This article was based on Mark's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast.
Effective marketing leadership isn’t just about implementing strategies or launching campaigns; it's about deeply understanding the marketplace, the nuances of buyer journeys, and forging a genuine connection with your audience.
I’m Mark Donnigan, a seasoned salesperson turned marketer with a diverse background ranging from programming to music. I've navigated various industries and roles, gaining unique insights into the marketing world. My focus is on aligning marketing initiatives with revenue goals and creating impactful strategies that resonate with both the team and the market.
In this article, I'll share my perspective on how to address the short tenure of CMOs, the importance of aligning with sales teams, and innovative approaches to B2B marketing.
The challenge of short tenures for CMOs
In today's competitive business environment, the frequent turnover of CMOs has become a critical issue for brands and marketing professionals. As someone with a unique background, transitioning from a salesperson to a marketer, my journey has given me a distinct perspective on this challenge.
I started off as a self-taught computer programmer, fascinated by early Apple computers. My initial career path seemed destined for computer science, but my interests shifted towards music, leading me to drop out of college and pursue a career in music. Although I never achieved rock star status, this period was a significant part of my life journey.
My professional trajectory took a turn when I began working in sales, particularly in retail selling Apple computers. This experience laid the foundation for my understanding of the intricate relationship between sales and marketing. I learned that marketing serves as an amplifier to sales efforts, a realization that gradually steered my career towards marketing.
Over time, my involvement with marketing grew. I started by taking marketing initiatives in companies where dedicated marketing resources were scarce. Later, as I worked more closely with marketing teams, I began to understand the power of strategic marketing in driving revenue.
This shift in focus led me to positions that blended marketing, sales, and strategy. Throughout my career, I have maintained a revenue-first approach, which has been instrumental in my understanding of marketing's role in business success.
One aspect that often surprises me in the marketing world is the number of marketing leaders who seem disconnected from revenue objectives. Despite impressive backgrounds and education, many don't prioritize revenue in their strategies. It's not just about talking or paying lip service to revenue generation; it's about how marketing efforts are executed in alignment with business objectives.
For instance, a reliance on traditional marketing tactics, such as event programs, without a clear link to revenue, is a red flag. Justifying participation in industry trade shows solely for brand visibility, without a tangible impact on business objectives, indicates a problematic approach.
The challenge of short CMO tenures might be linked to this disconnect between marketing efforts and revenue goals. A shift towards a more revenue-focused approach in marketing strategies could be key in addressing this revolving door phenomenon in the CMO landscape.
Root causes of CMO turnover and strategies for impactful marketing
In addressing the issue of the short tenure of CMOs, it's crucial to recognize that generalizations can be misleading due to diverse market dynamics, business models, and go-to-market strategies across different industries. However, there is an underlying issue that often contributes to this problem: the disconnect between marketing activities and strategic business outcomes.
My extensive experience in the technology sector, particularly with B2B companies facing long sales cycles and complex sales processes, has provided me with insights into this challenge. Even successful, profitable companies in Silicon Valley, like Facebook, have undergone massive layoffs despite showing significant profits. This trend raises questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing efforts.
The pitfall of activity-focused marketing
Many marketing teams have become highly efficient at producing content and activities, but efficiency doesn't necessarily translate to effectiveness. The crucial question is whether these activities align with and contribute to the company's strategic growth and objectives. Often, there's a gap between the volume of work produced by marketing teams and the actual impact on business growth and market presence.
For example, a marketing team might be producing a vast amount of content across various platforms, but if these efforts don't facilitate the sales process or enhance market understanding of the company's offerings, they fall short. The real measure of success is not just the quantity of output but its relevance to strategic goals and its impact on revenue and market growth.
The role of the CMO in bridging the gap
The responsibility of addressing this issue falls largely on the CMO. It's not merely about tracking ROI or budget efficiency; it's about aligning marketing efforts with business outcomes. CMOs need to be strategists who can evaluate and prioritize activities based on their contribution to the company's growth and objectives.
