Microsoft: ‘CMOs are not comfortable with the growing role of tech’

Microsoft’s US marketing chief Grad Conn says marketers are being pushed into martech without knowing how to set up their organisations to manage it but believes that it will enable them to take control of the increasing revenue responsibility they’re facing.


There has been an explosion in the marketing technology available to marketers. The latest estimate from chiefmartech estimates that in 2016 there were 3,874 martech solutions, double the previous year. This year’s estimate, due out later this month, is likely to tell a similar story.

This is a concern for Microsoft’s US marketing chief Grad Conn. He believes “a lot of CMOs are being pushed into the technology space in a way that they are not comfortable with” and says “a lot of them don’t know how to set up their organisation to actually be able to manage it”.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Conn says understanding this “confusing tech landscape” is one of the big challenges facing marketing professionals today. And it is only becoming more important after controversies such as brand advertising appearing next to extremist content on sites such as YouTube.

Conn believes there is also an opportunity in martech if marketers can link it with “the engines of revenue”. He explains: “CMOs tended to be somewhat powerless in generating revenue so what you are seeing is CMOs investing in marketing technology to drive control and management of these levers so they can deliver revenue [and] keep their jobs.”

But warns that “too many marketers are using vendors to do their work” and advises them to get involved in the process of running marketing technology.

He says: “It’s not a bad idea to get your hands dirty – a lot of marketers like to be strategic but it’s also not a bad idea to go an run some ads yourself. Go and see what the interface is like [otherwise] how will you have any perspective on how to leverage it.”

Retrain teams rather than replace them

Before becoming US CMO, Conn worked in the research division at Microsoft. When he shifted to his current role and took on responsibility for leading digital transformation at Microsoft US, he brought his entire team with him. He was able to do that, he says, because the brand runs internal education programmes so he could retrain his team, rather than replacing them.

Conn says he “didn’t go in with the mind set of getting rid of one team and replacing it with another”. But he did come across issues in sourcing information outside the company as traditional marketing publications and conferences “weren’t covering this space” or were “sceptical about technology”.

Pretend you’re in school for the rest of your life.

Grad Conn, Microsoft

Conn wanted to learn from other organisations that had been through digital transformation. He says: “It was all about connecting to other people like ourselves and saying, ‘what’s going on on your side?’ and going through everyone else’s experiences – understanding the pitfalls was a big part of it.”

Constantly learn to stay ahead

Conn believes a lot of marketers are “getting themselves wrapped around their shoelaces” in terms of what they need to know and what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and says it should be more about “embrace and learn”.

Conn says there’s an issue in the marketing profession in reading and learning outside of hours. He likens it to lawyers having to read case law and doctors having to continuously go on courses.

“A lot of marketers say things like, ‘I don’t watch TV, I don’t like reading’,” argues Conn. “You have to study it like a profession and if you don’t want to, you should do something else – this is a profession that requires continuous study and investment if you are going to have any hope in staying at pace with it.”

“What you learned yesterday is already old news,” he warns.