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IBM’s Susan Jain on Future CMO Skills

Susan Jain, CMO of 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 a one-part businessperson, adviser, leader, and technology expert with strong marketing skills and knowledge.

IBM Asia Pacific CMO Susan Jain

“The days of marketing being almost an internal agency are well behind us, so you 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 to helping to deliver it.”

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

“Part of what we see coming out of that is the fact that increasingly CEOs 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 and seats on the boards of Nike and Gilt.

CMO as a 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 surveyed 130 Australian marketers and noted that 60 percent of respondents’ organizations are already structured, so 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 has to be at the center 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 enable the B2B CMO to become a key leadership role. “Already, it’s 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 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 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 the two people driving the business and driving the growth, and the rest of the organization is operating and executing.”

Building Skills for the Future

It seems obvious, then, that tech is important. Jain says technology skills must 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 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 will make marketing central to the business’s success – to make it the growth driver and, therefore, an empowered central role going into the future.”