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Essential skills of the future CMO

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Susan Jain, CMO Asia Pacific for IBM, explains what the next marketing leaders will need in their bag of tricks.

A B2B CMO already juggles multiple responsibilities across a business, and the number and reach of these demands will only increase. The future CMO will need to be one part businessperson, one part adviser, one part leader and one part technology expert, all with a foundation of strong marketing skills and knowledge.

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IBM Asia Pacific CMO Susan Jain

“The days of marketing being almost an internal agency are well behind us, so you really have to start with the business and its requirements,” IBM’s CMO Asia Pacific Susan Jain says, adding that the role will become even more business-centric.

Indeed, it will become central to the business itself.

“But basic alignment is table stakes,” she says. “Marketing done well is the natural agent for transformation, for change, from envisioning the future and then helping to deliver it.”

While marketing may historically have been more of an afterthought in B2B companies, and therefore not necessarily had a full seat at the table, the CMO is now firmly a leadership role.

“Part of what we see coming out of that is the fact that increasingly CEOs actually come from a marketing background,” Jain says.

She points to IBM’s global CMO as an example – Michelle Peluso’s CV treads a path through marketing and CEO roles, as well as seats on the boards of Nike and Gilt.

CMO as customer advocate

As part of this leadership role, the CMO is leading a shift to a more customer-centric culture. IDG’s State of the CMO 2017 report, which surveyed 130 Australian marketers, noted that 60 per cent of respondents’ organisations are already structured so that the customer experience (CX) function reports to marketing. With their fingers on the pulse of customers, CMOs should be advocates for the client and advisers to the rest of the business.

In 2017, consulting firm Walker predicted that CX would overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. The CMO is best placed to drive the loyalty good CX can engender.

“The four Ps – product, price, place and promotion – are still very important,” Jain says. “But if you aren’t customer-centric, if you don’t understand what your customers want and desire, what they want to purchase from you, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and what they think of you, then ultimately someone else is going to do a better job. You’ll be wondering what happened.

“That really has to be at the centre of how you operate, and that’s certainly been one of our journeys at IBM.”

Technology’s impact on the CMO role

Jain says new technologies, including AI, will further enable the B2B CMO to become a key leadership role. “Already, it’s really augmented the ability to do marketing better because the humans, the marketers, can move into higher value work and have the AI and the technology take over the routine, mundane tasks,” she says. “Therefore, everything moves to a different plane.”

As we inch closer to genuinely human-like AI, with systems growing to understand “dark data” (information that’s collected but not used currently) and improving natural-language processing abilities, the CMO’s role as an adviser to the business increases.

“Envisioning the future is really empowered by this increasingly rich view of the marketplace. It’s therefore so central to the business that you can imagine a world where the CMO and the CEO are basically the two people driving the business and driving the growth, and the rest of the organisation is really operating and executing.”

Building skills for the future

 It seems obvious, then, that tech is important. Jain says it’s crucial that technology skills sit alongside creativity and problem-solving as the beating heart of the future B2B CMO.

“I fundamentally believe in diversity of experience, richer experiences and lifelong learning as a way to succeed professionally and in business,” Jain says. “I’m having difficulty thinking of any particular skill that a CMO should not invest time in building. What you absolutely must do, however, is be comfortable with technology.

“It’s not enough to be entirely about the creativity. Increasingly the knowledge, the problem-solving and the decision-making aspects are going to make marketing central to the business’s success – to make it the growth driver and, therefore, an empowered central role going into the future.”

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Further reading: Profiles of Cisco CMO Mark Phibbs and Atlassian CMO Robert Chatwani

Photo: Jonathan Crews on Unsplash

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