Why More CMOs Need to Add Strategy to Their Titles

Management, Sales and Marketing Would All Speak the Same Language

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Rance Crain
Rance Crain

The new CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty, has built her career on pushing herself into unfamiliar territory. "I learned to take on things I've never done before. Growth and comfort do not co-exist," Ms. Rometty told Bloomberg Business Week.

A big problem with marketers is that too much time is spent on familiar territory -- rearranging the deck chairs rather than looking for new worlds to conquer. A new CMO is appointed, and his or her first six months are consumed with reviewing agency assignments (which buys more time on the job), refining media mixes and touting brand-perception levels and "likes" on Facebook (at the ANA conference last month, Adobe's marketing boss cited a study that found 62% of marketers said they use social media, but only 12% said they think it works).

Making matters worse, marketers seem to be in a parallel universe when it comes to communicating with top management, not to mention the sales operation. CEOs and sales have little patience for the soft and fuzzy yardsticks marketers use to measure their progress.

One reason Ms. Rometty made it to the top at IBM is that she had broad enough responsibilities to make things happen. In 2009 she was appointed senior VP-marketing, sales and strategy, and a big part of her job was to bring software and consulting services to emerging markets, where growth is a lot more robust than here. "I don't believe in the inevitable, or in thinking that things will turn out in a certain way," Ms. Rometty said in her interview. "Whatever business you're in, it's going to commoditize over time so you have to keep moving it to a higher value and change."

IBM's strategy is to continually refresh its products and services and bring them to new high-growth markets. Without "strategy" in her title, Ms. Rometty wouldn't have had the imprimatur to pursue such a comprehensive and far-reaching plan.

Another executive whose mandate includes strategy is Dana Anderson, senior VP-marketing strategy and communications at Kraft Foods. At the ANA confab, Ms. Anderson outlined her charge: "You get the people right, you give them very high goals, and then you give them freedom."

She described the company's strategy of abandoning conventional thinking to take what she calls "leaps." The idea is to encourage her team to take risks. The company hands out "blank checks" for ideas that are beyond the budget.

Another initiative is to allocate money to smaller brands such as Breakstone sour cream and Stove Top stuffing for short-term projects. The brands, which didn't have their own ad agencies, are paired with five creative shops, and three of the five brands hit their numbers and continued the promotions.

The marketing function, strange as it seems, is oftentimes not as connected to the sales function as it should be for optimum results. The metrics that marketing people use are not in sync with how salespeople measure themselves, and sometimes it seems marketers want to abdicate their brands' destiny to forces beyond them.

Sales guys don't understand talk like empowering the consumer. So it makes great sense to bring sales and marketing under one umbrella so that both sides understand the common goal. That would also go a long way toward decoding marketing-speak that leaves top management baffled.

As the Economist recently pointed out, salespeople are "the unsung heroes of business. They battle daily and bravely against rival firms and consumers who foolishly prefer to save their hard-earned cash. They gather vital intelligence about customers' preferences and competitors' moves. Forget the marketing mavens, the strategy wizards, the bean counters and the designers. Spare a thought for the world's Willy Lomans, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

Marketing can't afford to be an isolated function, but that 's the way it's thought of by financial people, sales and top management, which don't speak the same lingo as marketers. By combining sales and strategy with marketing, companies can not only align all the revenue-producing components under one roof, but create clear-cut goals that everyone can understand and buy into.

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