On a recent episode of our podcast, CMO Convo, we were joined by Eric Fulwiler, Chief Marketing and Commerical Officer for 11:FS, to discuss how he evolved and expanded his position. We talked about the importance of CMOs expanding their skillsets and responsibilities to better integrate into their companies and fulfil the real needs of modern businesses. We look at the constants that CMOs need to keep in mind to succeed, even with all this evolution needed and briefly hypothesized on the future of CMOs.
You can listen to the full episode here, but read on if you want to see what we discussed.
- Eric's background and approach to the CMO role
- The what, why and how of evolving your role
- The constants of a good CMO
- CMOs of the future
Eric's background and approach to the CMO role
To get started, maybe you could introduce yourself and go into your role at 11:FS?
I'm Eric Fulwiler, Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer here at 11:FS. We work with financial service institutions to understand and take advantage of the future of digital within their industry. I've been here for about two years, the company's five years old. I started as Chief Marketing Officer, but about six months in my role evolved into what it is now.
I know that's one of the topics that we're going to talk about, the evolving role of CMO, which I'm super excited to lend my two cents on.
Before that, I spent 10 years in the ad agency world. I spent some time in big holding groups but I spent a good chunk of that at an agency called VaynerMedia, which has become one of the bigger independent digital agencies out there.
That's what brought me to this side of the pond, I've been here for the last five years. I opened their London office and helped to scale their presence in Europe. Then before that did a bunch of startups over in the US between New York and San Francisco and actually spent the first year of my career in the nonprofit world.
So when you first got to the CMO role, were you approaching it with any kind of philosophy that led to evolving into the Commercial Officer role? Or was it just something that naturally happened as part of your tenure there?
Yeah, I think a bit of both. I mean because my role before joining 11:FS was MD of an agency, I wasn't the creative guy, I wasn't the strategy guy, I built a business, I ran a business, I think I came into it and it's one of the things I'm passionate about and I do think is important for CMOs to have a little bit of a commercial background or foundation to who they are and how they think and how they work.
So I think I had that coming in, I wasn't just going to be the brand guy or the content guy. I was like, "Alright, how do we use marketing to actually drive growth of the business?" Where's my P&L? What's the results that's driving? I was much more financially oriented.
But it was my first brand side role and so there was a lot of learning and actually, funnily enough, the call I had just before this one was with a good friend of mine who's taking his first brand side role. And so it was interesting reflecting on what I've learned over the last two years, coming to the brand side and what's important to get situated and set up well as a CMO or CCO, or whatever that title is for you.
The what, why and how of evolving your role
You mentioned branding and content as being the main role of a CMO, usually, what is the need to go beyond that? Why do CMOs need to go beyond that now?
The way that I think about it is the role of marketing is to drive growth of the business. So, you can go all the way back to the four Ps, or you can look at what's happening. I think it's really interesting where I sit at 11:FS, but anybody can have this perspective, just by looking at what's happening out there.
If you look at what startups and scale-ups are doing differently from traditional incumbent organizations, it gives you a bit of a view, maybe not into the future, but into the present of where things are because these are companies that are being designed and built and modeled and structured from scratch, for exactly how the world looks like today.
Whereas, a generality it depends on the business, but typically, traditional incumbent businesses are ones that were built for a different time and are trying to evolve their model and approach to the way things are today.
I think that one of the trends that are really interesting, particularly in the world of FinTech is for a B2C company in FinTech, a lot of times marketing is tied very closely to product. So marketing will roll up to the CPO or product may a little bit less frequently could roll up to the CMO. Or if it's a B2B business like we are, you have marketing and sales tied together in the Chief Commercial Officer.
I think that's because, in a modern business, marketing serves the purpose of driving the growth of the business. It's not just about building the brand. It's not just about communications. And so you need to figure out, depending on the type of business you are, and also the casting of the people that you have, what the right remit is for growth within the organization.
