For CMOs and Other Marketing Leaders: 7 Skills of Data-Driven Superheroes
Pay no mind to the cautionary statistics about who has the shortest tenure of the C-suite—there has never been a better time to be a data-savvy CMO. As companies seek to better understand their customers through data-driven insights, the significance of marketing leadership continues to grow year over year.
“The good news is that marketing has become more of a science than an art,” explains Alison Murdock, CMO of SocialChorus. “We have an enormous number of tools and technologies that we can use to measure if what we’re doing is working and driving the business forward. For example, predictive intelligence and analytics can tell us who is likely to buy and when. We can use that technology and greatly personalize the experience for the person that we’re trying to drive to an action.”
Customer personalization and tailored customer journeys are rapidly becoming the main competitive arena. And with marketing teams using an average of 91 martech tools, CMOs who are digitally savvy and comfortable with technology have a home-field advantage.
New CMO Opportunities, New Challenges
So there’s more technology available to marketers than ever before, which presents new problems for CMOs to solve.
“The challenge is that the more tools you have, the more management and oversight is required,” says Murdock. “So, you have to have people to manage them, and you have to be diligent about not only getting the data out of the system, but also actioning those insights.”
At the heart of the matter is this: What good is gazillions of terabytes of data without the ability to extract value from it?
For example, a few years ago, Shiseido wanted to leverage data from an 80-year-old loyalty program that was created long before the term even came into the business vernacular. Adding to the complexity, Shiseido had already invested in many different martech technologies and wanted to combine all of this data into complete “golden” customer profiles. The solution involved using a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to unify the profile information and orchestrate the other martech. This enabled Shiseido to optimize real-time personalized communications with shoppers and update those communications as consumers’ needs evolved. The solution boosted sales, both in-store and online.
What Does It Take for a CMO to Lead Marketing Organizations Now?
As marketing needs of organizations shift with industry and technology changes, here are the top seven skills for CMOs today—and in the foreseeable future.
There’s no doubt about it; CMOs need to be Jedi masters of communication, both human and the machine-learning/AI type. They need a deep understanding of branding, messaging and value propositions. And they need to communicate with their audience on an ongoing basis, usually on multiple channels. This includes coming up with—or at least overseeing—ongoing creative campaigns that drive purchase or other conversion behavior.
As Murdock points out, “Communication is integrated into everything: explaining why are we choosing these things to do, how are we doing them, and what do we expect the results to be. And then later, how did it work? You have to commit to educating your colleagues frequently about your team’s impact on the business.”
The most effective CMOs are exceptional listeners, with a curiosity about desires and motivations in order to understand what their customers mean and how they feel. They can take what they’ve heard and use that information to create messaging and advertising that resonates with—and feels authentic to—the target audience.
Good listening skills are a crucial component to building strong marketing programs, not only for customer acquisition but for retention as well. CMOs need to take the long view on increasing customer satisfaction over time. And it’s equally important for CMOs to deploy these communication skills internally to their organizations, as well as externally.
Strategic and fearless decision-making
CMOs need to act quickly and decisively. There is no time for indecision. Murdock says, “You need to figure out your customer acquisition strategy and then go from there.” Depending on their budget and the number of people on the team, CMOs are constantly faced with decisions. Should you invest more money in tools or in training people? How much should you spend on lead generation events? What ratio should you use when allocating retention versus acquisition spend? There are always trade-offs to weigh.
To be successful, CMOs need to look at the information available to them and make some calculated risks. “What we’re faced with today are some difficult choices in marketing technology,” says Murdock. “As a CMO, you need to stay current to explore where you could invest and the best-of-breed tools to use.”
Data management and analysis skills
Today’s marketers are swimming in data. According to Salesforce, the median number of data sources used by marketing organizations has jumped from 12 to 15, making data management and analysis an even more important skill set for CMOs. Today’s data can be classified as structured, unstructured, semi-structured and streaming, and successful CMOs should understand the basics behind this.
“You need to be able to interpret the data that you have and come up with insights,” says Murdock. “You and your team need to understand how to parse and interpret data and then come up with the next best actions based on those insights.”
All data has a structure of some sort. Delineating between structured and unstructured data is as simple as determining whether it has a predefined data model and whether it’s organized in a predefined way. In the past, data was typically stored in relational databases. But data structures are evolving as new applications are built, and many developers are looking at more flexible alternatives to relational databases to accommodate data of any structure. Treasure Data’s CDP, for example, uses a data lake, so it can easily expand to meet increased data needs, without restructuring an existing data warehouse or legacy database.
