The role of CMO does not=CEO

In the last few years I've seen arguments that the CMO should be in charge of virtually every aspect of a company. I don't agree. I still see that as the role of the CEO.

The CEO is the ultimate authority and driving force of a company. The CMO should be as forceful and authoritative as other C-Suite executives, but no more or less. The CEO is still the ultimate source of power and should be, as she is accountable for shareholder value or any other organizational core metric.

This came to mind as I reviewed an excellent HBR piece regarding the alarmingly short professional tenure of CMOs compared to other C-Suiters. One might conclude the acronym should be pronounced "schmo" after reading it.

However, the issue of alignment raised by this piece is critical. I don't know that it is reasonable to hold marketing accountable for P&L in many commonplace scenarios. CPG, e.g., P&G is a vertical emblematic of a retail distribution model where it does makes sense. However, in most B2B or consumer retail business models, sales drives performance far more powerfully. In fact, even in CPG markets, there is an enormous element of B2B sales in dealing with the distribution chain.

So the CMO role must be crafted with appropriate authority, responsibility, and scope tailored for the industry vertical as well as the individual company distribution model.

Within the old 4Ps framework, marketing should generally have strong authority for promotion across the board, but will optimize results when acting in concert with product and distribution management. Marketing should almost always have strong and early input on product, especially new product development, based on market research (which should always be powerfully informed by distribution--i.e., sales), Pricing should be powerfully influenced by marketing in CPG and consumer markets--in B2B, sales will end up driving most large sale pricing. Marketing should also strongly influence distribution, especially when disruption of and coordination with bricks and mortar is required.

In essence, the ancient challenge of coordinating marketing with sales is always paramount. Putting marketing and sales/business development under one senior manager is a common solution to the problem.

In practice sales executives tend to rise to power in such tandems, which poses a challenge in that sales leaders tend to cast a jaundiced eye toward the marketing discipline based on post traumatic stress disorder.

When marketing executives rule, lack of sales spurs will potentially diminish performance based on an experience deficit and the accompanying hubris and naivete and/or lack of respect from sales management and rank and file.

The ideal candidate for Marketing/Biz Dev management has experience and expertise in both strategic and tactical marketing as well as sales. Any marketer who has labored in the sales vineyard knows that sales is a far different and much more pragmatic discipline than the commanding heights of marketing. It is far easier in my eperience to control a marketing plan than it is to persuade customers to actually make purchase decisions.  

Lacking sales experience, marketers who manage both functions should hold sales in the highest esteem, listen to what they need, and give it to them. Once one has commanded the respect of the sales team, it is far easier to implement new initiatives, especially those that may be disruptive to sales income and tenure security.

Ultimately though, CMOs must be instruments of the will of the CEO. The CMO must possess understanding of and fidelity with the CEO's vision, and the CEO must put her power at the CMO's disposal, using the same formula crucial for the success of any line or staff senior manager. Anything less jeopardizes organizational success and sows the seeds of discord and dysfunction.