When you think of the C-Suite at a company, your mind likely jumps to the CEO and CFO. There’s one role that doesn’t get as much attention, but can make a major impact on revenue, and that’s the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
The role of the CMO has been hazily defined, but once it’s clarified (and differentiated from other leadership roles in marketing), that role can make major waves in a business.
With proper transparency and accountability, the CMO can become a trusted leader with the power to execute a long-term, comprehensive vision that can drive revenue.“I think [CMO is] the most interesting role in the company because you need to understand the market. You need to understand your products, your customers, your competitors, your go-to-market motions. You need to be a champion both internally and externally, right?”
Defining the Role of CMO within Revenue Marketing
In this week’s Growth Marketing Chat episode, Alex Poulous, VP of Marketing at Securiti.ai, defines exactly what the CMO should be doing, and how they can perform their duties to make the greatest impact on the bottom line.
Hit play to learn:
- The difference between CMO and VP of marketing
- What a CMO should really be focusing on
- How the CMO can build trust within the C-Suite
- What marketing leaders can do to be successful and drive revenue
A CMO with a clear understanding of their position and the tools to do their job correctly will have measurable influence on meeting goals and bringing in revenue, all with integrity.
Watch the full interview to find out how to guarantee that marketing has a seat at the executive table!
CAROLINE: Hi, welcome to Growth Marketing Chat.Today I am here with Alex Poulos, he is the VP of marketing at security.ai. He's an amazing marketing leader who has led several companies through their acquisition journey. Alex, thank you so much for being with me today.
ALEX: Of course, thank you so much for having me.
CAROLINE: Great. So, you know, I tried to give a little bit of background about yourself, but would you mind just giving us a little bit of background about you?
ALEX: Yeah, no, thanks for putting me on the spot there. I like to say that I'm an engineer that turned marketeer, and I was able to do that very early and very conscious in my career. So I do have that technical background with me all along. All my career has been in high-tech, either software or SaaS. And I think along the way I had the opportunity to fund and run my own marketing agency for a few years, which was a very real experience for me being a founder, but also has taught me a lot, especially since now I work exclusively with startups. So having that founder perspective and having some of the understanding of what a founder might face has helped me a lot. As you mentioned, most recently I was the CMO at Chartio, which got acquired by Atlassian and then the CMO of DocSend that got acquired by Dropbox before starting now at security.ai.
CAROLINE: Great. Great. Well, thank you for that. So today I'd like to talk a little bit about the experience of CMOs and their role in the company. And my first question for you is that CMOs have the highest turnover in the C-suite and the average tenure of a CMO is 1.9 years. So that's a little bit scary when you think about it. So what do you think causes that?
ALEX: Yeah, I think it's scary and I think it's true and it's a very good question. And maybe we can answer it in two different ways, right? So the first approach, the first aspect is for a while the CMO role has not been well defined. So in essence, there has been a little bit of a lack of clarity on the definition of the role itself and the KPIs around the role. For example, right, is CMO and VP of marketing the same role? I would say they're not, they're not even close. Like while the VP of marketing is leading the marketing organization, which means in most cases they're given a product or a service and they just have to market it, the CMO role includes a lot more, right?
Includes some business acumen across organization, vision about the market, how to innovate with a product, how to chart corporate direction, right? So it's a much wider role, but the early CMO hires were really good marketeers, VPs of marketing, that had to get promoted. And unfortunately they lack those additional dimensions and competencies of the CMO role. And inevitably they started falling short in the C-suite fairly quickly, right? That's the one aspect, right?
The other aspect, and we need to take responsibility as marketeers, is that we sometimes give marketing a bad name ourselves. And that goes all the way to the top when you talk about C-suite. I mean, let me give you an example. Today every CMO should be talking about revenue. That's it. Our KPIs should be about revenue. Our strategies should be about revenue. Our reports to the board, to the executive team should be about revenue. Yet, right, we still talk about leads. We still talk about MQLs. We still talk about SQLs, right? Which to be honest are terms that we only understand in marketing and no one else really cares. And the more we talk about them instead of talking about revenue, the more we make the CMO role irrelevant to the conversations that are happening at the C-suite. So let's get back to revenue, that would be my advice here.
CAROLINE: I cannot agree more. Well, actually putting together an entire guide about revenue marketing and how every member of the C-suite can collaborate about it. So I didn't intend this little plug here, but yeah.
ALEX: Hey, it's true though, right? It's what we need to do, right? Every member of the C-suite should be aligned around the key business metrics of every company.
CAROLINE: Yeah Yeah, exactly. And there is so much more to generating revenue than only lead gen, right? Lead gen is like one way of generating revenue, but there are many more options there. Great. So that kind of brings us into our next question. So in your experience, how can a CMO build trust with the CEO, the CFO and the board?
ALEX: Yeah. First of all let me say that I'm very passionate about the CMO role. I think it's the most interesting role in the company because you need to understand the market. You need to understand your products, your customers, your competitors, your go to market motions. You need to be a champion both internally and externally, right? And you need to partner with almost every C level exec, right? It's not just the CEO and the CFO. You need to be in touch with the chief revenue officer, the chief sales officer, the chief product officer. You know, in a lot of cases you need to understand data. So the chief data officer. So it's a very multi-dimensional role.
