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It’s Time to Redefine the Role of the CMO

4 min
Cmo Coffee Talk Default

Today I’m changing my title to Chief Market Officer. I did not ask permission, or seek out opinions, nor is the nature of my job changing. Admittedly, the change is pretty subtle, but I believe it represents something meaningful to the CMO profession, 6sense, and myself.

In October, 6sense sponsored the 2nd annual Empowered CMO Network retreat in Napa Valley. This retreat brings together leading women who are B2B CMOs for authentic, open, and inspiring connections. The mission is simple: to elevate CMOs and elevate women.

One of the more fiery panel discussions was titled “Is the Role of the CMO a Black Hole?” I know it doesn’t sound very inspiring, but the spirit was to address real concerns over recent trends facing CMOs: short tenures, limited board representation, unclear career progression, and (in some cases) even role elimination. Not surprisingly, the phenomenal women of this group took to task, workshopped it out, and came up with a pretty amazing conclusion: we need to redefine what it means to be a CMO!

As Jennifer Johnson, an expert in category design put it, “We must design our own role and category.” Christine Heckart, CMO turned CEO, was a bit more poignant in her assessment as she discussed how the CMO role was originally created and where, perhaps, we went wrong—most notably, she says, our title. She explained, “The CMO is the only C-suite executive defined by an activity versus an area of expertise. We don’t hear Chief Financing Officer, Chief Selling Officer, or Chief Product Making Officer.”

From board meetings and interactions with customers to where and how we spend our time, Christine challenged each of us to take our seat at the table, not just to advocate for our function or our team, but to also—and most importantly—represent the market.

“We have to put the ‘market’ back in marketing. There’s no sense in focusing on all of the ‘-ings,’ all of the activities, unless it is in service of a much bigger purpose, and that purpose is the market that you want to win, why the people in that market should buy from you, and why you exist as an organization to serve that market or that set of customers. If marketing wants to continue to be a valued function and the CMO wants to continue to have an impact and influence around the CEO’s table and at the executive level, then the CMO must be THE most educated about the market and must have a strategic point of view about the market: how to win it, how to meet it, how to capture it. Then their team can put the –ing activities to work in support of that bigger strategy.”

– Christine Heckart, CEO, Scalyr

So, perhaps there is hope for the role, but no doubt there is work to be done to live up to the title Chief Market Officer. Make no mistake, this is not just semantics, but a meaningful and important change for the future of our function and level of contribution to the organization.

I started to think about what it means to be a Chief Market Officer and, as is my nature, began to question my own worthiness of the title. Inspired by CMOs like Janice Le, Katherine Calvert, Micheline Nijmeh, and Jackie Yeanie, I began to ask myself some deeper questions and had a man-(or woman)-in-the-mirror moment. I realized I needed to make a change.

Here I was, CMO of 6sense—a company with aspirations of becoming a category king—blogging, liking, sharing, re-tweeting, and demand gen waterfalling away in a noisy, crowded category desperate for definition and leadership. I realized I was playing defense, and I’m an offensive player. As if the man-in-the-mirror moment wasn’t enough to snap me into reality, this revelation was one of those moments where I thought to myself, How did I get away from who I really am?

I decided to go on offense, playing to my strengths around the intersection of customer and employee experience. I’ve spent a good chunk of my career helping companies achieve meaningful revenue growth by guiding them to reimagine their customer and worker experience using technology. I’ve both seen and experienced this transformation and I believe in it deep in my bones. This is, I’m convinced, a fundamental point of view that is lacking in martech today.

So I got to work. First, I hired an amazing product marketing leader, sent my team to the Play Bigger conference, scoured the Play Bigger handbook, set up best practice calls, participated in analyst inquires, and met with customers.

Through all of this work, we made some interesting discoveries that we might otherwise have missed. The most impactful being that, for our market, ABM is not a destination, but rather a strategy. The destination is predictable revenue growth.

I often say, only half-jokingly, we are treating prospects (our future customers) like dirt, making them fill out online forms to learn from us, spamming them with unwanted and unrelated emails, and cold calling them to discuss topics they care little about. We do this all in the service of hitting our numbers, or some other self-serving objective.

Instead, we need to differentiate our product, our company, and our people by delivering engaging experiences that serve each prospect’s needs by meeting them exactly where they are on their buying journey. It’s a monumental commitment and undertaking, but one that we believe is paying off for us.

We do it at 6sense using our own AI-powered platform, of course, but the reality is this kind of effort simply isn’t scalable without modern technology. Now here’s where it gets really fun, and why I’m so excited to step into the role of Chief Market Officer. What we’re able to do with our technology—deliver engaging prospect experiences to every member of the buying team, no matter where they are in the buying journey—is literally helping us achieve predictable revenue growth. And this is precisely what we’re delivering for our customers. It is why I’m so excited to define this new category for our market.

Of course there is more to it, including building out our category marketecture, developing our point of view, continuing to execute against our killer product vision and roadmap, and more.

But it’s all right in front of us, and we are executing. We’ve completed two lightning strikes and just are just getting started. We’re helping to drive meaningful results for our customers and starting to lead our market.

With inspiration, advice and the support of my fellow Empowered CMOs, and a mission to go on offense to become a category king, I’m ready to step into the role of Chief Market Officer, a title I hope to earn every day.

Latane Conant

Latane Conant

Latané Conant is the Chief Market Officer of 6sense and author of the bestselling book, No Forms. No Spam. No Cold Calls. She’s passionate about empowering marketing leaders to confidently lead their teams, company, and industry into the future. Latané is laser-focused on leveraging technology and data to build marketing programs that result in deals, not just leads. She’s known across the industry for her creativity, competitiveness, and boundless energy.

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