I read with great interest Thomas Barta’s piece on leadership, ‘What’s the point of the CMO?’.
I speak as the chief executive of the country’s largest public engagement campaign, Smart Energy GB. And in that capacity I also speak as someone who works with an excellent CMO, about whom there is no doubt in my mind on this question.
While there is a great deal that I agree with in Thomas’ analysis of the frustrations experienced by many a CMO, I have a different perspective on a major force that is causing them.
I believe that the issues of frustration and/or limited roles for some CMOs pointed to in Thomas’s piece say more, in those examples, about the flaws in CEOs, rather than any questioning of the validity or need for the role of a genuinely far-reaching CMO with real responsibility.
I would argue that any company where it is the CEO who is hoarding the direct responsibility for broad areas of customer experience and the business proposition is likely to be a company heading towards failure.
I don’t deny that many CMOs find themselves in the position described by Thomas. But that is likely to be as much because they are in a company where the CEO is pretending that they can and should be ‘in charge’ of everything (rather than playing the critical role of inspiring, guiding and helping harness), as it is because of any inherent weakness of skills in those CMOs.
Thomas goes on to ask whether CMOs can make great CEOs.
Any company where the CEO is hoarding responsibility for customer experience is heading towards failure.
I would argue, in any business focused on retail in its broadest meaning, to any extent (and let’s face it, that’s most businesses), the best potential CEOs are actually likely to come from a marketing background.
As they step up to be a CEO, they will of course have to somewhat broaden horizons and certainly change behaviours (not least to avoid being the ‘hoarder of all responsibility’ type of CEO of which I am so critical). But are CMOs the right calibre to become CEOs? Of that there is no doubt.
I have a separate question – which is belied by my own experience with my own CMO colleague, I should hasten to add – which is why so many CMOs seem to think that they constantly need to look angry and grumpy. My advice to anyone would be: don’t conflate being taken seriously with always needing to look over-serious. But that’s a debate for another day.
Thomas ended his piece by asking the question, “Giving in or fighting on. What do you think?”
Well, it is clear that my answer to the CMOs of the world is to fight on, with great heart and confidence. I have no doubt that any business that lets a good CMO bring their best self to work will be a business that’s got a darn sight more chance of thriving. If you are in a business whose CEO doesn’t believe that, leave and find one who does. It’s their loss, not yours.
Sacha Deshmukh is CEO of Smart Energy GB.