What the Board of Directors Expects from Marketers Today

Modern Marketing


We’ve all heard (and will continue to hear) about the increasingly prominent role of the Chief Marketing Officer, or CMO. This is clearly a win for marketers, but with increased prominence comes increased scrutiny from your Board of Directors – especially for venture-backed companies.

Earlier this week, Lattice Engines, NEA, and Sequoia Capital brought together expert CMOs and marketing executives to discuss that very topic: how Boards of Directors are changing the way they evaluate the success of marketing.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with two expert practitioners – Sanjay Dholakia, CMO of Marketo, and Sharmila Mulligan, founder and CEO of ClearStory Data and formerly a CMO herself – and two partners from leading VC firms – Mickey Arabelovic of Sequoia and Pete Sonsini of NEA.

At the discussion panel, titled “The CMO Revolution: From Focused Expert to Empowered Leader”, our audience of marketers were treated to countless insights and observations from our panelists. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

1. Conversations, Not Campaigns

Today’s CMOs need to adapt to the changing way that buyers make purchase decisions. Your audience is now researching products and services before they speak to sales, which means marketing has a lot more influence. Your audience no longer wants to be sold to; they want to be engaged with.

“There are three fundamental mind shifts that CMOs have to make today. It’s no longer about finding customers; it’s about being found. It’s about conversations, not campaigns.” – Sanjay Dholakia, Marketo @sdholakia

2. Use Your Data

Now that everyone has access to “big data”, it’s the way you use your data that will differentiate your company within your space.

“Data matters for companies of all sizes. It used to be that startups had no data because they didn’t have any customers yet. Now there is enough data to make decisions from day one. CMOs today need to have a balance of both technical skill and creativity to raise awareness.”  – Pete Sonsini, NEA @psonsoni

3. Maintaining Your Seat at the Table

In order to maintain marketing’s seat at the revenue table, marketers should report to the board in a consistent, holistic way, focusing on both strategy and technique. What are the marketing team’s high-level goals, how is the budget being spent, and how does this position your company within your industry?

“Be consistent in how you report to the board each quarter. Board presentations should always include two to three slides from marketing. The first slide should cover the art of marketing. What’s the company’s positioning and value proposition? The second should cover the science. Is marketing investing in the right areas? Is sales getting what it needs? The third should cover what’s happening in the market with competitors.” – Sharmila Mulligan, ClearStory Data @ShahaniMulligan

This is also why organizations need to pay more than lip service to alignment between marketing and sales. Smart CMOs secure marketing’s place at the revenue table by making that alignment a part of daily life.

“Marketing and sales need to be held to the same number. Marketing needs to have a number assigned, or a quota just like sales. If sales and marketing are not aligned, it’s a complete miss.” – Sanjay Dholakia, Marketo @sdholakia

4. Don’t Worry About Being the “Perfect” CMO

The panelists seemed to agree that there’s no exact set of skills or traits that make up a “perfect” CMO. That said, companies should look for certain qualities in their marketing leaders – whether those qualities are encompassed by one person, or a balance of people within the organization.

“There’s no formula for the perfect CMO. Start with the core of the person. The underdog mentality is key – someone who is always trying to improve, driven, likes to get their hands dirty and doesn’t quit.” – Mickey Arabelovic, Sequoia @Sequoia_Capital

“Stop searching for a CMO who offers the perfect blend of art and science. It’s better to have a healthy tension. Build a team with skill sets in both areas.” – Sharmila Mulligan, ClearStory Data @ShahaniMulligan

At the end of the discussion, at least one thing was clear: the role of marketing is changing at a rapid rate, especially when it comes to tech companies at the forefront of marketing innovation. My biggest takeaway from our session was that, with all of the advancements in marketing technology, the growing harmony between art and science, and the rising prominence of the CMO, it’s never been a better time to be a marketer.