Never Trust a CMO Who Won’t Go Out and Sell.

I’ve been a marketer for years, regardless of what my title was or where I worked. And I’ve learned one inalienable truth in my career: If you want to be a successful marketer, you need to learn how to sell.

Most of us don’t have “sales” in our title, but selling is at the heart of what we do.  If you’re not good at selling, then you can never be good at marketing.  Marketing is all about the development of the message, but selling is the art of delivering that message.  Selling is about reading the room, and responding with the right slant to generate “epiphanies” in the eyes of your audience. 

The best marketers are the ones who go out into the field and experience the customers.  They join the sales team on sales calls.  They actually get involved in the back and forth that can only arise in a customer setting. 

The worst marketers are the ones who sit on high from their ivory throne rooms and dictate messaging without ever joining the “feet on the street.”  I’ve heard of CMOs at ad tech companies who deliver positioning and sales materials that the sales teams despise.  I’ve heard of taglines being delivered that literally make account executives cringe, knowing they’re expected to be the ones to deliver these corny one-liners while being taken seriously by their customers and prospects. 

Marketing is hard enough.  It doesn’t need to be unnecessarily complicated by the development of messaging without practical knowledge from the field.

Marketing is indeed an art form and like any art, it takes practice. I like to develop a hypothesis, review the landscape of the competition, engage with customers to test out my hypothesis, and use the feedback to further refine the strategy until I get something I think will work.  Once I have an idea that I think will work, I move to execute against that strategy with an open mind toward continued evaluation and refinement of the strategy. 

The more you engage with your audience, the more opportunity you have to integrate their feedback. And once you feel you’ve gotten things to the perfect place and everything’s working smoothly — that’s the best time to start over anew.
People think I’m crazy based on that last statement.  I believe in disruption.  I believe in the “hangin’ curveball,” so to speak (and to quote “Bull Durham”).  I like to throw the curveball to switch things up a bit, because the moment you rest on your laurels is when the market will pass you by. 

This approach doesn’t mean you have throw out what’s been working.  It means you need to be willing to throw it out if a better hypothesis comes along and can be proven through testing in the field.  According to a recent article I read, the average tenure of a CMO has increased from 23 months to around 43 months and I think it’s because more CMOs agree with me.  The short-term CMOs are the ones who think they’ve got it all figured out, while the long-term CMOs are more like me — they’re always on the lookout for something new.

Which brings me back to my original statement: The best way to judge whether your strategy is working is to go out and sell it to your audience — and your CMO should be doing that as well.

“The customer is always right” for a reason: They’re the ones with the money.  If they don’t buy your story, then they certainly won’t buy your products or services.  And if your CMO isn’t willing to go out and sell those ideas, then it’s very possible he doesn’t believe in the story, either.

Heard any good horror stories about ad tech CMOs?  Post them in the comments below, but please leave off the names to protect the innocent.  Remember, nothing is anonymous when you write it on the Web.

By Cory Treffilett
Cory, senior vice president of marketing, BlueKai, is a founder, author, marketer, and evangelist.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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