Understand Data and You'll Understand Why CMOs Make the Best CEOs

Research-based strategies are helping marketers drive customer engagement, boost sales and strengthen organizations through authentic leadership.

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By Justin Gray


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In baseball, there isn't a more underappreciated position than catcher. In addition to squatting in that painful crouch three hours a night for eight months, the catcher must know and balance the team's personnel better than anyone else. He must understand each pitcher's personality and how to tailor the game plan to maximize efficiency, using data on opponents to formulate a strategy. He has to collaborate with management on in-game decisions to further the team's mission. And then he has to take his own at-bats, temporarily becoming the focus of the entire stadium.

It's no coincidence that catchers historically have ascended to managerial roles at a higher percentage than any other position. This season alone, 12 of 30 managers are former backstops. They spent their first ballpark careers handling a bit of everything across the locker room, and their wide-ranging expertise makes them ideal strategists and faces of the organization.

It's no different in business, where the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) plays the catcher's role. Marketing officers finally are getting their due as more of them transition into CEO positions. With cloud data becoming more prevalent across all industries, individuals who understand what that data represents (and how best to use it) are king -- or queen. All hail the CMO-turned-CEO.

Not your typical boss.

For most of us from a certain generation or older, the image of a CEO is a stereotypically corporate one. We envision a financial and operational figurehead who's far removed from the day-to-day realities within the organization. That last part isn't without merit: We continue to see striking gaps between how well companies think they're communicating with their customers and how well customers feel understood by those companies.

Granted, it doesn't all fall on the CEO's shoulders. But chronic customer-service issues and lack of transparent communication are systemic of a company-wide blind eye. Such businesses are oblivious to their audiences' needs and pain points. CEOs who've been groomed in roles that involve more numbers than people simply don't posses the level of engagement the top leadership role demands. Unsatisfied customers can pelt companies on social media every hour, building a ground swell of negativity. What safeguards are in place to make sure the company understands and remedies the situation? Who drives that culture? It better be someone who's connected to the customer psyche.

Related: Inspiring Quotes from 10 Visionary Business Leaders Who Changed Everything

Data that makes all the difference.

Marketing's role within certain sectors -- tech companies, in particular -- has exploded. Old-school creativity still plays a part, but the art-and-copy ad campaign is only a small piece of a front-to-back strategy that focuses on the customer journey. Data innovation has led to increasingly accurate measures of customer engagement, experience and behavior. For example, account-based marketing propels the marketer all the way to the front of the sales process. Furthermore, the model keeps marketers involved well into account management and customer success.

Not only has technology helped marketers better target leads, it's also been a boon to the careers of marketing officers, who now have proof their efforts have an effect on the organization's profitability. "This campaign won 4 CLIOs," doesn't hold as much water as, "This marketing-directed sales initiative doubled our first-quarter revenue, and here's the data." The latter is a narrative we never would've expected from a CMO a decade ago -- and certainly not from a B2B marketer.

Marketing's new task is to hyper-personalize everything. Marketers must know their products inside and out, be able to pinpoint which sales roadblocks lie along the customer-purchase highway and anticipate audience feedback to help prepare the company's customer-service department. When you think about it, these are the kinds of tasks heads of companies should be doing on a regular basis: pushing innovation, getting inside the minds of buyers and setting internal teams up for success.

Related: Use Your Marketing Data to Fuel Your Ascent to Thought Leadership

A sense of connectedness.

Marketers acutely comprehend the nature of change within an organization and beyond. They're connected to the life experiences, income level and specific tastes of their target audiences. Of course, each of those factors is in a perpetual state of flux. This conditions CMOs to a level of unease, making them well-suited to consider the meaning behind the data and then make executive-type decisions. Data-driven strategies prevent blunders made in the name of change for change's sake. Such mistakes are sure signs a company isn't attuned to what its customers want.

CMOs generally have the most access to critical information across multiple departments. This, too, contributes to the number of CMOs who find themselves fitting into CEO roles. All research is relevant to CMOs: feedback on prototypes, products, sales teams or marketing campaigns. CMOs form bonds with and within each department, giving them the ultimate insider view.

Digital innovation is the fast-track for CMOs who want to gain notice and position themselves as serious contenders for the top spot. Framing communication strategies around digital tools and finding the right partners to bring those ideas to life stamps a CMO's fingerprint all over a company's present and future agenda. CMOs naturally will find themselves leading organizational change as digital touch points evolve into the primary indicators we use to identify buyer needs.

Related: Why Marketing is Not the Job for the Lazy

A business climate in which leaders put customers' needs above their own garners respect and attracts customers. Great leaders restore trust between brands and people, all the while pushing for innovative practices. That mindset should be a prerequisite for hiring any future CEO. Marketing chiefs who've made a career anticipating curveballs now are throwing some of their own and changing up the future of leadership.

Justin Gray

CEO of LeadMD

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist of LeadMD. He founded the company in 2009 with the vision of transforming traditional grassroots marketing efforts through the use of cloud-based marketing solutions.

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