Rumors that the CMO role is going the way of the dodo bird have been circulating for years. Talk of the role's imminent extinction ramped up considerably in 2019 when the CMOs of three major brands—McDonald's, Uber, and Johnson & Johnson—stepped down and were not replaced.

A year later, in an economic environment completely transformed by the pandemic, McDonald's brought back the global CMO role, citing a desire to "reestablish strong business momentum."

That inevitably prompts the question: Isn't establishing (and maintaining) strong business momentum always important, in any economic climate?

Maybe if you're one of the world's most recognizable consumer brands, marketing functions such as building awareness and creating and reinforcing the company identity don't loom as large as they do for others.

But it's also possible that the devaluation of the CMO role is in some cases the consequence of outdated notions of what CMOs do and misconceptions about the scope of the job.

Marketers Are From Mercury, Salespeople Are From Saturn

They're not alien lifeforms, of course, but marketers and salespeople do come from different worlds. In most cases, they use discrete toolsets to perform related but separate functions to achieve common goals.

B2B companies sometimes go as far as folding Marketing into the sales organization, with a chief revenue officer overseeing both business development and the brand. Yet, though Sales and Marketing should be more closely aligned, the skills needed to lead the respective teams are different.

Generally speaking, marketers focus on implementing ideas, building the brand, and positioning the company over the long haul while generating leads to drive revenue. Salespeople concentrate on timing and closing deals, and following up on leads while looking for ways to improve productivity and shorten the sales cycle.

Sales was always data-driven; marketing has become much more so.

There's overlap between the functions, and the two teams should absolutely work together at every level, but the tasks they perform are distinct. When companies lump both teams together under leadership that focuses primarily on sales, it tends to make top-tier marketing pros shy away from the organization because they don't want to work for people who don't understand what they do.

A better approach is to align both groups around a single source of data truth and to facilitate collaboration while recognizing that the functions require specialized knowledge and skills on both sides.

Ideally, the leaders of Sales and Marketing should be specialists in their respective disciplines who are capable of identifying and nurturing talent with the skillsets their respective departments require.

When the Planets Are Aligned

So, what can marketing leaders do to make sure the planets are aligned—i.e., Marketing and Sales are functioning as separate but complementary forces for driving revenue?

Teamwork on initiatives to feed the business—with metrics reported in a shared data source—is the key.

Marketing has a technology stack that produces metrics on the department's activities, and those numbers on clicks, impressions, etc., are useful within the marketing department but generally meaningless to other departments (and the C-suite). The challenge is to show results rather than activities—i.e., to report marketing's contributions to revenue.

B2B marketing departments can bridge the tech stack divide between them and Sales by using the CRM system for tracking data and creating reports. At many B2B companies, that's already the norm, and the use of the company's de facto revenue reporting system to generate marketing reports elevates the credibility of Marketing's data among those outside the marketing department.

When Marketing and Sales share a common dataset, they can collaborate more effectively across the board. They can work together to identify lead generation goals to meet sales targets, monitor lead qualification at every stage of the funnel, and locate and address process inefficiencies to keep leads progressing and revenue flowing.

Revitalizing the CMO Role in a Post-Pandemic World

No one knows for certain what the post-pandemic economic climate will be, but early indications, such as the decision by McDonald's to revive the global CMO role, may signal a return to business fundamentals.

There's no going back to the pre-COVID-19 business world. Economic uncertainty will demand greater agility on the part of all business units, including Marketing and Sales. Decisions and actions that may have played out over extended timelines last year are now being replanned. Messaging that may have worked well back then won't necessarily resonate now.

These trends underscore the importance of specialized marketing know-how, retooled with technology that enables collaboration and data-driven decision-making. The situation calls for a deeply collaborative relationship between Marketing and Sales that acknowledges the areas of expertise each leader brings to the table while fueling the company's revenue engine.

* * *

Reports of the CMO role's demise were always greatly exaggerated. But if one of the side effects of the economic fallout from COVID-19 is a renewed focus on business fundamentals, CMOs have a new opportunity to demonstrate their value and resilience in a transformed world.

It's now more important than ever to eliminate waste and inefficiency from operations, to communicate clearly (internally and externally), and to make decisions based on timely and accurate data.

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Economic Uncertainty Is Resurrecting the CMO Role

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image of Bonnie Crater

Bonnie Crater is a co-founder and the president and CEO of Full Circle Insights, which delivers sales and marketing performance management solutions to optimize a company's marketing mix and drive more revenue.

LinkedIn: Bonnie Crater

Twitter: @BonnieCrater