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The Evolution of the Chief Market Officer (Part 1 of 2)

5 min

Editor’s note: This article is a part of a series recapping the sessions from the 2021 Empowered CMO retreat. The Empowered CMO Network is a community of women elevating women and the role of the CMO through open, authentic, and inspiring connections.

A few years ago at an Empowered CMO retreat, things were looking a little grim for CMOs. In some companies, the position was being deprioritized and moved under sales. In others, it was  being eliminated altogether. We knew then that it was time for us to change — to define or be defined.

Christine Heckart, tech CEO and board member, had a vision for what that change might look like. She challenged us to embrace the role of Chief Market Officer. In other words, to drop the -ing from our title and from our priorities, and to put the market back in marketing.

Showing up to board meetings and talking about all the activities we were doing was playing too small, she suggested. We needed to step up and be the voice at the table that represents the market.

A lot of us have spent the years since that retreat re-envisioning our roles and working to show up every day as Chief Market Officers.

How’s it going? Well, I can definitely say that the perspective shift has changed how I do my job. And I’ve seen other Chief Market Officers out there doing amazing things.

We’re earning and owning our seats at the Big Kids’ Table. We’re gaining respect from our CEOs, boards, and peers through the value, insights, and strategy we bring to important decisions. As a result, we’re getting opportunities we haven’t had before, and we’re kinda rocking it.

In my opening session at Empowered CMO 2021, I shared what I’ve learned after three years in my newly defined position and all the new opportunities it has opened up. Here’s how I see the role of the Chief Market Officer today.

Think Like an Investor

One of the opportunities I’ve had as Chief Market Officer is to be involved in fundraising for my company. In the three rounds I’ve now been through, I’ve realized that if we learn to think like an investor, we can transform the way we do our jobs and maximize the value we provide to our businesses.

Investors aren’t focused on the past; they’re focused on potential. And to understand potential, they need to understand your market.

Before they can begin to think about whether they’re interested in your company, investors drill down into the market: How big is it? How big is the problem that you solve? Are people willing to spend money to solve it? What’s the competitive landscape? 

If they’re not sold on the market, they’re out. But if the market looks compelling, they’ll examine whether your company has the potential to capture it. For that, they’ll look at your product-problem fit, your strategy, your differentiation, and proof that you can do what you say you can.

All of those things fall squarely in the wheelhouse of the Chief Market Officer. Even when we’re not fundraising, we need to recognize that this mastery of the market and our place in it is what makes or breaks a company. It’s in our best interest, and our companies’ best interest, that we show up as the Chief Market Officer everyday.

The Three Pillars of the Chief Market Officer

With the investor mindset in place, we can start to refine our roles as Chief Market Officers.

I believe it comes down to three pillars:

  1. Understand the market
  2. Build differentiated brands through experience
  3. Optimize revenue generation

Each of these is essential, and each is dependent on the previous one. The first pillar is foundational. In this article we’ll break down it looks like in practice, and in Part 2 we’ll delve into pillars 2 and 3.

Pillar 1: Understand the Market

At 6sense, we just did some research looking at high-growth companies and what’s most critical to their success. Turns out, the top two elements of success are all about the market:

  1. The product or solution (i.e., product-market fit)
  2. Alignment on target market, ICP, or target accounts

These top two success factors, as well as many others on the list, are directly in the purview of the Chief Market Officer. But that doesn’t mean we should look at number one and decide to get all up in the product team’s business. (Side note: If you think marketers have it bad with people thinking they can do our jobs, you should spend a day in the life of a product developer.)

When it comes to product, the Chief Market Officer’s role isn’t to drive the roadmap. It’s to be the liaison between the product and the market in three ways:

Getting Aligned On the Stack

Make sure that the product leadership agrees with your version of the stack and that you’re really aligned. That’s important because it drives M&A and the roadmap. If you can get aligned on that stack, then the product team will drive the roadmap and you can market what they develop.

Promote the Hell Out of Releases

It’s such a shame when the product team pours their hearts into new feature releases and no one adopts them. As Chief Market Officers, we must align with the product team on their release cycle and then work to promote the features within the market.

It’s a win-win for everyone. Product’s efforts pay off, customers benefit from new features, and you get to bring the voice of the market to the product team so it can inform future releases.

Get Serious About Market Intelligence

In a lot of organizations, everyone is doing a little market intelligence, but no one owns it. Solution consultants are doing a little bit, the product team is doing stuff, the product marketers are doing their own research, and it turns into a horrible rumor mill.

I decided to hire one person who is solely dedicated to market intelligence, and it has been a total game-changer. Having that deep and consistent insight into the market and our competitors allows us to be much more proactive across the board.

The second success factor — aligning on target market, ICP, and target accounts — is also essential to the role of the Chief Market Officer. And one of the big ways to get that alignment is to work with your CRO to get super clear on segmentation.

The truth is, most of us have a total addressable market that’s way bigger than we have the resources to go after. The nightmare scenario is that sales spins up territories and assigns quota to accounts you don’t have the resources to cover, and everyone loses.

Working together to decide which segments you do sell to and which ones you don’t enables you to be laser-focused on the areas where you can have the most success.

I think of market insights like bumpers in the bowling alley — even if you slip up, bumpers are going to ensure you knock down at least a few pins. Likewise, when you have your market insights to guide you, you’ll get some wins no matter what marketing tactics you use.

Building on a Strong Foundation

Understanding the market is the first and most important job of any Chief Market Officer. With deep market expertise as your foundation, you can work on the next two pillars — building differentiated brands through experience and optimizing revenue generation.

You’ll learn how to put each of those principles into practice and deepen your impact as a Chief Market Officer in Part 2 of this series, dropping next week!

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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