Why CRM Leaders Have the Skills Required for Chief Marketing Officers in Today’s Marketing World

There’s a new path to the CMO’s chair, and it starts with skills that most of today’s CRM directors already have.

By Sandra Gudat, President/CEO

Essential skills required for CMOs today

The recent announcement that Staples had named Michelle Bottomley as its new chief marketing officer (CMO) caught the attention of many of us in the customer relationship management (CRM) world. Long before this latest career move, before Bottomley worked with Mercer and Barclaycard, she was the head of CRM at OgilvyOne. From our perspective, this is a sign of the times, as more and more organizations realize that CRM leaders are perfectly positioned to take over the role of CMO.

The CMO Role Is Changing

Driven by an intense and changing business environment, chief executive officers (CEOs) are re-thinking the skills required for chief marketing officers in today’s customer- and data-driven marketing world. Many are now seeking “whole-brained” candidates — marketers with the right-brain chops to think creatively around building the brand and developing customer experiences, as well as left-brain aptitudes in analytics and technology. A very tall order indeed.

As Jerry Bernhart, of Bernhart Associates Executive Recruiting, says, “I can’t remember the last time I did a search where advertising experience was a requirement. Now companies are looking for ‘precision and performance’ marketers.”

More specifically, the skills required for today’s CMOs have evolved along with the ever-growing list of job responsibilities. Phrases like digital native, data savvy and chief marketing technologist are common in CMO-level job descriptions. Bottomley represents this new breed of CMO well as someone who is digital, data and customer savvy, and who sprang out of the direct agency world rather than the big brand-building agency world.

CRM and CMO Skills Are Starting to Overlap

CRM department heads, while once a novelty (and some may say the “red-headed stepchild” of marketing), are now commonplace at major U.S. retailers. Many organizations are moving from a combined loyalty-CRM job title to delineating these into two separate functional areas.

Interestingly, many of the desired skills for today’s CMOs are table stakes for those CRM leaders, who touch digital marketing, customer data and analytics, customer journey, customer experience and e-commerce. Further, they have hands-on experience — they have actually done it. It’s not theory to them. And, as with all things related to data and making it actionable, the devil is in the details.

In fact, for CMOs who don’t have that well-rounded skill set could be facing dark times. Forrester predicts that CEOs will dismiss at least 30 percent of their CMOs who do not have the whole-brain skills needed to “drive digital business transformation, design exceptional personalized experiences, and propel growth.”

Retail Marketing Departments Are Becoming Growth Centers

Many organizations are redefining the marketing department. Rather than being considered a cost center, it’s now a growth driver as the cost of tactics and strategies become “investments,” with the expectation that the CMO can show the impact, in both sales and traffic, of every dollar spent.

For example, back in March of this year, Coca Cola announced several senior leadership changes, including replacing their former CMO with Francisco Crespo and naming him their chief growth officer. According to Coca Cola, this move was part of their initiative to become more “growth-oriented and consumer-centered.”

This concept is not new to retail, where titles like chief customer officer and chief revenue officer have gained steam. More often than not, the functional ownership of the customer and driver of the ensuing revenues are under today’s retail CMO.

In CCG’s own CMO research conducted late last year, marketers reported more pressure than ever to “drive traffic and sales” and “be able to prove our efforts are moving the dial.”

Data is typically the foundation for driving more business. In a recent study by Allocadia, only 21 percent of companies reported they were able to fully measure the contribution of marketing to revenue.

CRM leaders, however, are well-versed in using data to drive business in a measurable manner. They share an ROI orientation along with the CEO and chief financial officer (CFO).

Seven Essential Skills for CMOs

Let’s dive deeper into seven elements that set up CRM leaders for success in the CMO role:

  • Digital marketing expertise
  • Customer insights owner
  • Technology guru
  • 360-degree customer viewpoint
  • Customer experience and journey trackers
  • C-suite relationships
  • Change management finesse

Digital Marketing Skills Must Be Native to Today’s CMO

Going back to the Forrester Research, the skill to digitally transform an organization was one of the top imperatives that CEOs look for in CMOs. CRM leaders are often at the leading edge of bringing data-driven digital strategies and tactics to their organization, such as CRM re-targeting, chatbots, artificial intelligence, addressable TV, backend attribution solutions, etc. They’ve been on the bleeding edge of trying new techniques, technologies and strategies for years.

