Are chief marketing officers tuned into what really makes them effective?

While analyzing the data from the recent study on marketing effectiveness that I conducted with Larry Bodine, I was struck by the way many professionals and marketers ranked the importance of their firms' strategic marketing goals. Many professional firms (at least among our study's 377 respondents) have too limited a view of what their CMOs' goals could and should be. Professional service firms (PSFs) are still marketing in "survival" mode and have not prioritized their CMOs' goals toward astute growth.

Our research sought to help marketers learn about metrics to achieve greater effectiveness for their marketing strategies and tactics. To do so, we had to find how well aligned marketers' initiatives are with their firms' strategic marketing goals. We suspected that a lot of marketers are wasting time and resources measuring the wrong things.

The study results revealed that many marketers are not focusing on the goals that would increase their individual effectiveness, nor are they helping their firms move ahead in the marketplace.

Indeed, professional firms should reconsider their traditional notion of their marketing function altogether, by focusing on five stepwise goals that they should review annually. If growth is the ultimate goal, they should make it a priority.

Goal 1: Defining and identifying the most strategically important prospects/clients

Too many CMOs and their internal clients only know who the most strategic clients used to be, not who they should be now and in the future. There simply is not enough rigor and focus on this ever-changing group. Defining and identifying the most important "growth potential" clients should be the foundation goal for every CMO. Other strategic goals depend on this foundation and, in many cases, are simply useless until this one is met.

So what did our study reveal about this goal? Only 19% of the respondents ranked it as most important over the last three years. Perhaps these respondents think they already know who their most strategically important clients and prospects are. But, in reality, we suspect, most firms haven't truly assessed their most strategically appropriate clients and prospects. Admit it: Even your firm says "yes" to too many potential clients that won't be very profitable for the firm. Even your firm is vulnerable to serving shrinking segments of the marketplace and missing out on those that are expanding.

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Suzanne Lowe is founder of Expertise Marketing, LLC and author of Marketplace Masters: How Professional Services Firms Compete to Win. She blogs at the MarketingProfs Daily Fix and her own blog, the Expertise Marketplace.