CMOs Look Inward for Success in 2017

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About the only thing we know for certain is that 2017 will be a new year (thanks, Captain Obvious!), and that change will abound -- much of which will be beyond the control of the marketing department. So what is a renegade thinker to do in the face of this uncertainty? One trend I've observed among successful companies is a renewed focus on the internal audience -- i.e., employees -- to ensure that these folks are hired, inspired, aligned, measured and deployed for maximum impact.

I'm a big fan of this approach, especially after recent interviews with CMOs from Tableau, Intuit, Greystone and VER, all of whom validated its effectiveness and garnered awards from The CMO Club in the process. Given their success, here are five ways to make sure your employees become an unstoppable marketing machine in 2017.

1. Assess for awesome

We all know that every employee can have a significant impact on the business, yet how often do we make a hiring decision based on expediency, rather than talent? Patti Newcomer, CMO at Intuit ProConnect, rejects this compromise. "We're trying to find people that will perform at the top 25% at their job level," explains Newcomer, adding, "It's amazing how [assessing for awesome] takes away all the hemming and hawing at the end of the process."

2. Clarify your culture

After hiring the right talent, the next challenge is acculturation. Recognizing the critical role of retention and recruitment for Greystone, a privately held real estate company with 7,000 employees, CMO Claudia Schiepers created "a culture book that outlines four standards of behavior." Among the four is "caring," a standard demonstrated through generous support of local charitable activities and encouraged via an on-going recognition program.

3. Lead by listening

Even if you're smart enough to hire awesome staffers, it is easy for a leader (especially if you've been in your role for a while) to forget to listen to them. "There are times that I just need to keep my mouth shut and be open to ideas that may have sounded crazy three years ago but could be exactly what we need now," says Elissa Fink, long-time marketing chief and change agent at Tableau Software. Having been part of Tableau's extraordinary growth from 40 people when she started 10 years ago to more than 3,200 employees today, Elissa is keen to tap into all of the new talent they've acquired.

4. Evaluate employee engagement

Given the adage that businesses become what they measure, applying the right yardstick to employee-targeted efforts is essential. Patti Newcomer recommends measuring engagement instead of satisfaction, using a syndicated study that comes with normative data. THIS IS more predictive of employee longevity and willingness to go above and beyond, she says. Having witnessed a rise in engagement scores from the low 60s to the low 90s, Newcomer is understandably proud of Intuit's focus on employees and the software company's goal of "enabling employees to do the best work of their lives."

5. Deploy key deputies

Thinking about your internal audience is especially important when rebranding. Gina McDuffie, CMO of VER (formerly Video Equipment Rental), arrived with a mandate from new management to evolve the company brand and culture, but realized that, as a relative newbie, she couldn't be the messenger. "A lot of my time was spent talking with a smaller group of people who identified as influencers about why the change was necessary, assuring them that it was going to be okay, and then asking them to spread the word," McDuffie says, explaining her ultimate success.

Final Note: Assuming unemployment rates stay where they are or even decline next year, the battle to recruit and retain employees could be particularly fierce. Marketers who create an employee-centric culture, strengthen their internal communications and empower employees to spread the good word, will be best positioned to compete for a tightened talent pool and reap the associated rewards. And with that inspiration, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays and a remarkable new year!

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