CMOs Must Know How to Leverage Customer Insights

In Forrester’s “Evolved CMO” research, 40 percent of survey respondents identified “data insight and analytics skills, technology awareness and digital understanding as key areas requiring ongoing improvement.” CRM leaders are the ones most often tasked with directly managing analysts, researchers and the associated technologies to drive customer insights. This provides them with a unique perspective on the pulse of the customer.

Today’s CMOs Must Be Marketing Technologists

One of the growing number of hats worn by CMOs is that of marketing technologist. Today’s CMOs need to be comfortable with …

  • Ever-emerging solutions that better help their organizations engage customers across both physical and digital journeys
  • Insights technologies that help predict and drive personalization
  • Back-office technologies that help marketing departments gain efficiencies and speed

Again, the role that is often at the center of this is … you guessed it … the CRM leader.

CMOs Need a Single, Data-Driven View of Customer Traits & Behavior

The Forrester report also states that 55 percent of CMOs report a lack of common understanding of customers across the organization. Yet, it’s essential knowledge.

The heavy lifting of integrating systems so that there is one single view of “the truth” is critical to optimizing the customer experience, measuring the impact of marketing (and other) initiatives and making sure all the reports align — so you don’t have to have that conversation with the CEO again about why figures from different reports don’t exactly match!

Levity aside, a single view of the customers and their data gives senior management more confidence in the validity of the reports, better enabling them to move decisively forward with action. CRM leaders are on the front lines of these efforts.

CMOs Use Data to Understand Customer Experience and Buying Journeys

With two-thirds of CMOs reporting that they are now responsible for managing the customer experience (CX), the need for whole-brained CMOs has increased. CX requires a thorough understanding of business process and data, along with the creative mind to design the desired experiences at key touchpoints. Not to mention that tracking and understanding the customer journey — particularly in the present retail marketing climate — has renewed focus around customer retention. CRM leaders are typically responsible for defining customer journeys and developing customer retention strategies.

Modern Day C-Suite Partnerships Are Essential

Forty-five percent of most senior B2C marketers say their relationship with the CFO was critical, according to Forrester. Forty-eight percent responded in the same way about their relationship with the chief information officer (CIO).

CRM directors are often in direct contact with both CFOs and CIOs, as well as e-commerce heads. And they work directly with members of their respective departments. CFOs appreciate CRM leaders’ measurement- and ROI-orientation. CIOs often have first-hand exposure to CRM leaders during the planning and implementation of insights and backend efficiency technologies.

Often, CRM leaders and their departments serve as the bridge between e-commerce and marketing, and by default, the stores. This gives CRM leaders an important head start on building these crucial relationships before they become CMO.

CMOs Must Be Adept at Change Management

Change management factors enormously as CEOs push through the transformations necessary for their organizations to become growth-oriented, customer-centric and digital. And much of this change will fall onto the shoulders of the CMO. Good news! CRM directors are accustomed to change in their departments. It’s their job to keep track of the new technologies, channels and techniques to engage customers and measure their behavior. New solutions appear every month, and managing change is just part of the job.

Positioning CRM Leaders for Success in the CMO Role

CRM leaders are poised to become the next CMOs. That said, not every CRM leader would be a perfect fit without making sure they’ve also developed their right-brained skills and experience.

For instance, although skills such as customer journey mapping and CX design help CRM leaders gain a unique perspective of the customer, there is no substitute for customer-facing experience in the stores, call center, etc. Ambitious CRM leaders need to find opportunities to develop skills and experience in creativity, leadership, organizational transformation and a strategic understanding of the big picture. If they can do this, they will have obtained many of the skills required to be considered for the CMO role, and maybe even further.

For 40 years, CCG’s retail marketing team has supported customer- and data-driven growth initiatives for organizations across North America. We’re here to help you achieve your goals, too, with a full-suite of loyalty and retail capabilities and services. Email us today or call 800.525.0313.

Sandra Gudat is president/CEO of Customer Communications Group (CCG), a full-service customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency that helps Fortune 2000 retailers and financial institutions improve their bottom line by improving their customer relationships, loyalty and retention.