Demand the most from your CMO

In my conversations with CEOs and General Managers I hear three consistent themes:

a.                   Top-line growth is vital to the success of the company, now that we are climbing out of the tech recession.

b.                   Companies need to look for new strategies for products, services, alliances, go-to-market approaches, etc.  The business world is different, and same-game strategies are no longer good enough.

c.                    They want their CMOs to step up to the challenges of the full range of strategy, alliances, product/service development, and lead generation.

At the same time, many leaders say their current marketing teams fall short of this set of challenges and they are wondering what to do.  It is possible these companies need to upgrade their marketing leadership and key team members.  But it is also possible that CEOs need to demand the most from their marketing team, and give them the latitude and requirement to take the company to new places.

I will share five starter questions for CEOs to discuss with their marketing team that will open the dialog and quite possibly open the team’s horizons:

1.          “Why exactly do our customers buy from us?”  Many companies are simply happy that their customers are buying, and have lost touch with the real motivations.  In my experience, few executive teams can clearly articulate their value proposition, and instead refer to strings of vague PowerPoint bullet-points that could apply to almost any company.  Those companies that learn what motivates their customers are best positioned to reinforce those attributes, seek other customers who would value those, and reduce wasted investment in unrelated attributes.

2.          “Are we learning everything we can about our customers and how they use our products/services?”  It is amazing to see all the useful customer information that companies “spill on the floor.”  Every point of contact, even to resolve problems, is an opportunity to learn more about the customer.  One leading company set a goal to learn two new things about every customer at every touch point, while avoiding asking the same question twice.  For example, has your telephone company ever asked you whether you use cable or satellite TV services?  Think of how easy that would be for them to do during one of your calls, and how much it would help them market their new services. Harrah’s is a leader in this effort.  Then once you are collecting the data, the question becomes:  “What are we doing to properly use the insights?”

3.          “Do we provide a complete solution for our customers, and if not then what are we missing?”  Many products and services require customers to do some work to create the full solution to meet their needs.  For example, people who buy high-end sound systems often need help setting it up, companies who buy software need to install it and need extra hardware to run it.  Too many technologies are products in search of a market.  If your solution is incomplete, then by what channels and alliances can you complete the solution better than your competitors do?

 4.         “Are we meeting the needs of our customers across their entire lifecycle?”  Many companies are discovering that delivery schedules, customer service, or upgrade ease are proving to be bigger differentiators than the core product/service itself.  The CMO should be responsible for defining the entire customer experience.

5.          “Do we make appropriate use of new media to increase our market impact at lower cost?”  Many realize that the days of mass-media advertising are behind us, and the future lies in narrowcasting, product placements in other media, blogging, podcasting, etc.  Netscape built a leading national brand without spending much, if any, on traditional advertising.  Check whether your marketing department wants a bigger media budget and wants to win a Clio advertising award, or whether they have new experimental ideas for meeting your marketing targets at half the budget.

I encourage CEOs to try these discussions with their marketing groups.  They might be surprised by the response.