Here’s Why Your CMO Is Always the First to Get Fired

We all know that CMOs get the ax more often than any other member of the c-suite. But I haven’t heard many convincing reasons as to why.

Sure, a CMO might not always be perfectly aligned with the CEO, or may have to stretch to deliver on both the art and science sides of the job. Or they might also be seen as “on the hook” for some miracle of disruptive growth that just isn’t going to spring forth from a dysfunctional corporate environment (especially if the product itself is lacking).

But in my work with the marketing teams at a couple of hundred companies across dozens of industries, I see a single pernicious force at work undermining every CMO. Put simply, CMOs have no visibility into their marketing activities or campaigns, and no technology to unify their organizations. I call this missing technology piece the “operating system for marketing.”

This may sound like a weak-sauce answer to why the marketing role is so tough. No one wakes up in the morning thinking: “I need a marketing operating system.”

But think about it: When a sales employee gets to their desk in the morning, they log in to Salesforce. An engineer logs into Jira or Github, a finance employee boots up NetSuite or Oracle Finance, while an HR person checks into an HRIS system.

At the same time, marketing departments, despite their inefficiencies, have experienced growing importance to companies’ bottom line. Not so long ago, marketers were regarded as the “arts-and-crafts” people who sat in the corner and worked on pretty pictures.

In a relatively short time, that stereotype has been turned on its head as expectations have grown for marketing to be a key engine of growth and data-driven insight.

Yet, if you ask any CMO if they know the top campaigns that are running in all of their key markets, they have no idea. This is the reason why: They are flying blind, all while being expected to pilot through death-defying maneuvers to position companies to rocket ship-style growth.

This is the death ratio for lots of talented CMOs: Low visibility to high-risk accountability.

These are all specialized operating systems designed to allow teams to work and collaborate more efficiently, with priority order and full visibility as to what everyone is doing.

There is no such single source of truth for marketing, even as marketing teams have gotten bigger and their jobs have gotten way more complex. There is only a tangled jumble of tools: email, Slack, Google Docs, spreadsheets, email automation systems, WordPress, Trello, Basecamp. Heck, even Post-Its and whiteboards.

Plus some 7,000 marketing point solution products and counting.

It’s like that junk drawer in your house. It’s full of screwdrivers, batteries rolling around, paper clips and your plumber’s business card. Lots of interesting and useful things are in there in the hodgepodge, but you have to dig around and get stuck with a pencil point to find anything. And you are likely to buy those things twice, too, because you don’t even know what you have.

And with $100 billion in dollars spent on martech in 2019, this is a very expensive junk drawer.

Wasted Budgets, Wasted Time

Not only are marketers undermined by the lack of visibility, this proliferation of disparate tools means that marketers spend too much time doing “work about work.” A recent survey by management consulting firm McKinsey found that nearly 60 percent of marketer’s time in the office goes to tasks like status updates, meetings, updating spreadsheets, and managing their email inboxes. In other words, marketers spend more time on organizational tasks than they do on their main purpose: bringing to market amazing products that will change the world.

The hodgepodge is killing our efficiency.

The one-stop system fix does not exist today, so as marketers we’re going to have to keep jerry-rigging and duct taping our systems together. But at the very least, we need to know the problem exists and find ways to cut through the jumble.

There are probably two stopgap measures that can help marketers move through this chaos and stay alive, and perhaps even thrive.

1. Set up your teams to truly collaborate. Marketing teams are often set up, unintentionally, to compete. For some reason, marketing as a function has historically been siloed into channel teams (social vs paid vs email vs field). This will only exacerbate the stockpiling and silo-ing of data and budget. The tech stack might be fragmented, but your culture can be better unified to overcome it. Think hard about how your teams are incentivized and rewarded. Are they truly motivated to help one another? Could you re-organize away from channel based teams?

2. Empower a new position to make it all work. Every CMO should consider naming a head of marketing technology whose sole job it is to ensure interoperability between martech systems, and get data and content and other teams to work across the stack. This is not new. A Harvard Business Review article talked about the emerging need for this role five years ago. The problem is far too many shops haven’t gotten there yet. For CMOs, they should make a marketing technology chief the most important hire on your team.

Another reason we need to maneuver past this bottleneck quickly is the marketing game has gotten much more complicated. The explosion of marketing channels in recent years have changed the game. Back in the day, there were only one or two channels to worry about, like television and print. Now, there are a bewildering array of outlets to manage from LinkedIn to Instagram to Amazon, to mention just a few of the digital ones.

This mess is completed by the low level of tech capability within most marketing departments. They can lean on the IT department for help, but the tendency has been to reach for a patchwork solution consisting of different specialty marketing tools. These tools don’t require any kind of central budget oversight or RFP, and in highly politicized budget environments, many are incentivized to fly under the radar.

Again, there’s the political matrix, working against a team already beset by complexity.

As marketing leaders, we can provide some of that very air cover that our talented marketing teams deserve. Imagine if we had the technology to help us step out of the silos and budget shadows and meetings to get some great work done, together.

Shafqat Islam is the CEO of NewsCred.

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