direct authority. Partnering with key members of the organization is one way to influence operations outside their immediate portfolio.

The three roles CMOs should seek to engage with first are whoever owns the customer experience, a chief digital officer, if there is one, and the CIO, says Forrester’s Michael Barnes.

“The CIO should be one of their best friends,” he says. “That’s critical. The scope of technology that’s involved in truly embracing the customer experience goes far beyond marketing technology. And if it’s not clear who owns the customer experience and digital functions, the CMO had better start moving quickly and take ownership before someone else does.”

Sharpen your skills

The CMO remit is ever expanding, and few people are masters of all the necessary skills. So acknowledge the gaps in your skill set and try to fill them, says John Abele, a managing partner with Heidrick & Struggles’ CMO practice. Even if they don’t lead to a promotion or expanded responsibilities, they can help you in other ways.

“Upping your business acumen is a no-regret move,” says Abele. “Improving your ability to work with a more diverse group of people is also no cause for regret. And digital skills have become table stakes for most folks. Even if you didn’t grow up in the digital era, getting more comfortable with what’s happening in technology is something people should be investing more time in.”

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.