Why marketers are increasingly taking on chief commercial officer roles

Ever more brands are appointing their top marketers as chief commercial officers, signifying a wider change that’s happening in the boardroom as, with more data to back up their actions, marketers are steadily gaining more respect and responsibility.

Earlier this month, Birds Eye said it would scrap its CMO position in favour of a chief commercial officer. While Andy Weston-Webb has been managing director of Birds Eye since 2011, his new role as CCO will bring category marketing, R&D and group sales into one function. As a result, the role of CMO will no longer exist.

Speaking on the appointment, Birds Eye’s parent company Iglo’s CEO Stéfan Descheemaeker says: “I believe that the new role will drive success for the future, both organically and as Nomad Foods continues to grow through acquisition. Andy has extensive experience of marketing, operations and leading local markets and is perfectly placed for the new role.”

Birds Eye isn’t the first brand to go down this route. In March this year, Heineken combined its global chief marketing officer and chief sales officer roles to create the position of chief commercial officer to “accelerate strategy delivery”.

Meanwhile, Mondelez shook up its senior marketing team in October by appointing Mark Clouse as its chief commercial officer in a bid to streamline the company’s operations and “simplify day-to-day decision-making”.

While brands have varying explanations for introducing the new role, the reasons for doing so make solid business sense. CIM’s director of strategy and marketing Thomas Brown believes the blurring between marketing and sales can help with integration and has been in part led by a shift in company attitudes.

“If you go back 10 to 15 years to the slightly beaten up position of not having enough marketers on the board and organisations not understanding brand and marketing, we are hearing that less and less these days,” he explains.

“By bringing the marketing and sales functions together under a single point of leadership, businesses are essentially connecting the dots so that priorities and objectives are more aligned. The CCO role proves this.”

The growing importance of marketing

But the move towards appointing marketers as CCOs could also have a wider reason. Lysa Hardy is the chief commercial officer at Holland & Barrett after being promoted from CMO earlier in the year. She believes the current trend reinforces the importance marketing plays in driving a business.

“As companies have started to embrace and understand the importance of marketing and connecting with consumers, the roles have become much more commercial.”

Lysa Hardy, chief commercial officer, Holland & Barrett

Additionally, marketers have ever more access to data and can prove their brand building activity works – something that can give marketers the upper hand in the boardroom.

The increasing importance of marketing to the business has also been backed up by recent research from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, which showed that British companies are increasingly turning to marketers when it comes to filling the top job. According to the study, just over one fifth (21%) of all FTSE 100 CEOs now come from a sales or marketing background compared to 15% in 2011.

“I have econometrics models, YouGov stats and loyalty card data that is supplied to me on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve got so much data I can manipulate and mine to see what is working, which helps to show the value of what marketing is doing,” she explains.

The future of the CCO

At the moment, the role restructures have predominantly happened at FMCG giants like Mondelez due to their access to data and real-time insight into their activity. As a result, it would only make sense to combine sales and marketing.

However, there are questions around whether other sectors could closely follow suit. According to CIM’s Brown, it’s not necessarily a panacea for all organisations.

“There are certain sectors where for practicality, uniting sales and marketing can be too challenging, too large and significant a function to try and bring together under a single point of leadership. If you take something like professional services in the B2B world, it can be tougher and might not be the right model,” he explained.

However, there are other sectors that show more promise. He concluded: “If you think about financial services, and how you’ve seen organisations bring together channels such as brand and digital with marketing, I think there is a definite potential for it to move out of the FMCG world.”

BRAND VIEWPOINT

Lysa Hardy, chief commercial officer, Holland & Barrett

Lys_HardyAt Holland & Barrett, we now have one unit that looks after the products we source, how we buy them and that works with suppliers right through to how we range them, promote them, take them out to market and do the marketing around them. It has worked really well because there are some areas like beauty where there are a lot different sized suppliers. So we can’t have a one-size fits all approach.

While people have always had finance directors and senior people responsible for logistics and retail, marketing is still quite new. It has taken a while for people to really understand what it’s about. I’ve been to Marketing Society events with 10 CMOs and they all have totally different jobs. There are CMOs with no influence over P&L who just do advertising. But a CFO is a CFO – everyone knows what they do.

As marketing becomes more mature as an industry, more people will understand what marketers do and the value we can add to the business. Even in the private equity world, which I’m in now, brand used to be discussed as something that was fluffy. People now understand that by building a brand you can get real value. It coincides with a lot of the data-led initiatives going on where you can prove what your marketing is doing where perhaps earlier in my career it was all a bit more subjective, because you didn’t have the data.

Personally I don’t think I do anything different to before except I have responsibility for buying. I’m still a commercial marketer, I still approach things from a customer point of view but I think businesses are trying to differentiate what we do and be distinct about what this role should do and by putting it on the board.

I’ve always believed marketing should lead the business because you are the voice of the customer. I don’t know whether marketers have always embraced that, but we need to seize it and run with it. This migration to chief commercial officer is a much more official recognition. I guess it’s a turbo charged version of the old sales and marketing directors and recognition by businesses that this is the team that is leading and driving the business strategically as well as driving sales. It’s where are we going, not just what we are selling today.

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