Lessons in Marketing Leadership and Innovation

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Posted: March 24, 2011 | B2B Marketing

Strategic marketing consultancy, CMG Partners, recently released its 3rd Annual CMO’s Agenda; a body of work that shares key ideas and best practices extracted from one-on-one conversations with over thirty marketing executives. It got me thinking about what it means to be a marketing leader in today’s chaotic world, and reminded me of some key lessons in leadership and innovation.

Be a business leader first, and a marketer second

I wasn’t surprised to hear how many CMOs say that thinking and acting like a business leader is one of the characteristics most integral to their success.

I’ve written about the role of a “true” marketing leader before. There’s a key philosophical difference between a CMO and a VP of Marketing: the former is a business leader, the latter runs a marketing department. As business leaders, CMOs must earn their seat at the revenue table with other C-level executives and board members. CMOs fuse strategic long-term vision with a strong bias for sales and marketing integration, and they balance creativity with hard financial data, marketing analytics and measurement.

I strive to apply these lessons to my role at Marketo every day, because unconventional methods very often lead to equally unconventional success.

Getting intimate

Every successful marketing strategy, be it avant-garde or staid and conventional, originates with the target market. Leading CMOs orbit around the customer. As CMG puts it, they’re obsessed with understanding their target market.  (They aren’t called market-ers for nothing!)

Marketo’s research provides support here: high-growth companies are significantly more likely than low-growth companies to incorporate customer satisfaction into their marketing executive’s compensation. This is not a coincidence.  These brands know their success depends on their CMOs’ intimacy with customers.  Information is power in today’s marketplace; it serves as a springboard for our next lesson: innovation.

Innovation and the innovator’s dilemma

Innovation goes hand-in-hand with a marketer’s ability to position an organization to be intimate with its customers.  According to CMG Partners, the most “forward-thinking marketing leaders don’t take the perspective of incrementally improving a product or service offering. Rather, they search for the critical customer pain points and re-imagine their business model to increase value delivery and capture across all stakeholders.”

Innovation is about transformation and reinvention. But this can be painfully difficult, since in many cases it means moving away from the exact things that made us successful in the past. Even if we’re not faced with major disruptions, yesterday’s novel approach quickly becomes today’s industry standard.

The effective CMO continually asks him or herself, “How can I transform our marketing and our business?” To paraphrase Andy Grove, “if my company replaced me with a new, young hotshot, what would he be doing?  And more importantly, why aren’t I doing it?” (Source: Only The Paranoid Survive.)

This is a mindset of 180-degree turns and 100% improvement. With the iPad, Steve Jobs perceived what the customer wanted before the customer even knew it, and now Apple is promoting the post-PC era. Netflix built its brand around delivering DVDs in the mail and now is doing everything it can to make that business obsolete. As marketing leaders, we must have a vested interest in conceptualizing and embracing strategies and tactics that are alien to us.

Applying the lessons

When we founded Marketo, we took our intimate understanding of what marketers needed and combined it with a unique business model and super-efficient revenue engine to build one of the fastest growing SaaS companies of all time.

I attribute much of Marketo’s current success to the “new” lead generation tactics we employed at our inception: great thought leadership and content marketing to generate awareness and inbound leads, aggressive use of online marketing to generate qualified prospects, smart use of lead nurturing to develop relationships with prospects that are not yet ready to buy, and a highly-efficient inside sales model supported by a steady stream of high-quality scored leads.  These are now best B2B marketing practices across all industries.

However, we need to continually evolve our marketing tactics to retain our competitive advantage. We market to marketers, so need to always be embracing the future of marketing in our everyday activities.  Moreover, there are only so many webinars we can run or tradeshows we can sponsor effectively; the challenge of scale means that we can’t generate twice the results simply by doing twice as much of what we’ve done before.

This means moving resources and money away from tried and true methods of lead generation. It means new marketing tactics and channels such optimizing online video, embracing brand advertising and direct mail, and investing in “captive” live events like our 14-city Revenue Rockstar roadshow. It also means rethinking sacred cows in our revenue process, such as the role of outbound prospecting and the rules about when sales should engage with a qualified buyer.  While I believe these tactics are essential to our ongoing growth and success, they are also much harder to measure than direct response demand generation programs like PPC and email blasts. This is scary stuff for a company that has built such a highly-tuned, measurable and predictable model, but it’s also an essential part of innovation and leading the company to the next level.

What’s next

The most important lesson here is not to be afraid to question the way things are and to try new things.  Experiment.  Test.  Be nimble in your responses.  As CMG puts it, challenge paradigms and choose your battles strategically.  Think big, move quickly and execute flawlessly. And of course, if something isn’t going to work out, be sure you fail early and fail fast.

How are you transforming and innovating your marketing strategies? What sacred cows are you questioning?

Related Resources

Jon (@jonmiller) leads Marketo's product marketing, strategy, and content marketing initiatives. He is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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