In my role as a fractional executive working with various companies, I often encounter this challenge. Typically, the issue is not a lack of activity but a failure to connect these activities to real outcomes. Effective leadership in marketing is not just about overseeing a hardworking team; it's about guiding that effort towards measurable results that advance the company's goals.
When a CMO fails to drive meaningful outcomes, it can lead to their replacement, regardless of their intelligence, likeability, or past achievements. The critical factor is their ability to adapt strategies and activities to the unique dynamics of the current company and market, ensuring that their efforts yield tangible results.
Addressing the short tenure of CMOs involves a shift from an activity-focused approach to a results-driven strategy, where every marketing effort is evaluated based on its contribution to the company's strategic goals and growth. This approach can help stabilize the role of the CMO and enhance the overall effectiveness of marketing in driving business success.
Adapting marketing strategies to current market realities
When a new CMO or marketing leader joins a company, it's imperative to hit the ground running.
The initial 30 to 45 days are critical, and waiting until 60 or 90 days to show results can already put a target on one's back in today's fast-paced business environment. Understanding the buyer's journey in the specific industry and market is the first step. This involves getting into the field and grasping the decision-making process of potential customers.
The disconnect between success at one company and failure at another often stems from a failure to understand that each company's market and buyer's journey are unique. The assumption that a playbook that worked well at one company can be directly applied to another is a common pitfall.
Interestingly, the expectations set by the CEO and executive team can also contribute to this issue. CEOs often instruct recruiters to target candidates from successful companies, with the hope that these individuals will replicate their success using the same strategies. However, this overlooks the fact that what works for one company may not be suitable for another due to different market dynamics, customer behaviors, and business challenges.
When a new CMO is hired from a high-profile company, there's an implicit expectation to bring their successful playbook to the new organization. This expectation can be problematic, as it disregards the unique aspects of the new company's market environment.
The new CMO might start implementing strategies that were successful in their previous role, but these strategies may not align with the current needs and challenges of the new company.
This situation leads to a complex dynamic where both the marketing leader and the executive team need to recalibrate their expectations and strategies. It's not just about replicating past successes but adapting and evolving strategies to fit the new context. When results don't materialize as expected, it can cause confusion and frustration for both the CMO and the company's leadership.
For marketing leaders to succeed in a new environment, they must quickly adapt and understand the unique aspects of the new market they are operating in. It's essential to analyze and tailor strategies to the specific needs and challenges of the current business landscape, rather than relying solely on past successes. This approach requires a blend of strategic thinking, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the new market and customer journey.
Implementing the 'jobs to be done' framework in marketing strategies
As a new marketing leader, one of the most crucial tasks is to understand and map the buyer's journey in your specific market. This journey often differs significantly from one industry to another, and understanding these nuances is key.
A common mistake is overcomplicating marketing strategies, which can happen either intentionally, to create a sense of indispensability, or unintentionally, due to the complex nature of marketing itself.
I advocate for the 'jobs to be done' framework as a tool for building marketing strategies. This approach focuses on understanding the specific tasks or 'jobs' that potential customers need to accomplish. It’s a straightforward yet powerful way to align your marketing efforts with the actual needs and decision-making processes of your target audience.
To illustrate, consider a simple scenario of a customer buying a drill. The key question is not about the drill's features but rather about the job the customer needs to do with it. Is it for a small home project or a professional construction task? Understanding the specific job to be done allows for more targeted and effective marketing.
In marketing, this framework translates to producing content and strategies that address the specific 'jobs' your target audience is trying to accomplish at each phase of the buyer's journey. Instead of focusing on broad branding exercises, it’s more impactful to create content that speaks directly to the problems your audience is facing and educates them on various solutions, including what your product offers.
For instance, if a buying committee is looking for solutions to a specific industry problem, being the leading source of information and education on that problem can position your company as a top contender. Your marketing efforts should be tailored to each phase of the buyer's journey, addressing the specific jobs to be done at each step.
