The Growing Importance of Chief Commercial Officers

More and More Companies Are Adopting Position to Oversee Innovation, Customer Service

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A new role is gaining prominence in the C-suite, as companies increasingly are hiring chief commercial officers to oversee sales, marketing and innovation. That's the finding detailed in a new white paper from executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles. According to the firm, 56 companies appointed CCOs in 2008, up from just five in 2001. And already in the first half of this year, 36 companies have appointed CCOs.

So does this trend portend the demise of the chief-marketing-officer position? "Within consumer companies, we don't anticipate this being the 'end of the CMO' by any means," said John Abele, global managing partner of the Marketing and Sales Officers practice at Heidrick & Struggles and author of the white paper, in an e-mail. "However, for some of the consumer organizations who have adopted a CCO, they appear to be seeking an answer to the integration of functional-silos issues that have historically been challenging. In those cases, more often than not, we see a CCO without a CMO. However, exceptions do exist."

Companies that have recently appointed CCOs include MillerCoors (Tom Long), Swiss International Air Lines (Holger Hatty) and JetBlue (Robin Hayes), Mr. Abele said.

The CCO role is typically broader than that of a CMO, incorporating not only marketing but also sales, innovation and customer service, Mr. Abele said. "Given that the CCOs are often the 'buck stops here' executive for all things relating to customers and/or revenue, the role requires an executive who can go beyond marketing alone."

CCO backgrounds include sales, channel-management and/or product-development experience. And many CCOs have prior experience in a general-management role with profit-and-loss responsibility. Mr. Abele said he expects the CCO hiring trend to continue, and in many cases, CCOs will be better positioned than CMOs for advancing to the CEO slot.

"As outsourcing and off-shoring of functions, especially manufacturing, continue to become more prevalent, the basis for sustainable competitive advantage for many companies continues to shift away from operational efficiency and more toward ownership of the customer. As such, CEOs need a primary executive to handle all things related to the customer and to revenue generation," he said. "In addition, the complexity of customer touch points with the advent of multichannel approaches and the world of digital makes it increasingly difficult for a CEO to manage these disparate elements across the enterprise without a single executive."

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