The chief marketing officer is no stranger to many of the world’s largest organizations, but the leadership aspect of this position has not yet been mastered by many professionals currently holding the title, argue authors Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. Associate Editor Oren Smilansky recently chatted with Barta, who outlined a few steps marketers can take to gain backing from their CEOs.
CRM: Why did you decide to write a book about marketing leadership?
Thomas Barta: I worked in marketing for a couple of years, at Kimberly-Clark and Kleenex, and I got increasingly frustrated with the fact that marketers, at least in my companies, were not always heard. That was why I joined McKinsey, where I was a partner for many years. I worked with CEOs on marketing strategy and helped them figure out what to do with their brands and companies as a whole. The discovery I made is that other people, outside of marketing, can be better at connecting with the top and getting their perspectives on the table. That was an interesting insight; it wasn’t the C-suite not understanding the marketers but marketers needed to change the game in companies.
What sort of research did you do for the book?
We profiled 1,200 chief marketing officers and also looked at the profiles of more than 68,000 leaders, and compared marketers with the people and operations to see how they fit.
The aim is to find ways to step up the game in companies. Ultimately, if marketers are successful, the companies will be successful, because marketers typically have great insights.
What are some of the greatest challenges CMOs face?
It’s sometimes hard to believe what we say, because you can look at numbers from last year, and if you talk to finance, they’re so much more credible. We almost have that credibility gap in companies. Even if we’re really good, we can’t prove that the future will happen, though we believe it will.
Secondly, if you want a great customer experience (which is what many marketers look for), so many people have to make it happen, and most of those people just don’t report to marketing.
The third challenge is knowledge. A lot of marketers came in being the expert. All of a sudden they see themselves leading teams, and those teams know way more than some of the senior marketers know, and they have to find a completely new role in figuring out how—[while] also trusting the [team members]—to deal with issues they don’t fully understand. So a lot of marketers are being pushed harder to prove why their work is relevant and important.
Did anything surprise you about the findings?
One of the incredible things we found is that, to achieve success as a marketer, functional skills like CRM and others are quite relevant, but the skill of navigating within the organization—to tell the story, to show why the future matters, to mobilize people that don’t report to you, and to build leaders, not functional eggheads—is even more important. And that’s incredible because most marketers don’t think about that part of their job; they think, “I’ll do my campaigns, my CRM, and people will understand it.” But actually getting that understanding is a bigger part of success than the functional skill.
Are CMOS doing a good job of keeping up with the demands of their role?
Many find it difficult. Fifty-six percent of marketers said that their careers are not going well. That shows the enormity of the issue. But there are marketers who have now managed to be marketers on the board, basically, and have made the switch.
What are these marketers doing to get leadership right?
The ones making it happen are the ones moving to the revenue camp. Most CEOs think about strategy and how to move from A to B. They think about revenue, and they think about cost. If you, as a marketer, don’t prove that you’re part of the group that drives revenue in the company, you will naturally fall into cost, even if it’s not talked about, and people will try to do little as needed in your space. They’ll cut your budget; they’ll try to see how they’ll do with less marketing. But the marketers who can prove they’re part of the revenue camp and can explain it are the ones who are thriving.