by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

7 attributes of a successful CMO in the digital age

Oct 11, 2016
IT LeadershipMarketing

Executives discuss what it takes to lead an organization's marketing efforts in today's data-driven world.

digital marketing
Credit: Thinkstock

Conducting market research. Overseeing branding and messaging. Working with the sales team to drive revenue. These were the traditional responsibilities of a CMO. And they still are. But with the rise of digital marketing and social media, as well as video and mobile technologies and analytics and CRM, the role and responsibilities of CMO have grown and evolved.

Here are seven qualities CMOs, or aspiring CMOs, need to be successful in today’s digital marketplace.

1. Tech savvy

“As CMOs, we have more technology than ever before available to help track, analyze and reach our target customers,” says Barbara Holzapfel, CMO, Taulia. “The best CMOs know that technology enables — but does not replace — strategy. It’s easy to load up your tech stack (and spend lots of money) without actually getting smarter,” she says. So, “you have to have a firm grasp on what your strategy is, understand where the gaps in your understanding are and apply technology intelligently to fill in the blanks.”

“The best CMOs in today’s highly competitive digital world think more like Chief Marketing Technologists in order to stay competitive,” says Melissa Puls, CMO, Progress. “CMOs need to take the initiative and be familiar with marketing techniques and technologies, including marketing software, data and analytics, social and mobile platforms and website design.”

“CMOs must [also] be a key driver and decision-maker for critical applications, [such as] CRM, marketing automation, ecommerce [and] digital marketing and customer analytics,” says Dan Potter, CMO, Datawatch. “According to Gartner, by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. [So] in addition to the CMO needing to be technically savvy, collaboration with the CIO [is] essential for harnessing technology investments to drive customer loyalty and brand value.”

[ Related: 8 keys to ecommerce success ]

2. A customer-centric focus

“Forrester got it right a few years ago when they announced we’ve entered the age of the customer, an age where companies would need to become customer-obsessed to compete,” says John Reese, senior vice president of marketing, Mavenlink. “Knowing who your customers are, where they are, what they like and how they feel has become critical to surviving in today’s business environment.”

That’s why “today’s CMOs must focus on the customer experience,” says Brian Kardon, CMO, Fuze. “The best CMOs take a customer-first approach to their role, investing in the experiences customers have with their brands throughout the entire customer lifecycle, not just the traditional top-of-funnel interactions. If the customer experience is not living up to your brand promise wherever, whenever and however your customers engage you, your brand and business will suffer.”

[ Related: 10 ways multichannel companies can build trust with customers ]

3. Analytical (ability to interpret analytics)

“Today’s digital marketing world typically involves many systems that generate tremendous amounts of data,” says Josh Aberant, CMO, SparkPost. “Within this data lies valuable information that a CMO needs to effectively and successfully manage marketing programs. This requires that today’s CMOs be data-driven and have the ability to review and interpret what data is actually relaying to them, as well as be able to identify accuracy limitations of said data and adjust their approach to digital marketing accordingly.”

“CMOs realize the critical importance of analytics,” adds Stacy Gordon, CMO, LatentView. A solid understanding of analytics “enables you to understand consumer trends in the market, assess consumers’ reaction to product concepts and launches and understand the emotional and technical needs of consumers within a specific segment. These insights can shape a better marketing approach and create efficiencies that save money.”

[ Related: 14 digital marketing mistakes and how to avoid them ]

4. The ability to translate data into English

Successful CMOs know how to communicate the company’s goals and vision internally (to employees) and externally (to customers). You may be an expert number cruncher/data analyzer with a great understanding of your customers and products, but you also need to effectively translate that data into simple, easy-to-understand language, be it English, Spanish or whichever language your target audience speaks.

It is also critical for today’s CMOs to be able to communicate the brand message across channels.

“Consumers now engage with information and products in both digital and physical settings, and marketing teams should be focused on multi-channel communications and interactive experiences to reach and retain their customers,” says Brian Reed, CMO, ZeroFOX.

5. An openness to new ideas and channels

“Gone are the days when [advertising or] sending direct mail was the only way to market your product,” says Dale Chang, vice president, Portfolio Operations, Scale Venture Partners. “Progressive CMOs are experimenting with new channels for reaching customers and prospects, whether that’s Pinterest, Instagram, Medium or Snapchat.” And the ability to “apply the scientific method to figure out which channels work best for your business and how to allocate marketing spend is the most important skill digital-first CMOs need.”

6. Business insight

“Great CMOs must have a business mindset,” says Mike Colombo, CMO, Cloudwords. “They need to speak and think in terms of business metrics (new customer acquisitions, up-sell percentages, renewal rates). More importantly, they need to be able to convert marketing metrics – impressions, leads, open rates, registrations, followers – into business metrics that have a direct impact on the company’s growth and revenue goals.”

[ Related: 10 things that keep CMOs up at night ]

7. The ability to work with sales and IT

“One of the most important things you can do as a CMO is to listen to your sales team, as they are your closest link to your most important stakeholder, customers,” says Jennifer Singleton, CMO, Allego. “Make it a point to get face time with sales reps to learn about recent challenges, trends and successes. Ask what sales content they think is missing or how existing materials might be improved for greater relevancy. The more you can develop a strong relationship between teams, the more effective you’ll both be.”

Successful CMOs also “partner with CIOs,” says Reed. “CMOs need CIOs to help them experiment [and] adopt and integrate new technologies, while also protecting the marketing team from the risk of bad systems. A good CIO can drive massive value for the CMO by proactively partnering with [him or her] to enable a seamless customer experience through efficient and effective technology.”