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B2B Marketing Research: How CMO Roles Need to Evolve

b2b marketingForrester Research recently conducted a joint study with the Business Marketing Association (BMA) that we at CMI were greatly interested in reading: B2B CMOs Must Evolve Or Move On.

Indeed, the role of the B2B CMO is undergoing fundamental change, and I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with the report’s conclusions — particularly the one that states, “those marketers who better demonstrate a direct connection between marketing activity and business results earn a more prominent seat at the leadership table.

However, I find the “swagger” conveyed in the survey results to be somewhat mystifying. In some instances, these findings were in stark contrast with our experience at CMI (as well as with the data from other recent studies). In fact, for at least two of the enterprises expressly called out in the report, I can tell you that the “don’t worry, we got mad skillz, bro” attitude does not comport with the reality at ground level.

So, is this just a case of cognitive dissonance in the survey itself, or, did Forrester and the BMA just happen to catch 117 of the best performing B2B marketing teams after a really great cappuccino? The reality is probably somewhere in between.

Below are some specific findings from the report, as well as CMI’s take on their implications and imperatives for the B2B marketing industry.

Marketing’s role wins new influence and importance

Forrester’s report found that, according to B2B CMOs, the landscape of marketing is shifting fast, and that there is a need for the business to actively try to innovative:

  • 97 percent of CMOs think marketing must do things that it hasn’t done ever before to be successful.
  • 85 percent of CMOS think marketing does things today no one thought would be a responsibility three to four years ago.
  • 80 percent of CMOs feel more secure about their grasp of the skills needed to be successful in marketing.

CMI’s view: Indeed, B2B organizations are asking their marketing teams to do things that they’ve never done before. But we find that many B2B businesses are still resisting the cultural changes that “new” approaches — such as content marketing and social media — bring. We’ve found this to be particularly true in heavily sales-driven B2B organizations, where the head of sales is often asked to also serve as de facto CMO. Such marketing teams find themselves now, as always, primarily pushing collateral, fact sheets, and supporting sales-enablement programs.

Increasingly, we’re finding that B2B marketing teams are pushing for content programs to play a more prominent role in their processes, as well as for marketing’s role, on the whole, to expand to more than just sales enablement. Yet, in many cases, these teams still work under the assumption that it’s better to beg for forgiveness rather than for permission when it comes to creating innovative B2B content marketing programs that will increase sales conversions and improve operations.

Growing expectations place a staggering burden on marketing

The Forrester/BMA report found that as CMOs deal with the increasing pace of change, annual planning has been replaced with more accelerated planning cycles. As the report says, “69 percent of B2B marketing leaders say that conditions change too quickly to keep plans current.” The report then warns that, “The B2B CMO must be careful not to develop the execution myopia that relegates marketing to a support role, rather than a strategic one.

CMI’s view: The report seems to imply (rightly, in my mind) that the risk involved in more rapid planning iterations is that of being too focused on short-term tactical success.

Unfortunately, in many B2B organizations, one of the results of digital disruption is that marketing is being tasked to simply “do more with less, and do it faster” (a concern that I’ve written about before). One of marketing departments’ core challenges is that they have become order-taking, tactical agencies that run on the hamster wheel of demand generation. They are trying to keep up with client demands for new collateral, press releases, case studies and, at times, marketing-qualified leads (MQLs). Yet when its infrastructure and procedures prove unproductive, the business simply moves people in and out, puts a new person in charge of the agency, and then expects the results to be different. This endless (and insane?) spiral leaves no room for the team to step back and actually examine the quality of the content it’s producing.

Here’s what we’ve observed to be a driver of success: Once B2B CMOs have moved to a strategic seat at the table, they need to start providing “air cover” in the organization to allow their teams to try more innovative and “experimental” techniques for achieving success with content. It’s a goal that an integrated marketing team from one of the 20 largest B2B technology companies summarized once by asking me this question: “How do we change the culture here, so that we can actually make the time to create differentiating content and marketing programs, instead of just more product one-sheets?

Relationships with IT, sales, and executives are deepening

One of the key findings of the Forrester report was that “marketers need to lead the firm out of traditional silos.” As the CMOs in the survey reported, their relationships with executive management, sales and IT have expanded dramatically in the last 12 to 24 months (42 percent, 50 percent and 54 percent, respectively).

CMI’s view: We agree, and our own experience has been similar. However, these same CMOs first need to lead their marketing departments out of their silos.

In many cases, marketing processes are now distributed among multiple teams within an organization — such as the web team, social media, corporate communications, e-commerce, etc. As Rebecca Lieb so aptly found in her recent report, Organizing For Content, these organizations “divide up content responsibilities [among] divisions that are not necessarily interconnected or in regular communication with one another.”

Most B2B enterprise marketing groups we talk with are more frustrated with the process of content and marketing than they are with the content itself, or with the teams they need to work with. In our experience, many enterprises believe they have the capabilities necessary to create great content in narrow pockets; yet, they lack confidence in their ability to align with and scale to overarching organizational goals.

Summing it up

A hearty congratulations to Forrester’s Laura Ramos and her team and, of course, the BMA for putting this report together. Regardless of the slight disconnect we experienced in the confidence level expressed in the survey, we wholeheartedly agree that B2B CMOs must evolve, and that it’s time to “refine the B2B CMO job mandate” in order to prepare our industry for that evolution.

As B2B CMOs really do discover their “swagger” and evolve out of the disruption of digital to take their strategic seat at the executive table, they would do well to recognize that it’s not just their role within the organization that’s changing, but rather a shift has occurred in the very nature of marketing’s disruptive best practices.

In other words, it’s not just the B2B CMO that needs to evolve — the entire B2B sales and marketing process needs to move forward, as well.

Looking for more insight and advice on how to prepare for the challenges lying ahead in the content marketing industry? Join Robert Rose as he takes to the stage at Content Marketing World 2013.

Cover image via Bigstock