The obvious one that you see a lot as well is Chief Growth Officer. So I think it's just about that broader perspective of the role of marketing is to drive the growth of a business. Depending on who you are and the people that you have onboard, what's the best way to set your C-suite person up to do that?
That's got to be quite tricky to develop those kinds of skills, if you've come up from a marketing background, you've got all this experience in marketing, then you get to the C-suite, and suddenly, you've got to learn all this new stuff. It must be a bit of a trial by fire for a lot of CMOs?
It depends on how long you've been doing it in a different way, but also how flexible you are to learn something new, and take on board feedback and change your perspective on things. But the other thing I'd say is, this is my perspective and this is what I think works.
I know it works at 11:FS, and I think works in a lot of other organizations, but there's absolutely no one size fits all. In a lot of companies, there are very successful CMOs who just focus on that portion of it. So it really depends.
But I do think that if you are an up and coming, even mid about to ascend to the senior levels of marketing, and that's what you want your career path to be, getting product experience, getting sales experience, broadening that base to encompass the tangential remits of what drives the growth of a company is going to be time well spent.
A lot of CMOs have to fill the roles of tech evangelist within the company as well, they have to build their MarTech, they have to understand the stack that they're giving the team in a way that CMOs traditionally maybe didn't have to rely on, it was more the CTO’s job to drive that kind of stuff. Whereas now they have to sell the MarTech purchase and the integration with the rest of the C-suite in a lot bigger way.
Yeah, I think for a CMO, for any role, the pace of change is only increasing, software's eating the world, pick whatever cliche you want. But the fact of the matter is, there are so many new tools and technologies out there - every month, there's something new. And so it can feel like a lot to stay on top of what's happening.
But I think that you need to keep a pulse on those changes in the industry because if you are running your marketing team, with an approach, a strategy, a tech stack, that was designed for five years ago, then you're out of date, and losing ground to a competitor who is using all of those opportunities that exist today.
So I think that constant, never getting comfortable, a prompt that I use all the time to help make decisions, or just gut check where I am is, if I was going to start XYZ, whatever it is if I was gonna start this podcast, if I was gonna start this campaign, if we were gonna start this part of the company, from scratch today, how would we do it? And it's never going to be exactly that because you're not starting it from scratch.
But that gives you a sense of how much of a gap there is, between how somebody else might be doing it, or where the biggest opportunity is, and then you can go try to close that. But I think that is a big dimension to the role of a successful CMO that I think existed before, but it's certainly more important now and growing every year.
Technology and data and learning that on a practitioner level, not just reading the headlines, but actually getting experience hands-on with these tech stacks and using data and applying it to how you do marketing. But then also most CMOs have a team under them so making sure that you have the right balance of art and science of technology and creativity within your team is really important as well.
In terms of learning, you mentioned the hands-on experience, is that something CMOs should be expected to have before they reach that role, or is that something a CMO could get into that role, and then learn on the job?
Personally, again, in my opinion, I think it's really important to, especially when you elevate to a senior C-suite role, keep a hands-on perspective and pulse of what's happening on the ground. Within your team, within the company, but also within the industry. That's the gap that gets created and why people and organizations get outdated, is they're too far in the macro, and they don't really understand because change comes from the micro.
It's the little things that are changing, the little things that people are saying, the little pieces of new technology that come out. If you're C-suite, you have to focus on the big picture, and you have to focus on setting the team around you up for success.
It's so important to find a way to make time for those one-on-ones skip level or all the way down the organization or setting up a Coinbase account to go buy an NFT so that you can actually see what it looks like and have a perspective on what that means that's not just what somebody else fed you through an article in Adweek.
So personally, I do think it's important just on a principal level to not just operate at 10,000 feet but actually spend time walking around and tasting and feeling how things are on the ground. But I think that applies to any role.
You mentioned the C-Suite and one of the big issues we've heard coming up a lot from conversations we've had with other CMOS is how difficult is to sell their role to the rest of the C-Suite. How hard it is to get other internal stakeholders aligned with them, get other departments on board with marketing campaigns.
