The New CMO/CEO Growth Mandates

In our current tumultuous environment, it’s more important than ever before for CMOs to align with and support their CEOs. It’s also essential that CEOs work closely with their CMOs to stay agile and focused on customer-centric growth. Those were two of the key takeaways from Marketing Growth Leaders Virtual CMO Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Nirell, founder of Energize Growth, which runs Marketing Growth Leaders events.

Prior to the event, attendees had shared some of the business realities they’re dealing with as a result of COVID-19. Nirell kicked off the event by sharing the top three:

Protect: Business leaders need to continue to focus on protecting the health and safety of their employees, as well as their customer base. As they do so, they also need to be mindful of the increase in mental health issues as a result of the pressures and separation wrought by COVID. Nirell mentions the implications of this mental health crisis in a recent blog post.

Preserve: Senior executives need to preserve cash as budgets and revenue decline, and as the number of go-to-market channels—such as live events and sales meetings—have been cut dramatically.

Prepare: Executives at all levels needs to prepare for the post-COVID business world while managing their current day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. One attendee shared challenges they’re facing with meeting marketing goals and creating future growth ideas while facing a 30 percent rise in absenteeism, for example.

Nirell then hosted a spirited panel discussion with You Mon Tsang, cofounder and CEO of ChurnZero, and Stuart Foster, president of automotive business and affinity at Hagerty. They discussed their biggest COVID-related challenges, how they’re dealing with those issues, and what comes next.

Tsang noted that the scariest business aspect of COVID was the month or so at the outset when activities basically froze for many businesses. Many B2B companies put all purchasing on hold, and many executives put all but the most strategic decision making on hold. But, Tsang pointed out, strong companies with predictable pipelines can model when leads, opportunities, and new sales will return.

Tsang and his team also had to pivot from losing a significant number of prospective customers that came from in-person events, and they’ve been successfully innovating around that, he said. Additionally, his team is reexamining their plans quarter by quarter to ensure that everything is working and to determine if anything needs to change.

These tactics—trusting the numbers, innovating, and closely tracking progress—have enabled ChurnZero to continue to grow through 2020, with unit economics returning to pre-COVID levels.

Foster, who was CMO of TopGolf when the COVID lockdown began, learned from his experience there and his current approach at Hagerty that marketing leaders need to throw away the playbook they used pre-COVID. “CMOs and their [C-suite counterparts] need to understand and focus on their top priorities and avoid distractions right now,” he said. “They need to be much more agile, too.”

Foster concurred with Tsang that senior executives should be tracking progress and results more frequently; quarterly, not annually, for example. He also emphasized that CMOs must demonstrate the value of marketing to the business.

Tsang agreed. “I expect a CMO to be able to show marketing’s impact on the business,” he said. At ChurnZero, for instance, marketing delivers a significant percent of opportunities and influences a majority. In addition, Tsang expects that his CMO will keep him informed on the plans to continue with that level of success. He pointed out that CMOs need to be able to speak to their CEO about top business KPIs.

Foster added that CEOs and CMOs need to work together to balance meeting the needs of shareholders and stakeholders. “You can’t be beholden to customers at the expense of shareholders…and vice versa,” he said, adding that there needs to be a balance to ensure that long-term revenue continues.

“Focusing on stakeholders builds the strongest, best business in the long term,” Tsang asserted. But, he added, the reality is that many CEOs will panic as the end of a quarter looms if revenue isn’t on track.

What other advice did Foster and Tsang have for CMOs? Their top recommendations were:

  • Align with the CEO on business priorities
  • Adopt rapid experimentation
  • Stop trying to predict your 12- to 18-month future
  • Bring an analytics mindset to strategy discussions

Nirell wrapped the event by reminding everyone to also think about how they can deepen trust and strengthen their CEO/CMO relationship. And, to consider how they can increase their individual impact as a growth leader right now and continuing post-COVID. These are crucial considerations at this time of continual unanticipated change.

This article originally appeared on MKTGinsight.