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Comment: Why Most CMOs are Failing

May 07, 2018


The following is offered as my comment to "Death by Powerpoint: Why Most CMOs are Failing to Plan (and Planning to Fail)!". I tried several times to comment to this post at the original site without here you go.

Interesting article. 

But when it comes down to wondering why CMOs fail or succeed, I would suggest that based on our experiences over the past 3-decades, "CMO" seems to have no common definition so the position has a variety of roles, responsibilities, expectations, and authority. 

In some companies, the position is really a creative director focused on the logo, color palettes, fonts and other graphics standards. They typically last 2-years because that's all the time they need to redesign the website, logo, collateral etc.

In others, it's used as a shorter version of the actual title for the highest marketing position - and that might be "director of marketing". Not really a C-level position but what the heck, right?

And in others, it's the position that's responsible and accountable for trying to put together the plans necessary to achieve the organization's goals and objectives - but lacking the authority to get other C-level and key leadership positions into the same room in order to get an effective plan put together.

For example, in one organization we worked with, the service, sales, and product development departments refused to participate in meetings to develop a marketing plan because "...we have our own plans and goals, let marketing write their own plan like we did for our departments..."

In that same organization, a few months into the new year, the folks from product development announced at the weekly "leadership" meeting that "...the new product is ready to launch!"

Unfortunately, it was the first time sales, service and marketing had heard of this new product so it was a situation of whether to launch internally so everyone understood what the product did, how it did it, how to sell it, service it, promote it. Or go directly to market and figure that stuff out along the way.

Betcha can't guess that the CEO, CFO, and head of sales made sure the new product launched ASAP because of their own revenue projections which were based on what one can only imagine included legal and illegal substances.

And betcha can't guess that the new product launch was a terrible failure.

Why? How? 

How Many New Product Launches Fail - It's Not the Marketing Department's Fault

Well, product development developed the product in a vacuum. They built it because they could, not because it solved an unmet or under-served need in the market. So it was like some existing products in the market only with fewer features and fewer capabilities.

Oh, and they developed it "for everyone" which is always a key to success. (#sarcasm)

Fortunately the CFO took things to the next level by setting a price that they felt was appropriate - which is CFO speak for "...when I plugged in this price along with this number for sales, the total was just enough to cover the 15% annual growth rate I had pulled outta my ass a few months ago!"

The end result was a price that was 20% higher than the market leader - and the market leader's product offered more features and benefits to the user.

Oh, yeah, the competition developed their product for an audience with unmet or underserved wants and needs - versus "everybody".

Next in this hit parade is service/support - they didn't know the new product was being developed so they didn't have a process or plan in place for training and preparing their team members. When they learned about the product launch, they had to rush training and preparation which had a negative impact on current customers and demand as well as some problems installing and supporting the new product for the first 90-days it was in the market.

That all said, sales got out there and rang up the sales.


Easy, the 1-2 punch of over promising and offering substantial discounts. Most of the prices settled upon were below cost which might scare some CFOs but this one knew that the company could "...make it up in volume" - or, by creating a new rate for service and support.

(Imagine, if you will, a service rep that was $50 per hour and capable of solving problems is now standing in front of your new purchase, unable to help but explaining that the new service rate for the firm to be unable to solve your problem is now $150. Ah, the word of mouth sure helped marketing!)

For many organizations, marketing is only promotion...or as others in those organizations like to say " is about lead generation." This holds true until sales fail to hit its goals, then marketing is the cause of failure for others not under marketing's area of authority or perceived responsibility. 

Some of you are probably thinking "...hey, work with sales on the definition of a qualified lead..." but remember, sales have already told marketing "...thanks but no thanks."

Product sucks. Pricing sucks. Distribution sucks. Sales sit around waiting for buyers to walk in with a bag of cash, pointing at whatever it is your business sells, screaming "Gimme gimme gimme!"

And the CEO sits at the head of the table screaming about how the company needs revenue while ignoring the fact that it also needs a leader that brings people together, focused on the same mission and vision. (As several CEOs have explained to me over the years, watching the conflict and allowing people to "deal with it on their own" was "fun to watch". Think Ancient Rome and the Colosseum.)

Ah well, must be marketing's failure to rise above this cavalcade of crazies that's to blame for so many businesses failing. And at the head of the marketing unit is, of course, the CMO.

Now, in "Death by Powerpoint: Why Most CMOs are Failing to Plan (and Planning to Fail)!", the author suggests the Chief Digital Officer be placed above the CMO on the food chain so the CMO can focus on logos, color palettes, and fonts.

As you might have guessed by now, my response is "No."

My reasoning for that is a new name is not the answer. Fix the problem(s), don't ignore them and think a new position is going to walk in a cure what's ailing you.

Come together, right now...

I am not a Beatles fan but the lyrics here strike me as extremely relevant.

Get everyone together, working together. As a team. A cohesive unit focused on leveraging each other strengths, downplaying each other's weaknesses and consistently delivering unique value to a segment of the population with a share unmet or under-served want or need.

Silos are known to cause problems, yet they are allowed and sometimes cultivated in certain organizations. Put an end to them.

And get the right people in the right positions. You need a senior marketing professional on the team to handle audience identification and segmentation. Competitive analysis. Market intelligence. Positioning. Pricing and distribution. Product development. Promotion...which includes sales.

If you don't have that person, the answer is not "create a new position and try to find someone who can do all those things." The "new position" is not relevant - it's the person and the team that they are part of that is relevant.

You wouldn't go out and hire a "Chief Revenue Officer" and "Chief Expense Officer" to do what your "Chief Financial Officer" isn't doing - why in the world would you do that with the senior marketing position?

Thoughts? Comments? Recommendations?

Tags: Marketing
Category: Marketing

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