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9 months a 21st-century CMO: A few lessons learned
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9 months a 21st-century CMO: A few lessons learned

Nine months ago I became Chief Marketing Officer of an organization described by CEO Bill McDermott as “the defining enterprise software company of the 21st century.”

Great CEOs don’t do it all themselves. They ask, “Who on my team can handle this one?” So when the summons arrived, my mandate was clear: become a defining enterprise software CMO for the 21st century.

The appointment came in the midst of a global pandemic, worldwide supply chain disruptions complicated by war and escalating climate disasters, and a looming pandemic macroeconomic hangover.

So how do I like it so far? It’s been the most demanding, mind-and-soul-expanding, fulfilling, inspiring, and exhilarating experience of my career.

Perhaps some of what I’ve learned after nine months can be helpful to my CMO peers, and to those coming behind us.

Finding a Lens: The Birth of B2P2

Ever since the pandemic put the evolution of everything in hyperdrive, marketers realized the old categories of B2B, B2C, and B2B2C were obsolete. Starting in 2020, our profession embraced the Business to People (B2P) paradigm. Business, fundamentally, is relationships among people. Even in the biggest enterprises, those making momentous decisions are still people.

I soon realized the concept of B2P was still not precise enough. The pandemic has been a global event that, somewhat paradoxically, put an intense spotlight on the personal. In a marketing context, it underlined the centrality of supporting customers’ purpose – personal and organizational – and the need to serve the customers’ customer hierarchy of needs as those needs change over time.

I call this added awareness B2P2, and it is the lens through which I view the entire landscape of being a CMO.

The outdated B2B model: Marketing focused on lead generation and passed it to Sales, then the two functions went back and forth on quality and quantity of marketing-generated leads.

In B2P2, we reframe our entire concept of marketing as a dynamic, immersive, continuous process centered on the needs of customers and their customers. We don’t market to targets, we put ourselves in total service to the experience of the customer and the customers’ customers.

B2P2 changes the fundamentals of Marketing. To be honest, I think our profession could do a better job executing the necessary transitions. Everything around us has changed, and so must our thinking about messaging & positioning, brand strategy, content strategy, media mix/channels, GTM enablement, programs, campaigns, and measurement, among other functions. (I’ll be writing more about each of these in future pieces.)

Practicing B2P2 Internally: The Leadership Challenge

The need to think and act differently internally is as strong as the external need to serve customers in new ways. Just as ServiceNow’s brand promise is to make the world work for our customers and their customers, as a leader I must serve every team member’s individual purpose, needs, and hunger to unlock their full human potential. (To underscore the importance of purpose, a recent survey by Gloat found 86 percent of employees consider it important their work align with their values and aspirations.)

Much about modern business is new, but some elements are timeless. I keep in mind Peter Drucker’s maxim: “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

One powerful way to earn a team’s trust as leader is to be open about vulnerability. When a leader is honest about imperfection, admits struggling just as hard as their team to find balance amid tsunamis of uncertainty, the result is mutual empathy, the rocket fuel of team achievement.

Being a CMO requires a 360-degree B2P2 skill set because a Marketing team is uniquely diverse. There are creative experts in colors and copywriting whose job is to connect with customers on emotional and aesthetic levels. There are quant-genius data scientists using powerful analytics to make ad-placement decisions in hundredths of a second. There are product marketing people and customer marketing people, all with different methods and foci. And they’re all on the same team!

A CMO must exercise IQ and EQ muscles equally well, and master the power of “and.” A modern CMO needs empathy to resonate with the story-telling creatives and quant skills to understand the data scientists (and vice versa). Global and local activation. Direct sales and partner/ecosystem enablement.

The CMO also needs financial and P&L acumen, Sales knowledge, and deep product understanding.

Perhaps most challenging of all, the 21st century CMO must solve a myriad of problems…by inspiring the efforts of others. Like the best CEOs, resist the urge to do it themselves.

CMOs must always stick the landing – leading a wildly disparate team, with the broadest spectrum of skills, needs, emotions, and purposes, to the precise, pinpoint mix of integrated, always-on activities that successfully and perpetually keeps the needs, purposes, and experience of customers and their customers sat the center of everything we do.

Challenging? Hell yes. But for some reason I can’t wait to get up and start working every morning.