Do you think this idea of expanding and evolving the role of the CMO would allow CMOs to navigate the C-Suite more successfully? Having a foot in these different departments, will it allow you to get those other departments onboard more easily?
Yeah, for sure. Within any organization, but particularly a big organization, so much of what you're able to accomplish depends on the relationships and support that you have from the people around you.
A big thing for me coming to 11:FS, and I think why we're able to be successful with a lot of the stuff that we do on the marketing and the commercial front is because we have a CEO in David Brear, who really understands and invests in and supports marketing. That was a conversation that we had upfront, because particularly coming to a B2B business, oftentimes, that's not the case.
And so I knew that there was going to be an environment here to help me and the team around me be set up for success. But I do think that really matters and yeah, any CEO would love to hear from their CMO, more talk, or more evidence of how marketing is actually translating into commercial results, into business results, depending on what you do and what that means for you.
But I do think a lot of it comes down to relationships, a lot of it comes down to education. It's rare that CEOs are coming from a marketing background so you have to think about how do you help them understand why this matters, and why it's better to do it this way, and take them on that journey.
One of the things I always think about, which I think can apply to a lot of different things is there's a difference between being right and being effective. You can know the best marketing campaign to do, have the best strategy, but it doesn't matter if you can't actually get the support that you need from the people around you.
And so you need to be able to do both those things as an effective CMO, particularly nowadays. But I think this opportunity of thinking more broadly about marketing as growth, how do you work with products? How do you work with sales? I think tying those things together is something that would go over well in any boardroom or to any CEO.
You'd have to have a conversation with the heads of sales, the heads of product, if a CMO is looking to make that move into expanding their role, you wouldn't want to be stepping on people's toes. Is that the kind of conversation that is difficult to have in your experience? Or is it just something that can happen quite naturally?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, you've got to be smart about it. For us it kind of made natural sense to have that evolution, there wasn't anybody at the C-Suite level who was looking over Sales before I got here. But you definitely need to be smart about it.
I think, even if there is already a CRO or Chief Commercial Officer and you're CMO what happens when you put marketing and sales under the same person or when you put marketing and product under the same person is there's just better integration. So instead of people pulling in slightly different directions, or caring about their results, not the growth results, you can accomplish that by having better cohesion and better communication, and better integration between the teams.
So if your organization is not going to have marketing and sales consolidated, and you do have a VP of sales or a CRO to work with, your relationship with that person is going to be one of the most important things because that then sets up the team underneath you.
And again, it's about growth. It's not about marketing or sales. It's about marketing and sales because they're two sides of the same growth coin.
One of the big issues facing a lot of CMOs is they have some of the shortest tenures of C-suite executives. There's been loads and loads of thought pieces about the reasons behind this. There isn't really an exact answer. Do you think this kind of expanded role would increase the average tenure of a CMO? Do you think it would give more job security to CMOs out there?
Yeah, I think so. Coming back to what I said before if you can move marketing closer to or be able to prove more clearly the impact of marketing on sales, or on customer retention, or any of the product metrics that really matter to your business, then for sure.
I think that's one of the things that a lot of CMOs or CEOs struggle with their CMOs is not being able to actually fully understand the impact, and specifically the financial results of what a proper investment in marketing does.
So absolutely, I think this type of integration, whether it is in the same role, or just in terms of how you work with your other C-Suite colleagues, definitely would increase the tenure of CMO.
Just to play devil's advocate here, are we in danger of diluting the value of the CMO role itself? Are we going to see that disappear and all the CMOs are going to branch off to be CCOs or CPOs or something like that?
I don't think so. I think it's more of an evolution than a split on the chain. I think it's probably more like that but I do think that, in today's day and age, you should be able to have a better understanding of the results that marketing is driving. So it should be easier if you're good and if you're able to drive those results, to really prove them.