So when you ask me, what can we do to build trust at the C-suite, right? I boil it down into four things, right? The first one is ownership. And I think, you know, we just talked about that. Like own some business numbers. I will start by revenue, right? But then as you said, revenue is not just new business, right? The CMO cares about new business, but we also need to care about retention and expansion and ongoing revenue, right? The second one is, I have to say accountability, right? We need to hold ourselves accountable and the marketing organization accountable for these numbers, right? Setting proper expectations, right? There's a lot of times when the CMO is the most optimistic C level member, right? Why is that? Why can't we set proper expectations?
We have to be transparent about what's working and what's not. And as comfortable as it may be, you know, let's be clear and upfront if we're not hitting our numbers. And to be honest, I think we can learn a lot from chief revenue officers or chief sales officers here about accountability. Does that make sense?
CAROLINE: Yeah. I mean, there's nothing worse than not, you know, forecast of forecast, right? Sometimes you're not going to hit them. If you can't learn from it and if you can't like readapt your plan and like, as you said, right, be accountable. If you try to like hide it, you're not going to do better on next quarter for sure.
ALEX: Exactly. Right? And we sometimes, I don't want to generalize here, but sometimes like we hide it. Sometimes we change definitions for us, right? So I will start with ownership and accountability and then I will say alignment, right? We talked about alignment a little bit, but more than any other role, with the exception of maybe the CEO or the COO, the CMO needs to continuously pursue alignment, right? Within the broader company. And alignment, to achieve both short-term goals, like how do I hit my revenue this quarter? But also longterm goals, right? How would my strategy be 12 or 18 months down the line.
Because my life is not going to end this quarter, right? I need to be thinking about the organization, about the products to the market, about how the market evolves in a longer term horizon. And the last and fourth element about what the CMO needs to do to build trust is around data orientation. And this is something I'm very passionate myself. I don't want to say that the CMOs are falling behind here, but especially in B2B, we're not leading data conversations either, right? And now more than ever, if you want to win the trust of your board or of your executive team, you have to go and bring data to the table, right? You can't go with a gut feeling or a creative, you need to be supported. You need to be led by data. Does that make sense?
CAROLINE: Yeah. Absolutely. All right. Awesome, thank you. That was fantastic. My last question for you, and I love asking this question, is what is one of the most important lessons you've learned as a marketing leader?
ALEX: Yeah. There are some things that I learned the really hard way, I have to admit, right? Again, maybe I can highlight three or four different things here. The first one being, you know, as a marketing leader, you have to be passionate about the company's mission, about the company's product. Like get excited about it because if you're not excited, you won't have that sparkle. Like it's going to be hard for you to be creative and drive, if you want, the grit to be successful.
The second element is obvious, but it is probably the most important one of the four that I'm going to talk about, hire the best. Right? If you can take the extra step to hire someone who can excel in something versus someone who can just get the job done, do it. You're going to learn more. It's going to push the rest of the team. It will pay off big time. The third thing, and I think it is also very important but it comes with experience, is don't try to do everything. Like prioritize your strategies that make sense for the company. And you don't need too many. You know, you maybe come down to maybe two or three strategies, but for those strategies, you have to be number one or number two in the industry, right? You have to be like expert in those.
And we all know that everyone in the company has an opinion about marketing, right? People come to you and say, okay, change the CTA background. It should be blue not white, right? Why aren't we on Tik Tok, right? And how come we're doing this event and not another event. And, you know, here's a demand gen play that, you know, someone emailed me about, right? Everyone has an opinion. The most successful companies, when it comes to the go to market, they don't try to do everything. They find those one or two things and they become the best in them, right?
And the last thing that I have to admit, I've personally struggled in my career, right? Because you know, is how to learn to fail constructively, right? And there's a lot we can learn here from lean startup models and how the product, agile product development is happening. But no one wants to fail. No high-performance CMO wants to come out and say, you know what, we run this campaign and it didn't work out, right?
ALEX: But inevitably some of the things we'll try and we'll fail, right? They may fail. So having this culture and this structure in place to measure our learnings, to iterate based on what we're learning, right? And decide, when do we need to persevere and when do we need to pivot away from something? I think it's a huge asset for CMOs especially in technology or software markets where things change very quickly.
CAROLINE: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So that was awesome. Thank you so much for spending the time. Alex, I think one of the things I really take away from this conversation is that being accountable and being structured, you know, like when we talk to you, you seem really, really structured, is really, really important to be able to report on what works, what doesn't, having accountability and then eventually be a very successful marketing leader.
ALEX: No, I appreciate the questions. I think they were very, very good questions. I think we're both very passionate about, how can we make marketing really have an equal or even bigger seat on the executive table, right? We don't want to be the one sitting on a stool on the side, we want to have a, you know, a seat that comes with responsibility and accountability as you mentioned.
CAROLINE: Yeah. Exactly. And that starts with revenue, right? Because this is one of the most important drivers of businesses. So yeah. All right. Well, Alex, thank you again. I really appreciate your time today.
ALEX: Of course. Thank you for having me. I appreciate that.