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The Growing Divide Between CMO & CEO in the B2B Landscape

Posted February 28, 2024
Eric Holtzclaw, Chief Strategist and Principal Partner at Liger, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Eric shares his view on why CEOs don’t see eye-to-eye with their CMO and what’s he’s done to bridge that gap.

Eric Holtzclaw, Chief Strategist and Principal Partner at Liger, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Eric shares his view on why CEOs don’t see eye-to-eye with their CMO and what he’s done to bridge that gap.

There have been a lot of articles, some old, some new about the gap between the CMO and the CEO, specifically, trying to understand what a CMO does and how to think about it. What are your initial thoughts? Why is that gap getting bigger?

“Well, the gap is getting bigger because marketing pre-2008 was more transaction-driven. How do you get their eyeballs? How do you get that somebody to call, really conversion-based and understanding, that is more about long-term relationships you have to build. Which is often seen potentially as a sales function.

“There is a mix between those two parts of the organization. It’s also very complicated. People who went to school traditionally for marketing didn’t know what they were getting into. We have got 25 to 30 different skill sets internally. All these things will have to be connected. And with the CEO who wants things to be often very finite, to the point, expecting something not to change. You and I both know marketing is changing every day.

“I see it more like managing a stock portfolio.You’ve got your growth stock, which is the new things people are doing in marketing, and your bond portfolio, which is the content and things that have been working for years. However, CEOs don’t always like that uncertainty and the marketer has to say too many words to explain it for the CEO to get it. If the CEO doesn’t get it and comes from a classic sales background, that’s often a sales-led organization, they never understand marketing.

It’s like who are you people and why are you spending at all? What are you doing? And not understanding that ability, which gets into the data. We did this thing and what did we get for it at the end of the day? So there’s a lot of tension in that space. I’m more concerned about companies that have a CEO and don’t have a formal CMO. I am seeing that more and more. Marketing isn’t getting a seat at the table in an equal way.”

I have seen that since the beginning of my career. Having spent a ton of time in startups and starting in organizations that believed that the way to scale B2B business was, and these are old terms so I may have to explain them to the young people listening, but they were trying to hire sales reps with a big Rolodex. Think of it as your contact list in your phone who you already have relationships with that you could then sell into. It was very much prioritizing knocking on doors, bringing doughnuts and other treats and trying to incentivize people who you already know a little bit to buy.

“Yeah, that’s bribery. That is not establishing a relationship. That doesn’t quite work the same way.”

Well, buyer demands have changed and I don’t think B2B is adjusting quickly to that change. We are seeing it kind of moving backward.

“Well, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help since it removed these reasons or the need to see somebody in person. We are used to on-demand now in a way that we have never been before. So why do I have to come to your silly webinar and why does your destination stuff not work the way that it did? There was a fundamental change as we thought about it from a consumer perspective. When I go to work. I don’t change who I am. I’m working for a company. I still have the same attitude. Today, I had lunch brought in. Pre-pandemic I did that rarely and I do it all the time now. 

“So that’s the type of thing you’re working within the marketing space. There’s an expectation that some of the things that I have in my regular life are going to come to me on the business side. And, the older the CEO is, the more set in their ways they are. And, the more pre-2008 they are, the less they’re going to get it or understand it. Then, we’ve got the complication of well, what really drove the needle? I just cannot point to one thing in time. It’s going to be a combination of things. You know that in your own life. There’s so many things that I’ll follow. I’ll see it on Instagram. I’ll see it online and it will take me two years to click the button and finally buy it because I’m ready at that point to do it.

“I did a meeting this week and talked about how you as a company are that important to your customer. You’re that important and they’ve got all this other stuff going on. It’s the goldfish syndrome. Goldfish have an attention span of eight seconds and the human has seven seconds. There’s all the stuff that we’re dealing with on the marketing side and you can’t tell them everything. You’ve got to tell one thing to try to get them interested and along the journey. So it just doesn’t play into the CEO’s concrete desire for quarterly goals and that creates friction. If you don’t have a CMO who can explain it easily and well and defend it strongly, then you are going to have issues.”

Speaking of people who explain things well. Let’s talk a little bit about why we need to start paying more attention to building internal awareness, and why campaigns are a good idea. Let’s maybe talk through what that looks like.