But there's always going to be a role for marketing, because, at the end of the day, marketing serves to connect the product to the consumer. Somebody has to do that. And it's funny in the world of FinTech, this is more a few years ago, but there's this whole kind of thing of people saying they didn't do marketing. Monzo, Revolut, a lot of those challenger banks in the UK would say, "Oh, we don't do marketing."
I'm like "You do marketing, you just don't do big paid media campaigns. But your marketing is you have communities built around your brand, you do your waiting list referral scheme, you have ways that you connect the product to the consumer, that's marketing". That role will always exist. It's just like I said, an evolution of what that skill set looks like in the C-Suite role, what the title looks like in the C-Suite role, and what the responsibilities are, day to day, and week to week.
The very act of saying "we don't do marketing" is a marketing strategy in itself.
That's funny, I never thought of that it's so true.
Surely a better thing to say would be to not say anything. The very fact they put that out there, that's a message. That's something they're saying to the consumers.
Hard to get marketers not to say anything though.
It'd be hard to get guests for this if we couldn't get marketers to say stuff!
The constants of a good CMO
So we talked about the changes of the CMO role and a lot of that has to do with how tactics evolve with the CMO role, how marketing changes, but what are the constants needed to be a good CMO? What principles should they keep in mind?
I actually think the biggest thing doesn't even have to do with marketing, I think it's about leadership and management. Because the impact of what you can do, if you're in a role that is anything more than just you doing it, if you have a team underneath you, the biggest variable to your success or failure is how well you can hire, and set up the team underneath you to do what they do best. So maybe that's a little bit of an obvious statement but I do think that that is the biggest thing.
What I said before about being right and effective, you could be the most brilliant marketer out there but if you can't get the right talent on board, if you can't give them what they need, if you can't have them aligned and cohesive and working towards the same outcome, it doesn't matter and vice versa. If you're exceptional at that, even if you're not an 11 out of 10 marketer or marketeer, I think you'll still be much more successful.
I think that's a constant. It's just the people, leadership, and management skills. Then at the end of the day, all of these changes, the changing role, the changing titles, new technology, all these trends and stuff that we see out there, at the end of the day, marketing drives the growth of an organization by connecting the product to the consumer.
And good marketing, regardless of the channel, or the creative, or the type of business that you're doing it in, is about a deep understanding of your audience, telling a compelling story around that, that your brands can say, producing engaging content that people actually want to spend time with.
Then distributing it through channels where there's real attention. Ideally, where you can buy that attention, cheaper than other people. Meaning things like digital media, where the performance of your media depends on the creative asset that you put into it.
Also, there are so many channels where stuff is just cheaper because it's newer, and supply and demand, there's fewer people buying it. Those four things are marketing, audience, brand story, content, and distribution. If you boil it all back, those will always be constants regardless of all these changes that are happening at the superficial level.
Circling back to the team building, team management skills, it's strange that we call these soft skills when they are such a constant to being a CMO being in the C-Suite as a whole, being a leader.
If the CMO role is expanding and evolving, do you think the team needs to expand and evolve, or is it better to just have that full-on dedicated marketing team?
We talk about T-shaped marketers a lot, what does a T-shaped marketer look like underneath a CMO with this sort of expanded skill set and purview?
Much like any team, sports is obviously the analogy that everybody always goes to. But it's less about the shape and skill set of one individual and more about holistically how you put that team together, and how they complement each other and how they work together, and all those things. I do think that's true.
But and then maybe this is where the sports analogy falls apart, the game is evolving, so over time, you're going to need different skillsets within your team. But I think if you use that prompt of, if you were going to start building a team from scratch today, what are the skill sets you need? What are the types of people you need? What's the experience that you need within it?
You can't wipe the slate clean all the time, and you shouldn't, because, well, you shouldn't. Continuity really matters, having people who have spent a lot of time together really helps in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency of their output. But that prompt always helps me because it just shows you where maybe there's a bit of a gap between where you are and where you should be. And then you can focus on fixing that.
