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Finally ... a seat at the table for CMOs

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For years, top-level marketers have remarked how they need to get a “seat at the table” in the C-suite—a tough task, especially considering the notoriously short tenure of CMOs. Judging from the spirited discussion I heard at the annual CMO Council Summit last month in San Jose, Calif., it appears many have finally achieved that highly coveted spot. During a break in the one-day event (see story, page 3), I asked CMO Council Executive Director Donovan Neale-May if he sees CMOs gaining more power in the C-suite. He responded that he sees a new type of CMO emerging, particularly in the more complex world of b-to-b marketing. “Consumer products, you know, it's a cookie cutter—out they go,” he said. “But with business systems, business products, there's a lot of hand-holding. There's a lot of need for customer co-innovation, a lot of need for aftermarket support, a lot of need for building channels of distribution and delivery and support. And these are where we're seeing a new type of CMO with a lot more operating experience.” Many newly minted CMOs are arriving better prepared because of their background in field marketing and regional operations, Neale-May said. In some cases, they've had P&L responsibility and product development experience. “We're actually seeing CMOs with business backgrounds coming in to run marketing, and they're bringing with them a lot of customer-facing experience, a lot of operational knowledge, a lot of relationships across the organization,” Neale-May said. “So their role as a CMO leader is becoming greater, and also their linkage to the CEO is tighter—which is also helpful as well.” Neale-May's comments were echoed in a separate interview by Jan Soderstrom, VP-CMO of SunPower Corp., a marketer of solar energy products and systems, and chairwoman of the CMO Council. “I think the CMO is gaining greater power,” she said. “As the companies by their very nature have to be more customer-driven, the CMO is really the advocate for the customer. “They're the ones who actually understand customer insights, understand issues that face the company from the external perspective and help make sure that the brand promise that is so critical to the company is exhibited across all of the touch points that the rest of the C-suite [members] are responsible for.” That ability of CMOS to help others in the C-suite members and as a unit succeed should no doubt go a long way toward enabling CMOs to retain their hard-won seats at the table. John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.
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