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3 Fears Every CMO Has and How to Overcome Them

The role of the CMO is continually transforming. Advancements in technology, shifts in consumer behavior, and waves of economic uncertainty require marketing leaders to constantly reinvent themselves and prove impact. 

Once a role largely held by creative visionaries, the modern CMO is now expected to have deep expertise in both brand and performance marketing. Strategy, data, and bottom-of-the-funnel outcomes take precedence over awareness-building and top-of-the-funnel metrics.

The reality is, it’s not easy to be a CMO right now. You likely feel constant pressure to communicate your worth, but aren’t necessarily armed with the right tools to do so.

We’re breaking down three common fears of today’s CMOs and provide a blueprint for overcoming them.

Three Fears Every CMO Has and How to Overcome Them

CMO challenges.

1. Fear: Job Security

We all have moments of doubt when it comes to our job security, no matter our profession or industry. But in recent years, CMOs in particular have felt their role being threatened.

We’ve all seen the headlines that imply that the role of the CMO is “becoming obsolete.” When companies hire “Chief Growth Officers” and “Chief Digital Officers,” it can cause confusion about responsibilities and the function of the CMO — but it doesn’t mean that the CMO is no longer relevant. The role of the CMO is not going away — it’s just changing. 

In fact, CMOs often underestimate the value they bring to businesses. In a survey conducted by Deloitte in February 2019, CMOs rate their job performance generally lower than other members of the C-suite do.

The eMarketer graph below details how CMOs perceive their impact versus what their C-level peers think.

CMO performance.
Figure 1

The CEOs in this “C-Suite Study” actually give CMOs the most credit out of all the C-Suite members. So how do CMOs overcome the fear that their jobs are insecure? 

How to Overcome: Focus on delivering business growth.

CMOs who can prove business impact will have a greater sense of job security.

There is increasing pressure for the CMO to contribute to revenue growth, not just promote new initiatives, launch campaigns, and create awareness. According to an eMarketer survey in May 2019, the majority of worldwide CMOs — 61% — say that they see the primary role of the CMO as “delivering business growth.” This comes before “ensuring effective brand management” and “developing the overall customer experience.”

The key to delivering that growth? Creating a strong partnership with your sales team.

Notice in Figure 1 that only 23% of CSOs (Chief Sales Officers) agree that CMOs “demonstrate understanding of strategic business goals.” 

CMOs must work with their sales leaders to clearly define shared sales and marketing goals and processes, and most importantly, create a clear plan for measurement.

Marketing and sales data must be aligned for you to deliver business growth. Ideally, you have robust dashboards that show exactly how marketing efforts are contributing to sales. Which campaigns are resulting in the most sales-qualified leads? How is the content you’re producing leading to SDR (sales development representative) success? Which marketing channels produce the highest quality leads?

The answers all lie within your data and analytics, and how that data aligns with your sales goals.

2. Fear: Making the Wrong Investment

In addition to being the strategic lead, brand voice, and customer advocate for a company, a CMO is also expected to be somewhat of a mini-CFO given the amount of pressure there is to invest in the right marketing channels.

When you look back at Figure 1, do you notice that the CFO has some of the harshest evaluations of a CMO’s ability to perform their job functions well? When it comes to financials, CMOs can run into roadblocks.

A survey from the CMO council in Q1 reveals that 59% of CMOs cite budgetary limitations as the biggest obstacle to achieving strategic goals.

Imagine you and your team have just come up with a killer idea for a lead gen campaign, but it’s not in the pre-approved budget. You need to make a case for it, but you’re also fearful that making the wrong investment could be detrimental to the C-Suite’s perception of your ability to lead a marketing department. 

Even more anxiety-inducing: you have to make a strategic pivot mid-cycle. Do you have data that will give you the confidence you need to make the right change?

How to Overcome: Leverage quantitative data in decision making.

When it comes to business decision making, quantitative data is your best friend.

Interestingly enough, data tells us that CMOs aren’t leveraging it enough.

In a 2020 CMO Survey, the percentage of time that marketing analytics is used in decision making is relatively low across business sectors. 

  • B2B Product: 34%
  • B2B Services: 27.3%
  • B2C Product: 46.4%
  • B2C Services 58.6%

What’s even more concerning — 21% of survey respondents say that they are not able to show the impact of marketing. 44% of CMOs have a sense of qualitative impact, but no quantitative data to back it up, while 35% say that they can prove marketing impact quantitatively.

CMOs: you need to employ data-driven decision making so you can invest in success, and divest elsewhere. According to the survey, two-thirds of CMOs are currently not able to do this.

Come to that budget meeting with clear proof that what you’re proposing will work — based on numbers, not anecdotes or predictions. And to do this, you need rock-solid analytics. See a pattern here yet?

3. Fear: Looking Stupid

No one wants to look stupid, but when you get that email from your CEO asking why leads are down and what media mix is responsible for it, you might feel like a deer in headlights.

Getting put on the spot and not having a prepared answer, or at least some general data to support a theory, can feel immensely embarrassing.

What if the cause of the decreased lead flow is not a marketing issue? What if the analytics configuration is broken and those leads aren’t getting into your CRM? What if it’s an SDR messaging issue?

There are a plethora of possibilities when it comes to fluctuations in revenue and lead flow — but you need to be prepared to defend your strategy or make a case for a new one.

How to Overcome: Focus on outcomes, not actions.

If you fear looking stupid in front of the CEO, or anyone else in the C-Suite for that matter, you need to focus on outcomes, not actions. 

To do this successfully, you first need to know your CEO’s expectations of marketing’s role and align your strategy. 

If your marketing goals don’t align with overall business objectives, it’s as if you and your CEO are speaking different languages. 

What are the most important outcomes to focus on? You guessed it, financial. You need to level up the conversation to talk about dollars generated.

If you find it difficult to prove financial impact, you’re not alone. 63.8% of CMOs surveyed said demonstrating marketing impact on financial outcomes is the most challenging leadership activity to implement on a regular basis.

In an eMarketer article discussing how CMOs play a strategic role in corporate leadership, more than 60 marketing leaders gave advice about how to communicate their worth. 

“I think a lot of CMOs make the mistake of talking about cost per click or click-through rates or any number of stats that don't mean much to a board member. With my peers, I try to discuss outcomes, not actions,” says Tim Matthews, CMO of Exabeam. 

CMOs need to strike a balance between striving for short-term wins and identifying quick-win KPIs, and planning for long-term, sustained growth. 

Two big takeaways here: 

1. CMOs must align their strategy with sales goals and CEO expectations. 

2. Any time you talk strategy, speak in dollars and have data to back it up. 

It all comes back to expectations and analytics.

It’s Our Job to Make CMOs Look Good

At Silverback Strategies, analytics is at the core of everything we do. We utilize the full suite of Google Analytics tools, provide campaign tagging, custom dimensions and metrics, and custom BI dashboards and reports for our clients. We help CMOs and marketing teams make strategic decisions based on data, and we’ll help you craft a response to that dreaded “why are leads down?” email. 

Learn more about our Analytics offering by contacting us on our website or email our VP of Strategy & Development Allyson Cochran directly at acochran@silverbackstrategies.com.