A couple of the things that I think are different now than they were five years ago, certainly 10 years ago in terms of building a marketing team: Good marketing, especially now is a blend of art and science. Different organizations are naturally going to be more artistic or more scientific in how they do marketing. But I think you need, depending on the type of organization you are in and the type of CMO you are, to find that right blend for you.
I think that's an easy thing to overlook, or maybe forget about, is you build a team just based on the best people that you find, you need to make sure that you find that balance. Finding people that are quant, and finding people that are qual, finding people who can really crunch data and pull insights out of it, with people who can really come up with creative concepts around it.
That's probably one of the biggest complementary skill sets that you need to find a way to implement within your team. I think to come back to the question, I think it's less about a specific t-shaped type of skill that you need, and more about how your team looks holistically, and whether that matches the needs of the business and the changing nature of the industry and what you need to be successful as a CMO.
What are the pitfalls to be avoided? If those are the constants you need to keep in mind, what should CMOS avoid if they're going to be successful, especially if they're looking to evolve into these roles?
I do think that what we were talking about earlier of making sure that you don't get caught spending too much time in the armchair and you are actually on the pitch and understanding what's going on in the industry at a practitionership level, I think that's really important. One of the ones that I'm really passionate about is not doing marketing for the sake of marketing. I think that's an easy... I mean, everything is always bigger up close.
So when you're a marketer, looking at a creative campaign, or looking at a strategy, it seems like the tiniest detail matters a tonne. But being customer-, audience-centric will always guide you well, no matter what you do. And so I think it's always putting yourself in the shoes of your audience, your customer, and being like, does this matter? Am I doing it for the right reasons?
But I think that's something that every industry, but certainly marketing, maybe has a tendency to do is it's not necessarily navel-gazing, I think it's just getting a little bit caught up in your own perspective on the marketing you're doing, as opposed to the job that the marketing is doing, which is for your audience, for your customer.
I think that's a big one, just getting, a little bit too subjective, a little bit too caught up, spending a little bit too much time in your ivory tower. Actually, that's another one that pulls those two together of being out there in the details and being audience- and customer-centric is, I think a good CMO helps their business be more customer-centric by being the voice of the customer internally if that's not being brought from other places.
So talking to customers, putting out prompts of "Hey, we'd love to hear your feedback", calling people up or having them call you, of course, old school focus groups and stuff like that, but dialogue and communication and actually being on the front lines, talking to your customers to understand what their needs are, what they like, what they don't like.
I actually think that's probably one of the single underleveraged and underutilized pages of the CMO playbook, particularly in big organizations where there end up being so many layers between the CMO and the customer, you got to cut through those. You got to be out there talking to the audience that you're trying to serve because that's the best way to understand how you can serve them.
If you've got that foot in a product camp, then getting that type of feedback from your audience, from your customers, can help drive that product development as well.
Yeah, exactly and that's one of the big things that you see in the startup world, FinTech, but also other industries, and why marketing ends up sitting so close to product. First of all, oftentimes, a lot of those founding teams don't have marketers on them, but they do have great product people, and so it naturally evolves in that direction.
But at the end of the day, the best marketing is a great product, right? And ideally, you want both, you want a great product, and you want great marketing. But if you had to pick one, the thing that will drive more growth is a great product.
So again, synching those two things together, particularly if you're a B2C business, but even if you're a B2B business, product and marketing, and whether it's under the same person, or just the dialogue and the integration of those teams, especially if you work in an early-stage business, making sure that marketing is serving that role of being a constant feedback loop, a constant laboratory almost, for the product team to hear feedback and to test ideas and to constantly be evolving the product to try to get to fit, try to make it be great.
Because once you get that, that's the thing that will drive the most growth.
If a CMO has evolved themselves into this very expanded role, is that still possible to keep their fingers in that many pies as the business grows to an enormous amount?
