Understanding the fast-changing CMO and CSO roles

Dr. Michael M. Meier, Consultant and Co-Leader Global CMO Practice at executive search firm Egon Zehnder, talks about the fast-changing roles of the chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief sales officer (CSO).

How have marketing and sales changed most in the last five years?

The first major element has been the emergence of multiple channels. This has challenged both sales and marketing in how to approach and influence customers and how to align different channels. It’s very, very complex. It’s not like in the old world, where sales would “wine and dine” certain key customers and that was enough. The second industry-changing factor issue is digital, which has raised the issue of how to get hold of the customer or consumer and where to create meaningful touch points.

The third element is emerging markets. Europe is a mature market where it’s all about detailed customer insights and planning; and less about entrepreneurship, and trial and error. In emerging markets, there are no rules yet or, if there are, they are rewritten very, very quickly. In Africa, print media and television don’t play a role: it’s all about mobile and direct-oriented marketing. And obviously, consumer needs are very different. So it’s about flexibility, trying out things, being entrepreneurial and being first.

What skills are essential to today’s CMO and CSO?

The CMO needs to be a strong change leader because the role is all about shifting the organization toward a more market-oriented model. And they need strong strategic capabilities to think ahead and create a vision that is tangible as well as being able to explain the steps that are necessary to reach it. For the sales role, market orientation is important. We find quite a few salespeople who are more process-oriented than market-oriented. Now, it’s all about collaboration, influencing and creating a positive changeoriented environment, rather than being a functional expert.

Is it essential for a marketer to know what sales is about and vice versa?

Absolutely. It doesn’t mean you have to spend five years in the respective function, but it’s crucial to speak with your sales or marketing counterpart on equal terms and to understand their needs and challenges and how you can help each other.

Why do you think the C-suite respects the CSO so much?

Because the CSO is the person they look to for short-term commercial success, the one with the customer contacts and the strong say in innovation. The CSO is usually also very vocal and has all the latest market news and customer developments to hand at executive meetings. If the marketing voice is reduced to: “This is how we should design our brochures and communicate our latest innovation,” that is obviously not a strong role. But it is actually the situation in many companies.

How can CMOs overcome this?

If you look at the CMO in successful companies, they are the ones who speak with the voice of the customer and drive product innovation. This is obviously the case in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies where marketing is the lead function, but it is also more common in industries where marketing used to play a minor role. Boards are increasingly aware that the marketing role, and the customer perspective, is vital. And so we see more and more companies looking for people who have the capacity, knowledge and breadth to fill such a position.

Do you think, because of their short-term approach, that CSOs aren’t so likely to take on a broader role, such as that of a chief commercial officer (CCO)?

It’s more difficult for people brought up in the sales silo to move into a general management role than it is for marketers. They are too narrow in many respects. Whereas a marketer, if they are close to sales – particularly one with a couple of years of sales or trade marketing experience – is much better equipped to move into a broader responsibility.

How important is it for these roles to collaborate closely with the CIO?

It is tremendously necessary and important. There is so much data available today – particularly if you are working with trade in a collaborative model, as trade has its own data too. Both roles need a lot of IT know-how and resources to crunch all of that. This has always been the case in areas such as online banking or mobile service companies, but now it’s as vital for washing powder or machinery companies.

How can a CSO and a CMO make themselves indispensable to their board?

The marketer must provide compelling and understandable insights and consumer perspectives that influence other functions. They need to inspire colleagues with knowhow and concepts that their colleagues have never even thought of before and that are business-relevant.

The sales leader, meanwhile, must broaden their perspective. A short-term perspective makes an organization short sighted: if you just look at sales results on a yearly basis, then you miss trends and the big picture. The CSO’s other key focus must be on creating global best practice processes and on inspiring colleagues on the frontline to have strong key account relations that are relationship-oriented, not sales-oriented.

In addition, to prove themselves indispensable, the CSO and CMO must work very closely together.

The article was written by:

  • Rebecca Dowman

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