The role of the CMO has been under attack in recent years.

Two out of three CEOs say they don't believe that their chief marketing officers possess the business acumen or leadership skill their role requires, according to research by Accenture. Maybe that's why some prominent companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Hyatt, and Uber, are eliminating the position altogether.

If companies don't understand the value that CMOs can bring to the business, our work can feel like endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill. That puts CMOs into a defensive position—always fighting for the space to contribute to the company's wellbeing.

It's time for CMOs play offense instead.

Rethink the "ing" in marketing

CMOs are hampered by their company's lack of understanding of the power they wield, research from Korn Ferry found. We're often put into a no-man's-land between Sales and Marketing, which muddies the waters of the CMO role and makes it more difficult to demonstrate its value.

I've been on both sides of the marketing and sales fence and I've found that merging the two functions under Sales doesn't work. Demands between the two teams are different, and when marketing team members get caught up in reactionary month-to-month tactics, they lose the time they need to mull over the market's long-term prospects to build long-term value.

Much of the challenges that CMOs face is tied to the term "marketing" itself. It's a verb that encompasses creating blog posts, press releases, events, and speaking engagements—all to-dos and no strategy. Such expectations leave many CMOs stuck, unable to step back. But stepping back is necessary to understanding the market's needs and aligning the company strategy to meet them. No wonder we're wearing ourselves ragged!

Fortunately, forward-thinking CEOs are beginning to empower their CMOs to go beyond tactics—to focus on their markets, instead. In fact, 83% of global CEOs say they believe that Marketing can be a major growth driver.

But we CMOs can go a step further. I see a shift to becoming chief market officers, which is why I changed my title. I've been studying what great chief market officers do, and in the process I've learned a lot about myself, my team, and my company.

A lot of work goes into making that shift, and here's what I've learned about the key areas chief market officers need to focus on.

Develop strategy

Your strategic plan is a living document that details what your goals are and how you will reach those goals. Far-reaching, multiyear, strategic plans filled with objectives and key results (OKRs) are understandably popular, but a plan with a shorter timeline is a better place to start:

  • Stay focused on the quarter and year. What are your goals for the upcoming quarter?
  • Develop measurements that will inspire your team. How will you measure success and communicate it to them?
  • Ask how you can improve your business every day. What else can you bring to the table to beef up your strategy?

Instead of OKR, I use V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures), and I've seen it used well at other companies. It's helped me to develop clear and prioritized strategic plans as chief market officer.

Glean customer insights

A CMO's main duty is to understand the market. To do that, we need customer insights: in-depth knowledge of what our customers really want from us.

Today's B2B buyers, however, don't openly share that information. Instead of raising their hands by filling out forms or downloading gated content, buyers do their research in what my team refers to as the Dark Funnel—anonymizing their data and forcing marketers to do guesswork.

To unpack the Dark Funnel and get real insights, I suggest that you...

  • Master your total addressable market (TAM) and ideal customer profile (ICP). Once you understand who could be in your market and what they look like, you have a place to start.
  • Use historical pattern analysis on your customer data. You've got tech tools at your disposal, including artificial intelligence and Big Data, that can help you find historical patterns and identify which accounts resemble your most successful past accounts.
  • Pin down your in-market ideal customer profile (IICP). The above information gives you insight about the accounts that are ready to move along in the buying journey; those are the ones that constitute your IICP.

Backing up your plans with data not only motivates change but also shines a light on much of the buying process that is hidden from view. You can see every stage of a customer's journey, and plan accordingly.

Design your category

Chief market officers not only represent the market in their organizations but also establish their companies' positioning in that space through category design. If you don't do that, whatever you're marketing may not be what the market needs—or, worse, you may find yourself in a crowded market without the differentiation needed to compete.

Much goes into category design; I recommend focusing on these key points to start:

  • Define your brand positioning. You need to know your company and make sure its values and identity are reflected in everything you create. That knowledge establishes guideposts to help you build your brand deliberately.
  • Develop a strong category POV. Ask yourself: How are you going to break out of your space and move into the place where real change happens?
  • Map your message. With your narrative in hand, you can build your message map to keep everyone—from CEO to BDR—aligned on your company's message.
  • Build your "marketecture." Bring in your product team to help build your awesome stack slide. But don't get lost in the weeds; keep it simple and digestible so that it logically apportions the capabilities you provide into the things your customers need.
  • Create a category blueprint. The blueprint should be a view of not only what you do today but also where you and the market will be in the future—including key partnerships, M&A, and product road map items that give yourself and the industry a compelling destination.

Master company culture

A great company culture creates a community of employees, partners, and customers driven by a single purpose. It's powerful. And, as company-culture champions, CMOs get to wield that power.

If you haven't thought about company culture before, where should you begin? Here's what's worked well for me:

  • Build your First Team. These are your leadership peers. Build up, support, and align with them first as you become the culture champion.
  • Excite your sales team. Celebrate them and their wins. For example, my team does Field Kickoff—a big family reunion-style party where the First Team shows Sales how much they care.
  • Communicate transparently. No happy talk or sugarcoating news: be honest when things aren't working, and cheer when they are. (V2MOM helps you set public goals you want to be held accountable to.)
  • Live your values. You are the culture champion, so you need to show how important the company values are to you, personally!

* * *

The elements outlined above will enable us chief market officers to build an understanding of our markets, create a measurable plan to deliver success to our companies, and highlight the leadership qualities we bring to the table.

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It's Time for Chief Market Officers to Play Offense

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image of Latane Conant

Latane Conant is CMO of 6sense, a leading AI-powered account engagement platform.

LinkedIn: Latane Conant

Twitter: @LataneConant