Move Over CMO, Hello Marketing & Sales Operations

August 2, 2017 | Justin Gray | 5 Comments |

We’ve all heard about the declining collective faith in CMOs. The Wall Street Journal recently put an exclamation point on this topic by publishing the results of a study conducted by the top U.S. ad spenders which placed the average tenure for CMOs at just 42 months.

Compare this to their peers in the C-Suite and you see a stark contrast, exposing what can best be described as a complete and utter lack of faith in yesterday’s coveted marketing leadership position.

So, why is marketing’s flagship taking on water? Ask anyone close to the digital agency space and you will find a strangely pervasive undercurrent – a rare point of agreement in a space that often makes it’s living on being controversial and contrarian. I spend any downtime I’m able to pry from the tight grip of LeadMD talking to marketers, executives and my competition.

For years now I’ve made a practice of having off the cuff chats with folks who compete for the same logos as we do, both as a means to ensure I’m not missing anything but also as a way to share my experiences and get advice. For the last 18 months these conversations have been uncharacteristically similar.

Orgs are having a huge problem bridging the gap technology has created. Your old guard of experience has ZERO idea what it takes to make modem day technology succeed, or even what’s necessary to get at basic KPI’s that any first year Marketing Director would cite as critical. I’ve made a few posts on this lately and the answers overwhelmingly support this thesis.

As a result of these knowledge gaps, largely, technology is failing. We talk to thousands of organizations each year and we benchmark each of them as part of our consulting process. The biggest problem that we run into during these audits is not formulating a solution for what we find as you might expect, it’s availability of metrics that would highlight the issue in the first place.

I’ve seen many CMO’s and Marketing VP’s demand performance based engagements but at the same time unable to provide a baseline to measure that performance against. The result is always an operational engagement to build a foundation, before we start building a home.

The problem is that most of these orgs already had a home built, an incredibly unstable one that wasn’t safe to inhabit and when that’s discovered, there’s a really good chance that previous homebuilder is getting the axe.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? How do we turn the titanic and educate CMO’s and others executives about what it truly takes to succeed with technology and the fallout needs it creates?

I was presented with a sneak peek of a piece that Joe Chernov and Jason Miller put together on marketing, sales and business ops. Depending on the day, Joe is campaigning for either the title of Godfather B2B of Content Marketing or Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos and Jason is a hair metal groupie and photog who keeps a day job as one of the most engaging speakers in B2B marketing.

Long story short, you know the content is going to be good when these two are involved so I couldn’t help but dig in. It turns out the piece also reveals the true reason behind marketing’s overarching CMO issues – at least for me.

Squarely, the piece titled: Tech’s “Rhythm Section”: Sales, Marketing And Business Operations reveals the massive need we have created for individuals who can boil high level asks down into tactical outputs and essentially plug all of this stuff in and make it work. As much that is written about the shrinking trust around marketing execs, an equal or perhaps even greater amount is being said about the necessary talents to provide the connective tissue between the platforms execs purchase.

At the heart, data is the key to everything we do in marketing. Either we’re gathering it, standardizing it, storing it, keeping it current and using it to form both online and offline conversations – or we’re not. Largely, we’re not.

The number one complaint we hear from customers, after the gripe that they are not getting what they expected out of their technology purchases, is the admission that their data is poor and holding them back.

This is another consistency from those conversations I mentioned earlier – I find that despite the fact that marketers freely admit their data is in bad shape, they’re unwilling to spend money to truly remedy the problem.

They implement a short-sighted fix or bring on a vendor and get back to attempting to futilely pull accurate metrics. Of course, there is no quick fix to a data problem. They require comprehensive data waterfalls and storage and they require talented folks to see this through and manage it.

In reading through the ops report Joe and Jason sent, it’s clear we have started to realize this. The demand for Operations professionals is enormous. As you look closer however you also see that there are no real standards for excellence or even competency when it comes to selecting an operations hire.

Now, finally I get to my point and the reason for the CMO tie in here.

CMO’s are not going to become ops professionals overnight, likely they won’t even near competency. Why? Because frankly CMO’s shouldn’t need to bury their head in tactics – but they should be able to understand the talent required to run these enterprise level stacks and they should be able to hire with confidence and understand exactly what it means to be an expert.

It’s critical to their success. (In fact, the need is so great we spun out a startup called Six Bricks where we are currently in BETA to solve for this problem.) A CMO who can’t produce reliable metrics which demonstrate a real impact to the business based on their marketing activities is a CMO carrying a box down the street.

So, I’m hoping that this report will be eye opening in the sense that we have under-valued, and frankly under-invested, in operations for far too long.

Organizations NEED these folks to succeed with the technology that has become common place, even within the average startup environment. Tech vendors need to stop positioning these ‘solutions’ as easy and automated. And CMO’s need to take a hard look at the team they have in place. As the cliché goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and with the CMO role serving more than ever as a constant revolving door we can surmise that more time needs to be spent on bringing in the experts and investing in the necessary supporting structure before you go breaking ground on that new house.



  1. Brian Driggs on August 2, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Damn straight.

    “Your old guard of experience has ZERO idea what it takes to make modem day technology succeed” jumped off the screen at me. Perhaps the old guard might not easily take to all this modern, digital witchcraft, but I’d expect them to counter with deep understanding of the classic business relationship.

    Old school, relationship marketers play an important role in driving martech strategy—especially during an account-based renaissance such as we’re in today. Just as modern marketeers’ digital proclivities lend themselves to cutting edge tactics.

    To be sure, we’re all on the spectrum, but to your point, Justin, we all have rolls to play. If you’re scared of tech, you damn sure better be able to contribute to strategy. If you’re a tactical wiz kid, you’re gambling away your future on mulish pride by writing off those insights as “obsolete.”

    The question now becomes how do we do to the “solutions” mentality what account-based is doing to demand gen. Keep the hits coming, sir.

  2. […] Move Over CMO, Hello Marketing & Sales Operations […]

  3. LeadMD | InsightSquared on August 3, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    […] Move Over CMO, Hello Marketing & Sales Operations […]

  4. seanschroeder on August 17, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Well said, Justin. This is a problem not just in large orgs with a CMO, but in smaller ones as well. Connecting the dots between the vision that’s required to move a business forward with the increasingly broad array of tactics and tech smarts needed to fulfill it, is a tall order. I think we’re at a crossroads in which the type of person you need to serve as a CMO hasn’t necessarily had the opportunity to be in the weeds enough to have that type of insight. Alternatively, it’s hard to expect someone who’s been in the tactical trenches to have the experience necessary to have the vision and orchestrate it. But, in time, I believe this too shall pass and we’ll be able to meet C-Suite expectations much more consistently. And when that happens, the role of the CMO will rival that of the CEO.

    • jgray@leadmd.com jgray@leadmd.com on August 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      I think some fundamental tactical knowledge will need to creep into the ‘CMO’ lexicon. Technology and data are too critical to actionable reporting to be completely disconnected from the strategies driving the need. For the CMO to succeed they have to drive revenues, period. To do so they need to understand how the buying journey looks from a captured data perspective.

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