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Empowering CMOs at B2B Forum

What do you get when 400 marketers come together for two days in Sydney? At least two dozen insights written author and corporate storyteller Gina Balarin.

What about the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Sydney makes it unique? The B2B Marketing Leaders Forum is a great opportunity to gain skills or share impressions or experiences with colleagues.

I’ve been in marketing for a while. I’ve attended many conferences in the northern and southern hemispheres. But something special about this event makes it stand out from other marketing events.

It takes a lot of work to put your finger on it exactly. It could be the free flow of ideas, the honesty of those telling the stories from the trenches, the sheer joy shared, and the passion and purpose almost every single marketer brings to this amazing conference and their daily job.

Or it could be the waterside location, the great quality food, the friendly drinks sessions, the cool freebies, and the fact that it’s all wrapped up together by the inspirational marketer, Emma Roborgh, who truly gets what other B2B marketers need: a forum to learn, share, grow and remain inspired.

Whatever makes the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum a special event, I left full of inspiration, ideas, and a desire to take the lessons from these sessions and apply them as quickly as possible. Here are a few of my key takeaways and why this event showed, more than ever, that today’s CMOs have the potential to be future CEOs.

Marketing is About Growth

“Marketing can and should be seen as a growth engine instead of the party planner or necessary evil,” said event MC Carlos Hidalgo. It was a sentiment repeated across the event.

Unisys SVP and CMO Ann Sung Ruckstuhl took the theme further in her opening keynote. She said marketers are both salespeople and educators – as this is increasingly the same thing – and is surprised more CMOs aren’t running companies.

Accenture CMO Tracy Gawthorne shared research that, sadly, reveals two-thirds of CEOs need to believe their CMOs have the business acumen or leadership to take the organization where it needs to go. She remains optimistic, however, saying there has never been a better time to be a marketer – but only if we stop talking about marketing!

Gawthorne’s advice is to move away from the idea that marketing is there to serve and move to a mindset that we are empowered decision-makers and custodians of the brand’s purpose. If we can use our voices to influence how the business thinks – using its language, not the language of marketing – we can show we deserve a seat at the decision-makers table.

“Show up as part of the business – you don’t have to prove what you do. Speak the language of the business, and you’ll have a much stronger voice” – Accenture’s Tracy Gawthorne.

While the research indicates CEOs don’t currently think CMOs can up their game, she hopes “the people in this room will change that”. How? By thinking and behaving more like business leaders than marketers.

“Great B2B Marketers are Change Leaders”

The statement above comes from Thomas Barta, author of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. His research shows the importance of changing leadership skills when assessing a marketer’s effectiveness.

Marketers are in a unique position – we think about change every day. Our worlds exist in the future: driving campaigns, innovation, and technological advances. But we need to do three things to convince the C-suite we aren’t crazy fortune tellers: make sure the issues we tackle are big enough to influence the whole company’s future, side with the revenue camp, and talk in a language CFOs understand (and care about) and become our influencers.

How Do Marketers Become More Influential?

The answer can be found in Craig Griffin’s job description. He’s the Head of Marketing and Growth at Macquarie.

If marketers want to become more influential, Griffin says we should learn from the world’s fastest-growing companies and collaborate by building a growth function: create teams to solve specific business problems. These teams bring together relevant stakeholders around the business – including marketing – and lead the company towards success.

Joanne Schofield, Marketing Director ANZ at Rackspace, agrees with creating a “growth function” but warns marketing needs support. She says every marketer embarking on a business-changing initiative should “find the advocate in your business who will stand beside you and support those crazy ideas”.

In becoming true business leaders, we must ensure the problem is on the right side of the revenue line – that we’re driving growth, not increasing costs.

We Need to Prove We Benefit the Business

The difference between good and extraordinary marketing lies in using our unique talents to make a genuine difference in the business.

That could be the biggest challenge facing marketers. While no one at the conference said it outright, sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We desire to drive things forward, to make a difference, to get things done and out there, which prevents us from saying ‘no’ more often, which, in turn, prevents us from making the time (not taking it) to go bigger, to be braver and to lead our organizations confidently into the future.

We can do it. People like Ruckstuhl, Gawthorne, Griffin, and Schofield – to name just a few inspirational leaders who took to the stage – are doing it.

So consider this a call to arms: do less, influence more. Let’s show the world that CMOs are the CEOs of the future.

Gina Balarin is the founder of the marketing agency Verballistics and author of The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People.