The role of the CMO has evolved – how do we keep up?

Laurence Bret-Stern, CMO at Pipedrive, discusses the qualities required to be a successful leader in marketing.

No c-suite position has faced as much change in recent years as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

While it’s still true that brand management, advertising and public relations remain the cornerstones of the CMO’s duties, modern chief marketers now have to take on further significant strategic responsibilities.

Expanding responsibilities

As distribution channels have evolved, and user-generated media has come to the fore, the responsibilities associated with the role have significantly expanded. CMOs can find themselves at the forefront of everything from new product development to opening up new markets, roles that in legacy corporates were more likely the responsibility of purely operational executives (a COO, for example).

The new wave of technology companies have done an awful lot to drive this change, and I’ve been lucky enough to see first hand how the role has evolved. Around eight years ago, I received a call from Ariel Eckstein who asked if I’d be interested in leading Marketing for LinkedIn Europe. A dozen interviews later, I found myself in Dublin. During my seven-year tenure, the company grew from 800 to 10,000 employees. This was incredibly exciting, as well as personally rewarding, but looking back, the highlight of this experience was the hands-on experience of growing a company.

In fact, the role of marketing at LinkedIn went far beyond SEO metrics or PPC. We were encouraged to learn from outstanding leaders and get our hands dirty in operational work; it was a strategy that worked. All senior executives took direct responsibility for the bottom line of the company, and all of us were keenly aware of how our work impacted global growth. It prevented us from becoming siloed, it meant we worked together as a team better, and it helped ideas flow between departments.

In 2017, after seven wonderful years at LinkedIn, I was approached to take a new role, as CMO of CRM specialist Pipedrive. This was another chance to join a company at a critical moment in its growth, and it was an opportunity to become even more operational. I’ve since taken on the role of Pipedrive’s Chief Revenue Officer, on top of that of the CMO, a move that makes perfect sense in the new world of high-growth marketing.

For marketers looking for that next big move, this operational focus can seem daunting – particularly those who have only worked in traditional marketing departments. In order to succeed, you have to try and become the most knowledgeable person in the company on each product or service. At the very basic level, it’s the CMO’s duty to take that product or service, examine it from every possible angle, and demonstrate its worth to as many people as they can. We spend on average 6.9 hours a day in the office, so a substantial proportion of our lives will centre around these.

CMOs, particularly at technology companies, must have a forensic knowledge of the product they are marketing; without it you simply cannot effectively identify opportunities for revenue growth. Even if it’s deeply technical, marketers can no longer hide behind spreadsheets, or agency creative. You don’t want to end up pouring your toil, sweat and tears into building awareness for a product that you don’t fully understand.

You wouldn’t enter a new relationship without being sure of the fundamentals, and when considering a new career opportunity it should be no different.

So what should you do? Identify the product’s unique selling points, how it differentiates itself from competitors, and highlight who stands to benefit. This is the foundation on which everything from revenue growth opportunities and customer marketing wins are built on, so take your time! It seems like a basic point, but it’s something so often missed.

And don’t be afraid of getting into the weeds of the numbers. Learn how the balance sheets work, what the company’s corporate strategy is and how your actions can have the most  direct and immediate impact. Take an interest in the operations, and take the opportunity to hire strategically to add wisely to the capabilities of your team.

As the world changes, so do our roles and responsibilities. Always be cognisant of what you value and what value you can bring. More importantly, embrace the new world of marketing, and its ever increasing importance to high growth companies.

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