The role of the chief marketing officer is in flux. For years, it’s been clear that CMOs are more than just brand ambassadors — they are vital members of the C-suite, with pivotal roles driving growth, overseeing strategic planning and taking on wide-ranging responsibilities. In fact, marketing budgets now account for a greater share of companywide spending, underscoring the CMO’s increasingly important place in the corporate food chain.
This phenomenon was front and center at this January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where CMOs shared their insights into their evolving roles and the new opportunities they’re seeing. But I've observed pushback, too: With more companies now thinking in terms of revenue operations and seeking synergies among sales, marketing and customer success divisions, important questions are being asked about the CMO’s rightful place within a revenue operations-oriented corporate structure.
To figure out how that will play out in the coming months, it’s worth taking a closer look at the key shifts I’ve seen as CMOs have taken more strategic roles in their organizations.
The emergence of the CMO role coincided with the development of marketing technology in the 1990s. In the past three decades, marketing technology has grown to include social media tools, advertising platforms, and data collection and analysis software. And companies are expanding their budgets in this area. In fact, marketing analytics spending is expected to grow 56 percent over the next three years, according to Deloitte (download required), which I believe suggests that the CMO’s role will only grow in the coming decade.
As martech continues to evolve and become more central to business operations, so does the role of the CMO. Marketing departments have become the arbiters of massive amounts of customer, market and product data. Few other members of the leadership team have the same bird’s-eye view of customers, market and products. It’s up to CMOs to spot trends, identify narratives and find ways to ensure that marketing, research and development, and other corporate strategic functions remain firmly in alignment.
Fortunately, CMOs are digital natives who are well equipped to lead their organizations into the new era, as well as being multiskilled, cross-functional players whose jobs necessarily require them to think about the short-, mid- and long-term impacts of new initiatives. We might be storytellers, but we’re also analysts and managers who’ve learned to leverage massive amounts of data — covering customer feedback, market trends and a wealth of other resources — to develop and implement strategic plans that set our companies apart from our rivals.
Spearheading Collaborative Efforts
Creative storytelling remains at the heart of what CMOs do, but we increasingly have to go beyond that role to help solve core business problems. This places CMOs at the center of the action, with the crucial task of ensuring an open and honest flow of communication across departments as we work together with chief financial officers, chief strategy officers and other high-level executives to meet companywide goals.
Marketing has always been cross-functional at heart, but today’s CMOs are becoming more strategic, serving as the common thread that connects several functional areas within the company, including sales, customer service, finance, information technology and product strategy. That puts CMOs firmly in-line with a revenue operations approach, since CMOs have already proven their ability to build coalitions of sales, marketing and customer service specialists to cater to customers’ evolving needs.
Just as important, CMOs are increasingly stepping up and taking responsibility for revenue growth. Data shows that companies now see market penetration as the key to growth, and in many cases, they’re shifting resources away from product development and into marketing functions. That same Deloitte study found that 54% of marketing budgets are dedicated to market penetration growth strategies.
From my perspective, such findings underscore the overlap between broad corporate strategic planning and the CMO’s core functions. Clearly, as companies target new markets, CMOs need to remember that they have an opportunity to step to the fore and use their attunement to the needs of both existing customers and emerging markets to drive companywide success.
CMOs As Revenue Leaders
So where will this leave CMOs in the revenue operations era? Well, the rise of revenue operations is a relatively recent trend, and the jury’s still out on which C-level executives will lead the charge. It’s certainly possible that in some companies, CMOs will allow chief revenue officers (CROs) or other C-suite leaders to take point. But in some organizations, I've seen that CMOs are already taking on critical strategic roles, so marketers who embrace the new focus on revenue operations will be well placed to thrive.
Any big strategic changes are disruptive, and CMOs will need to be willing to adapt to the challenges and opportunities that revenue operations will bring. CMOs have always had to be ready to evaluate future trends coming down the pike, both to fend off potential disruptors and to identify growth opportunities. You have the skills to do that effectively, and to communicate your insights internally and externally in order to ensure your companies’ growth, so use them.
New technologies have changed the prestige and the power of the CMO role and forced us to think more strategically about how we use these new tools and opportunities to serve our companies’ long-term goals. CMOs who’ve learned these lessons — and started to take more strategic roles in their companies — will be well placed to succeed as their companies embrace revenue operations and seek more connected approaches to marketing, sales and customer-facing services.