Successful CMOs also need an analytical mindset to avoid paralysis while sifting through vast quantities of data. Analytics and dashboards help, but the focus should be on gleaning insights about the needs and capabilities of the organization and its technology. What kinds of data does the business need, and how fast does it need to get and deploy such data?
It’s also crucial to get the answers to such questions as: How often does my customer engage with my brand before a purchase? How likely is it that this customer segment will churn after 30 days? Are there new customer segments or demographics we need to explore? Are there new markets or new uses for existing products? What external conditions and factors drive purchase behaviors?
Comfort with digital technology
As CMOs are often tasked with the digital transformation of an entire company, they need to be more like CTOs than ever. A high level of comfort and experience with marketing automation technology is required, as well as a desire to stay up to date on how those technologies are evolving and changing. According to Murdock, “I think people are often surprised to hear how much technology is involved in marketing these days, and how much you need to understand things like programmatic advertising and how it works, or how to put a pixel on a page [of your] website.”
According to The Clear Path to Personalization, a recent report by Forbes Insights, 56% of executives surveyed say establishing a center of excellence or expert team dedicated to personalization is a top priority for the year ahead, while 55% say consolidating data into complete unified profiles for a single source of truth is a top priority. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) promise to have a transformative effect on personalization initiatives as customer profiles constantly evolve and adapt, according to the report, but advanced technology skills will certainly be required.
Murdock points to predictive analytics tools as an example of a digital technology that helps focus her sales efforts. “A lot of times, you’ll have these accounts, you’ve been trying to contact them and you really don’t know if they’re in the market to buy. Especially if your sales cycle tends to be six to twelve to eighteen months, you don’t know when they’re ready and you don’t know who the buyer is.” She uses third-party tools to identify when prospects are in market, who the primary contact is, and when their stages progress from getting educated to making decisions.
A high comfort with technology also helps CMOs combine multiple tools, some of which had their origins in customer service or managing salespeople. “One of the trends that’s super interesting that didn’t exist years ago is how systems are able to be integrated and talk to each other. The most basic integration for a demand gen marketer is going to be marketing automation and Salesforce,” says Murdock.
She adds that this integration is proving so successful that you can expect it to accelerate in the future.
“You can take all [this data] and create predictive models to say, ‘Hey, here’s our take that this company is highly likely to buy right now,” she says.
“I can also—for example, we’re running an event right now—I can integrate our event registration system, and it goes into the record of that person who registered for the event and that is a positive thing,” Murdock adds. “It allows us to target the people who are the most interested in what we do. And that gives us the fodder to personalize further.”
Leadership and management skills
No matter what industry, today’s CMOs still need to have a steady hand to steer the ship while navigating tricky waters. They need to regularly communicate objectives and goals, set clear priorities for the team and delegate tasks. They should have excellent people skills and be able to work with each member of the team to remove roadblocks for them so they can achieve maximum productivity. Often this entails working cross-functionally to resolve conflicts and solve problems.
Additional key leadership skills include building relationships and mentoring and coaching. Strong leaders take responsibility for their behavior and ‘own’ their growth. They also exhibit passion for their brand as they lead the charge, motivate and inspire the team—and get them to work together to achieve meaningful results.
A growth mindset
Whether you’re a new marketer or a seasoned executive, you’re never too old to learn. Today’s CMOs are always experimenting, always learning new skills and trying out new methods and tools. Staying abreast of trends, and being able to adapt to new developments is critical—as is helping teams adapt.
A habit of using ROI data
Finally, it’s important to learn from your mistakes; the key is not to invest too much in an unproven strategy or tactic. Murdock shares a lesson she learned when her company tried out a product that had been getting a lot of buzz. “It’s one of those chatbots that come up when you hit a website and goes, ‘hey, can I help answer any questions for you today.’ What we found was that the only people engaging with it were people who actually were having problems with our platform. We got really caught up in the promise, but we soon realized that our type of platform and the way we sell wasn’t a great use case for this technology. So we had to reevaluate the investment.”
It’s important for CMOs to continue to align marketing function with the goals of the enterprise and to look to business metrics like return on investment and sales revenue to demonstrate value.
Data Will Become Even More Critical to CMO Success
As the digital world continues to transform the business world, the role of CMOs and their teams continues to grow—touching more areas of the business, with more responsibility for the entire customer journey and customer experience. To meet this challenge, successful CMOs strive to improve upon a long list of skills for themselves and their teams. They are deepening their understanding of the digital landscapes that impact their strategies, adapting their media mix as they better understand the consumer journey.
Murdock states, “Executing well on your strategy and tactics is critical, of course, but it’s important to show how all that is contributing to growth.” And proving you’re doing that often requires understanding—at least at a high level—data collection, use, display and dashboarding.
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