This approach is far more effective than traditional marketing tactics like trade show sponsorships or promotional merchandise. By understanding and catering to the specific needs of your buyers at each stage of their journey, your marketing efforts become more relevant and impactful.
The 'Jobs to Be Done' framework offers a practical and focused approach to marketing. By understanding the specific needs and decision-making processes of your target audience, you can create strategies and content that are more likely to resonate and lead to successful outcomes. This method emphasizes the importance of relevance and specificity in marketing, moving beyond generic tactics to create meaningful connections with your audience.
Establishing a compelling point of view in marketing
While it's a step in the right direction to focus marketing content on solving problems rather than just showcasing products, there's an additional layer that needs to be considered.
The challenge is that many companies are making similar claims about optimizing results, creating a cacophony of similar messages in the market. This situation can overwhelm and confuse potential customers, making it difficult for any single message to stand out.
The key to cutting through this noise is not just to offer solutions, but to establish a strong and relevant point of view. This approach involves a deeper understanding of where your customers currently are, where they need to be, and why it matters. It's about connecting with the most fundamental level of their problem.
For example, in email marketing, it's not enough to simply say your platform can improve open rates. A more impactful approach is to articulate a point of view that addresses the core issues customers are facing. This might involve a shift in perspective, where the focus isn't solely on email as a tool, but on the broader context of customer engagement and behavior trends.
Developing this point of view requires a profound understanding of the buyer's journey and the real problems customers are facing. It's not a surface-level understanding gained from a brief conversation with sales counterparts but a deep, empathetic comprehension gained from direct engagement with customers and sales processes.
Marketers who excel in today's environment often have a background in sales, which equips them with insights into the customer's mindset and the challenges they encounter. This experience allows them to craft marketing strategies and messages that resonate more deeply with potential buyers.
Creating a compelling point of view involves presenting a narrative that reflects the current market realities and future trends. It should articulate the risks of not adapting to these changes and the benefits of adopting new strategies or solutions. This narrative should be aligned with the company's solution but framed in a way that speaks directly to the evolving needs and challenges of the target audience.
Successful marketing in today's crowded and noisy marketplace requires more than just claims of product superiority or efficiency. It requires a deep understanding of the buyer's journey, the ability to articulate a compelling point of view that resonates with the market realities, and the skills to communicate this perspective effectively. This approach moves beyond traditional product-focused marketing, offering a more strategic and empathetic way to connect with customers and address their core needs.
Building strong alignment between sales and marketing for impactful outcomes
Collaboration between sales and marketing is critical to the success of any marketing initiative. As I've emphasized, the deep understanding of the buyer's journey and the challenges faced by the sales team is invaluable.
This alignment isn't just for CMOs or heads of marketing; individual contributors in marketing can also benefit greatly by engaging directly with the sales team. Whether it's listening to sales calls, joining meetings, or discussing strategies, these actions build a profound level of understanding and empathy.
By aligning closely with sales, marketing professionals can turn their counterparts in sales into advocates. When the CEO or other executives inquire about marketing efforts, a positive endorsement from the sales team can significantly impact the perception of marketing's effectiveness. A CRO acknowledging the tangible contributions of marketing to sales success is far more valuable than any claim of hard work or effort alone.
You'll notice I haven't delved into AI strategies, marketing platforms, or trendy tactics. The reason is simple: these tools are only effective if they're applied with a deep understanding of the market and the buyer's journey. Producing more content, even with advanced tools like ChatGPT, is not a panacea. It might even exacerbate the problem by flooding the market with content that lacks impact.
We, as marketing professionals, are not compensated for our efforts alone; we're paid for outcomes and impact. It's crucial to remember that the quantity of marketing output is not a measure of success. What matters is how well these efforts drive the business forward. As impressive as it might be to churn out a high volume of content with a small team, it's the impact of that content on the business that truly counts.
