28 January 2009 ~ 10 Comments

On CMOs, Customer Service, and Birthing Elephants

If you’ve been to one of our trainings over the past few years, or seen any of us present at a conference, you’ve probably heard the line about the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer being less than the gestation period of an elephant.  Well, it’s time for some new material.  New research from executive search firm Spencer Stuart shows that CMOs are making it into their 3rd year with the same organization, on average, based on a review of the 100 most advertised brands in the U.S.

The CMO Strategy column in Ad-age does a good job postulating why CMO tenure is rising, and soliciting feedback from the folks who put together the research for Spencer Stuart, as well as a few who currently hold the position of their firms marketing top dog.  I’m encouraged to see most interviewed recognizing the (necessary) shifting role towards more accountable marketing- establishing hard measures of success and utilizing Analytics tools to help achieve the organization’s underlying objectives:

“Elisabeth Charles, who starts a new post as CMO of Petco in mid-February, also credits analytics and measurable results for the increased tenure. “You see a lot more folks doing marketing ROI studies, using more direct marketing that can be measured and shows a payback, as well as really scrutinizing the balance of brand investment vs. traffic or sales driving initiatives.”

Ms. Charles goes on to point out an area that has improved but “is still highly underleveraged”, that of utilizing technology & tools to better tap into consumer insights- listening to the voice of the customer.  Interesting she brings that up, as it dovetails with a another piece of research on CMOs, seemingly far more negative.

Bestselling author Scott McKain (@scottmckain) points to a new study by the CMO Council, and opines:

“While we often first point the finger at the Chief Financial Officer as being disconnected from customers, the truly shocking part of the study is that it is the Chief Marketing Officer who fails to listen to, and learn from, the very people they are marketing to!”

Now before you get all hot and bothered by Scott’s comments, he’s simply reacting to the CMO Council’s published statistics.  MediaPost spoke with the Executive Director of the CMO Council, Donovan Neale-May, and when you understand the lens through which he views the role of CMO, it makes sense why he’s led Scott to the conclusion above.

Donovan defines the CMOs most critical role as “owning every facet of listening, learning, interacting, engaging, and optimizing the relationship with the customer, and understanding where the attrition, pain and aggravation is, and doing this in real time.”  I like that definition, although I’d offer we need to add an explicit benefit/outcome- optimizing the relationship with the customer, to what end?  As long as it’s help them achieve their goals, and by extension, our business goals, I’m on board.  Doing so also reminds ourselves of our responsibility to our organization to be new age accountable marketers :)  I digress.

“Neale-May argues that the study shows that marketers tend to view customer services reactively, as a function for resolving a problem, not enough as an opportunity to engage or interact. Only about 37% of companies surveyed gather customer insight from customer engagement situations, per the firm. Only 15% use such situations to identify and cultivate potential customer champions and advocates. Only a third reported that they look for ways to turn problems into new sales opportunities, and only 16% introduce new products or services to further monetize the relationship.”

Apparently this research seems to validate what Elisabeth Charles expressed in her Ad-age quote, underleveraged indeed.

However, I think these two pieces of research, taken out of context, simply show (or aim to show) extremes on a continuum.  This shouldn’t be a sky-is-falling blog post, there’s good news and opportunity here.  As a marketing community as a whole, there’s still plenty of room for growth, but collectively *I think* we’re improving.  I look at brands like Comcast (with Frank @ComcastCares), Dell (@RichardAtDell), JetBlue (@JetBlue), Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) as signs of a positive trend.  I look at service providers like BazaarVoice, who not only get it themselves, but can be legitimate resources to helping their client organizations improve their efforts to better listen and serve their customers.  I look at CMOs like Barry Judge (BestBuy), Sam Decker (BazaarVoice), Patrick Moran (Mzinga) who are clear examples of accountable marketers, who know the value of (and have the discipline to) measure success and continually optimize, not to mention constantly listen, learn & interact with their customers.  These signs point me to this trend accelerating in the future, despite the current research.  I choose to see the glass half full, although I know, hope is not a strategy.

All that said, I can be as optimistic as I choose to be, but I’d much rather listen to the marketing practitioners themselves, you guys out there with your feet on the street.

  • Do you see a shift in your organization towards aligning your business objectives with your customers?
  • Do you see the Marketing group and the Sales groups breaking down silo walls and collaborating on the same performance goals?
  • Are you finding service providers and tool makers who help you leverage the social web to get closer to your audience, to better understand them, and to better service them?

If so, we’d love to listen and learn from you, so please share with your community here and don’t be a stranger.

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