“My managing partner in our company runs a podcast called Mixternal Messaging. It’s about the internal message and the external one, need to be the same. We run sessions with our clients and bring them on board and we call it brand therapy. We’re looking at, do you represent internally what you are also talking about externally? If you don’t, it’s not going to work since it is fake. If your people don’t carry it, if they don’t know the mission, vision, and values, if they don’t understand the things you’re doing, they are your greatest and most multiplied assets. Therefore, you need to think about what you are rolling out just as importantly internally to your external audience and to the people who might come to work for you. 

“They need to understand all those things that you’re doing as well since that is going to compel them to choose your company over another or reach out actively to you or remember you later. So, we see that mistake often where it isn’t inoculated into the existing employee base when they’ve got this great big marketing campaign. Or, they’ve not considered what that means and they just push it externally and nobody even knows what it is or how to talk about it to truly get it out. That is going to be your greatest advocate base, those internal people.

I am thinking about early on in my career, I had this CEO who demanded everyone knew the company pitch. At the time, I was in revenue operations and wondered why I needed to know this? But, as time went on, I realized I was networking with a lot of our buyers, and when I tell them what I do, if it’s boring, that’s not reflecting well on the company. So that is actually really smart. 

“Also, you want anyone who is out there to know how they could at least get a referral. If you say it and everybody says, I don’t know what you do, then you’ll never get a referral from that person. However, if you can succinctly tell them what you do then when they hear that somewhere, they will think, oh I’ve got a friend or met somebody and they’re exactly in your space. This is a more B2C example. There’s a real estate agent who we worked with and she would tell people that she sold houses in Buckhead and Brookhaven, which are a set of Atlanta neighborhoods. The next agent would get up and say, well, I will sell you a house anywhere and she replied yes, but I will only sell you a house in Buckhead and Brookhaven.

“So, who are you going to refer anyone to if you know of a house being sold in Buckhead and Brookhaven than her. You’re not going to think about that other person. They’re just another real estate agent. So how do you make your internal messaging that appealing or compelling for your internal audience so they both understand it and are willing to share it.”

Back to marketing as now a blend of technology and the art form. On the technology side, we’re seeing some data points starting to disappear a bit and we are starting to revert to past tactics where we’re looking at correlations more heavily and that can feel squishy for a numbers-driven executive team. How do you go about setting expectations for when and what we can see from a given campaign?

“We have some general guidance and I love it because you and I hadn’t talked about it. It’s weird to have two people come together who do this kind of work and then you say things like that and I say I am seeing that too. I absolutely see that too. So we talk about four to six months for a payout. We won’t know for four to six months and we’ve got to get this stuff out there, do it consistently.

“I use gym analogies like running a marathon. You want to run a marathon and you’ve never run a day in your life in the past ten years. So we have to start off. We can’t run a marathon tomorrow. What are the first things we need to do? What does that need to look like? How do we ensure we impact that? I used to talk about how we could do the initial strategy and activation work and then we had a period of time I called the Pit of Despair. Now my team has asked me to start calling it the Valley of Opportunity. That’s when all the work is happening and you don’t really see things. Then you get toward the end and you can start to understand, if I get this much more here and then this much here and this much there, I ended up with something over here. Or anecdotally, you start to hear and see things too which is really squishy and CEOs say they hate the squishy part. But, I love it when we’re working with a person and they say, we’ve been doing this thing and I ran into three people this week that saw the thing and they talked to me about it. It was a door opener.

“So I love spreadsheets. but I am a qualitative guy. It’s all about how things make me feel and then I love putting things in a spreadsheet. So you do need to have a little bit of both sides. But you can’t lean too heavily one way or the other. It is this experimentation, trying a thing. We use the term internally called BATCOM, branding awareness, traffic conversation, and optimization. I wish it were a Liger term, but it isn’t. I tell everybody, you want conversion. I get it. I cannot give you conversions today. I have got to give you traffic. I have to ensure people are aware of you and your brand has to be right. If these things aren’t working, then we’re not going to get you there. Therefore, four to six months typically. People hate that. It’s true. It is beyond a quarter and you should begin seeing signs of life, things are working, just like if you were going to the gym and you start to notice that perhaps, your clothes fit a little better and you’re sleeping better. That’s the thing that means later you’re going to be able to run the marathon.”

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.