The key to slowing down the revolving door of marketing leadership and increasing tenure is to align closely with sales, understand the buyer's journey intimately, and focus on outcomes over outputs. This approach requires a shift from a purely creative or output-focused mindset to one that is strategic, empathetic, and business-oriented. By doing so, marketing can transcend being just a function within the organization and become a critical driver of business growth and success.
Rethinking B2B marketing strategies and leveraging underutilized channels
The integration of marketing efforts across various departments, including customer service and support, is crucial for gaining a comprehensive understanding of customer needs and experiences. In SaaS businesses or other self-serve models, customer support interactions provide a wealth of insights.
Marketers can gain valuable information by listening to customer challenges and feedback, even in a support context. This approach not only aids in creating more targeted marketing strategies but also helps in understanding the decision-making process of customers.
A key aspect of modern marketing, especially in B2B contexts, is questioning standard assumptions and being open to exploring new avenues. For instance, the role of platforms like Facebook in B2B marketing is often underestimated. The general belief is that Facebook is not a suitable platform for B2B marketing due to its personal, social nature. However, rethinking this assumption can open up new opportunities.
By treating Facebook as a content distribution channel with targeted advertising, B2B marketers can reach their audience in a less saturated and more personal environment. The key is not to use direct response ads but to provide relevant content that fits into the buyers' journey. This approach can create a 'pattern interrupt' in the personal browsing experience, capturing the attention of potential B2B customers in a space where they are not bombarded with professional content.
It's important to remember that B2B marketing is ultimately human-to-human (H2H). Professionals do not switch off their business brains when they leave the office. A casual browse through Facebook in the evening can still be an opportunity to engage with business-related content, especially if it's presented in a contextually relevant and non-intrusive manner.
By serving this content strategically on platforms like Facebook, where the audience is not expecting business-related material, marketers can potentially engage with decision-makers like CEOs in a novel way. The objective isn't direct messaging but subtly capturing attention and creating a mental note about the company or its solutions.
Breaking out of traditional marketing molds and exploring underutilized channels can offer new pathways for B2B engagement. This approach requires creative thinking, a deep understanding of the buyers' journey, and a willingness to challenge established marketing norms. By adopting innovative strategies and leveraging platforms like Facebook thoughtfully, marketers can connect with their B2B audience in a more meaningful and impactful way.
Leveraging unconventional channels for B2B marketing success
The story of the B2B marketing agency leader who found success by rethinking traditional marketing channels illustrates the importance of understanding customer behavior in real-time environments. His observation of medical professionals using Facebook in emergency rooms at midnight highlights a critical insight: despite professional settings, people don't detach from their personal habits, like browsing social media.
This anecdote challenges the stereotype that B2B buyers are not active on platforms like Facebook. While it's true that direct sales pitches may not be effective on such platforms, providing engaging, relevant content can be a successful strategy. It's about aligning your marketing strategy with the actual behavior and preferences of your target audience.
The key takeaway from this approach is the importance of deeply understanding how buyers behave and where they spend their time, even during work hours. Recognizing that professionals don't switch to a different mode when at work, but rather blend their personal and professional lives, especially in their media consumption habits, can open up new avenues for reaching them effectively.
The strategy of using paid advertising as a guaranteed content distribution method on social media platforms like Facebook is a powerful one. Instead of traditional ads, the focus should be on providing valuable and intriguing content that fits naturally into the potential customers' browsing experience. This method can break through the noise of conventional B2B marketing channels and engage potential buyers where they are most comfortable and receptive.
The story underscores the need for B2B marketers to innovate and rethink their approaches to align with the actual behaviors of their target audience. By understanding the blend of personal and professional habits and leveraging platforms like Facebook strategically, marketers can create impactful and effective campaigns.
This approach not only helps in reaching potential customers more effectively but also in justifying marketing strategies to other stakeholders, thereby solidifying the position of marketing within the organization and slowing down the revolving door of marketing leadership.
Mark's advice is just the start. If you want to make an impact as a CMO, do it with the support of a global network of marketing leaders backing you up.