Say you've been in the CMO role right from startup to multinational corporation stage, can a CMO possibly still have that kind of wide view that we've been talking about? Or do they have to just scale back to just being strict marketing at that stage?
Obviously, it depends. But the greater the scale, the greater the specialization needs to be. It's kind of just a truth. So in the beginning, it's much easier for that to be the same person.
Even at the mid-stage company, I think I would say, yes, if you're talking about a massive multinational, I think it'd be really hard. But I think the perspective is still right if you're a CMO of a big multinational, or you're the CCO thinking about growth holistically, and how you have those right relationships and dialogue and integration of the teams that will drive more growth, it just will, as a first principle.
And so whatever the realities of the landscape and the corporate structure and all that stuff around you, I think, coming back to that is always going to be really important. But I do think it probably scales further than you would think. I was talking to a friend of mine whose role is Chief Digital Officer, but essentially product and marketing together, and they're a half a billion-dollar company, in the US.
So it depends on the business, it depends on the people you have around you but I think, coming back to everything we've been talking about just having that perspective on growth, and how product/marketing/sales, any of the relevant disciplines internally can do that, regardless of who they sit with. I think that's really the gist of this conversation.
CMOs of the future
Maybe just to tie things off, let's hypothesize for a second: five years from now, what does the ideal CMO look like?
Oh, man. I should probably think about that and get to work on it, shouldn't I? That's a really good question. I probably won't be saying too much new but there are kind of three to five things I really believe in and I just try to do them as well as I can. I do think that the ideal CMO will be a fantastic people manager, leader, relationship builder. That's the thing that matters most for any organization for people at that level. That is it.
Your success depends on how good you are at finding, attracting, identifying, and setting up for success, the best talent around you. I think that's the biggest thing. But I think more specifically, probably the answer that you're looking for is like the skill set for a CMO five years from now. I think it's always tough to predict the future.
And actually, there's much more opportunity in just reacting quicker to the present than other people, meaning we know MarTech is a huge opportunity. The advantages of it are only increasing. Stop listening to people talking about it on podcasts, and go figure it out for your organization. Moving faster on things as opposed to trying to predict where they are in the future I'd say is a general piece of advice that would be mine. That's what I try to do.
But I do think those trends... clearly, marketing is going more in the direction of "how can you enable your marketing team and organization with technology?" That's going to be a big one. The shifting landscape of consumer attention is always one to keep an eye on. And making sure that you understand it.
Everything that's happening in voice is really fascinating to me right now; NFTs and blockchain and what that's going to mean. So I think keeping an eye on those trends, but again, those aren't predicting those are more just reacting to what's happening, and making sure that you are practicing on those platforms, not just reading the headlines about them.
Then I think the other thing that's interesting is just things always come in cycles, right? Sometimes they can go a little bit too far and actually have to come back. One example, to show you what I mean is, I think there's so much talk around data, which obviously is important, it's information and if you're better informed, you can make better decisions.
But I think sometimes organizations and CMOs, can get too focused on the data, as opposed to... they can focus on the data as an end, as opposed to data as a means to an end. Because really, what you want out of the data is insight. And so if you just focus on how are you warehousing your data? How are you collecting your data? How are you looking at your weekly KPIs? You're not actually taking advantage of the opportunity that data creates.
So I think there's going to be a little bit of an evolution to that conversation, where it's not really data, it's insight from data, and how do you have people that can really make use of that? So very long-winded answer. But basically, to sum it up for you, I'd say, don't worry as much about predicting the future, worry much more about acting on how things are right now.
However, there are a few investments that will always be good to make. One of them is leadership and management skills, getting that experience. Others are on understanding the implications of technology and data to the role of CMO. And then lastly, following consumer attention and trends, and really being on top of those, I think that'll be really important as well.
Got questions about some of the points raised in this episode? Maybe you've got tips on successfully evolving your CMO role. Share them on the CMO Alliance Community!