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The Geekification of B2B CMOs in 2018

By Published on .

Young business woman relaxing at her desk in her office - Stock image
Young business woman relaxing at her desk in her office - Stock image Credit: SIphotography/iStock

Whether it's seen as a guiding light or a perilous sinkhole, the use of data is a predominant consideration for B2B marketers, especially as they look ahead to 2018. In fact, gathering, dissecting, deploying and protecting data is so top-of-mind that you might think these folks were becoming geeks of the first order, mirroring the passions and predilections of coders and other IT professionals.

The belief that data is the WME (Weapon of Marketing Effectiveness) is so pervasive that words like "purpose," "brand" or "story" only occasionally enter forward-looking conversations. And while this growing emphasis on data certainly bodes well for the purveyors of marketing technology (many of whom share their thoughts below), it remains to be seen if this approach will increase CMO effectiveness and thus CMO tenure. Here then is a closer look at the "geekification" of B2B CMOs in 2018, along with a couple dissenting voices challenging the prevailing winds.

Using data to understand the customer journey
As more CMOs are being asked to enhance, if not manage, the customer experience, it shouldn't be a surprise that many see data as the key to this expanded role. "The need to be data-driven is permeating every aspect of marketing and will only intensify in 2018," says Ashley Stirrup, CMO at software integrator Talend. He points to a self-service customer journey that will be 60%-70% completed before ever speaking to a salesperson, which will require "being more data-driven" and "increasing our use of predictive scoring, account-based marketing, personalization technologies, intelligent email agents and the cloud for data warehousing."

Avoiding data overload
Recognizing that it's possible to have too much of a good thing, Paige Leidig, CMO of the social listening platform Netbase, sees "the continued explosion of consumer data from social networks, consumer reviews, industry and interest forums" as the biggest challenge CMOs will face in 2018. Interestingly, he believes "more consumer data resides outside the control of the company than those officially owned by the company," which only adds to the potential overload. As such, Leidig hopes to develop "a single view of the consumer, and harvesting data in a way that can be acted on quickly and accurately to ensure that I uncover new opportunities and reduce the likelihood of crises."

Educating internal stakeholders on the evolving role of marketing
Karl Van den Bergh, CMO and senior VP of DataStax, a data management software company, makes the case that "marketing is the most rapidly evolving corporate function." As such, he sees "educating internal stakeholders" as a top priority for all marketers. "Most business stakeholders still have a pretty antiquated view of marketing," explains Van den Bergh, adding that these folks are missing the fact that "the responsibility for the digital experience lies primarily within marketing, which has led to massive investments in data-driven technologies and processes." With the goal of "building and running an innovative, data-driven marketing machine," Van den Bergh realizes he and his fellow CMOs must help the rest of their organizations keep pace.

The data don't lie
In seeking a balance between the art and the science of marketing, some CMOs admit to ignoring the data in favor of their gut instincts. Not James Regan, CMO of predictive analytics firm MRP. "The role of the CMO is to drive a data-first approach across marketing, sales, IT, customer success and product teams, tossing aside traditional marketing strategy and what we think we know in favor of what the data shows us to be true," Regan says. He credits this approach with improving MRP's marketing and sales engagement and "the ability of our customers to claim increased conversion rates by 2.5x."

Connecting data to your story
In some corner offices, brand building and data collection are peas in the same pod. "Ensuring we truly understand our target audiences and determining effective channels to tell our story all comes back to having strong control over our data," explains Patti Foye, CMO of SiteSpect, an ecommerce optimization platform. While Foye sees "effectively communicating the brand story remaining at the very top of every marketer's New Year's resolution list," she also believes that "as we move deeper into the innovation age, every decision needs to be backed up by data" and that "within these insights lives the keys to implementing the smartest marketing strategy possible."

Fending off the next big thing
Jen Grant, CMO of Looker, a business intelligence firm, offers a more cautionary approach to the martech craze. She believes CMOs' biggest challenge next year will be to "fend off the over-enthusiastic responses that other non-marketing executives will have to all of the new technology -- like machine learning and artificial intelligence -- arriving on the scene." Despite all the hype, Grant says, "While these technologies will do many great things in time, just like every other technology advance in the past decades, they will not make any of the successful marketing activities obsolete." Rather, she advises CMOs "to have the data to support the current channels that are performing well at their fingertips so that they are not pressured to turn them off in favor of the latest fad."

Final note
While data is most likely a healthy obsession for B2B CMOs, it is not the only thing on their minds. Tom Libretto, CMO of Pegasystems, proposes that his peers will embrace their roles as chief change agents for their organizations. "It's paramount that CMOs are able to translate their company's change agenda and make it real for all constituents their company serves," Libretto says. Speaking of change, Looker's Jen Grant wants to push face-to-face marketing, not data technologies. "As much as we've all built out our technology stacks with tools that make everything optimized and more effective, I am seeing that our face-to-face events -- from small dinners to user conferences -- are very effective," Grant says. Hmm. An interesting reminder that data doesn't buy products, people do!

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