Why Your CMO Is Thinking About Leaving

Why Your CMO Is Thinking About Leaving

Dear CEO,

You have a tough job. Very few understand how many stakeholders you truly have to answer to or the pressure of your world. Like many of your peers, you may have been told that every bit of marketing has to be measurable to be effective. Or, that it is really product and sales that drive growth, where marketing serves as an ancillary function and needs to be controlled and directed. Add to this the rise of data, and you may have been further lulled into a false sense that the customer journey can and should be controlled at every step.

You may already know that CMOs have the highest turnover in the C-suite, hovering at 35 to 41 months depending on which research you look at. If you think that can’t possibly be your CMO because they are such a rockstar, remember that unicorns get hunted the most. 

Here are the five things you must give up if you want your CMO to stay – and to succeed. 

Insisting that they stalk your customers. There is a great episode from Modern Family where Claire and Cam are trying to flip a house and they stalk the customer online to “cater the house” to his needs. When the potential buyer finds it all a bit too creepy during the showing (how did they know his dog’s name?), he bolts. The modern customer journey has changed. You don’t get to control the journey. You don’t even get to know every touch point. You do get to make sure that you are investing in increasing your share of voice so wherever and whenever they are making that choice, you are their first preference. This is how category leaders get made and maintained. Think about it this way, Google used to be the first step in research. Today, it is merely a final gateway. (“Ok, I’ll finally look up that company that keeps popping up on my LinkedIn feed, and I heard about on the last podcast, and my buddy Barry keeps talking about them.”

Micromanaging. If you have a CMO you trust, let them do their job. If you don’t trust them, then it may be time for a completely different conversation. Micromanaging for metrics may make you (and the board) feel safer but it hardly ever tells the full story. All marketing is not performance marketing. Most prospects will see your ad but won’t click on it. They will read your white paper but they won’t have a conversation with sales right away. They will read your company profile in Forbes but they won’t message you telling you they did so. They will become consumers long before they turn into customers or clients. “Our CEO wants us to create more content but we have no budget to actually amplify the content…but he really wants this done” or some version thereof is an often heard lament. Marketing isn’t an on-demand collateral factory. 

Asking them about “sales enablement” or “account based marketing.” Sales enablement is a terrible phrase. Everything should enable sales – new sales, repeat sales, lifelong sales…asking marketing to do more to “enable sales” is the same as someone saying to you “enable the company.” Isn’t that the entire job description? Also, no one knows what the heck account based marketing even is. Seriously, there is no agreed upon definition. From what I can gather, it simply means market to multiple players at a target company. However, when according to Forrester’s latest research, it takes 21 interactions for a buyer to go from prospect to customer, you have to look beyond the myopic. This is where it really pays to re-read number two above. 

Saying you are playing the long game but expecting 90 day returns. I am not saying your CMO shouldn’t be accountable. The best ones already are, but insisting you are playing the long game yet expecting full ROI in 90 days is a terrible way to lead. This is probably the number one reason excellent CMOs leave. The best ones are right alongside you – wanting to grow the brand, wanting to be the category leader, wanting to not just cater to sales but to drive demand. It just takes patience. It isn’t magic. It is marketing. It is harder than ever to stand out from the noise these days. It takes time to create and maintain respect, relevance and recall. And, as I always say, recall drives revenue.  

Making them “earn” their marketing dollars. This can be one of the most harmful things you can do to your CMO and for the company at large. When you treat marketing like a cost center or force them to “quantify” every dollar spent, you are essentially creating a culture which rewards measurement over value. This is why so many CMOs continue to do trade shows and spend money on ads that don’t work because this way they can say “oh well, x number of clicks led to y number of leads.” What they rarely say is how poorly those leads converted or how much it cost to get them. What they really want to do is start an industry leading podcast, hire an influencer to run a series of live Q&As, and invest in digital PR. They KNOW these things will produce a much better ROI but because they take longer to translate as well into pretty graphs that all point upward, and that’s what you reward…they simply don’t. 

When done correctly, marketing doesn’t just support revenue operations, they drive them. Your CMO should be your best work friend and company asset. At the end of the day, you both have two of the most misunderstood jobs in the organization. On behalf of CMOs everywhere, I implore you to support them better – before your competitor does.

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