home Marketing From marketing chief to customer champion – Today’s B2B CMO

From marketing chief to customer champion – Today’s B2B CMO

The world of B2B marketing is undergoing a seismic shift. Gone are the days when brand awareness, lead generation, and flashy campaigns were the sole domain of the B2B CMO. Today, success hinges on a deeper understanding – an understanding of the customer journey, their needs, and their satisfaction.

Traditionally, B2B CMOs were tasked with crafting brand narratives, generating leads, and executing marketing campaigns. While these functions remain important, the modern B2B landscape demands a broader vision. Jessie Cheng, marketing and customer experience leader, comments, “B2B marketing leadership has evolved significantly in recent years, driven by increasing competition, evolving customer behaviour and expectations, volatility of the economic environments and the rising of AI”.

A broader focus is needed

Due to these changes, today’s CMOs are expected to champion the entire customer experience (CX), ensuring a seamless and positive journey from the initial touchpoint to post-sale interactions. Cheng says, “CMOs and marketing leaders are transcending their traditional roles as mere ‘brand’ advocates. They are under increasing pressure to uplift CX throughout the entire customer journey as well as demonstrating revenue impact through customer-centric marketing strategies”.  

Randy Guard, CMO for enterprise software company Appian, points out that sustainable B2B growth isn’t just about customer acquisition, it also requires cultivating enduring relationships with existing clients, “For long-term growth, a B2B company is going to be successful by not just acquiring new customers, but by maintaining and expanding the relationship with existing customers. B2B CMOs need to be more strategic rather than operational in their approach and mindset”.

“Some B2B marketers are very focused on demand generation. That’s great, it’s part of the role and it’s important, but it is operational rather than strategic. This can lead to a problem where the market is changing but the initiatives, marketing is driving, are not landing. So, the B2B CMO needs to look two steps down the road and understand what is happening in the business as well as the strategic trends in the market the business operates in”.

Doing more with less

While B2B CMOs need to broaden their focus and strategic approach to their role, their budgets are being restrained, requiring B2B marketers to do more with less. Cheng observes, “CMOs are facing a myriad of challenges and complexities, such as reduced marketing budgets and resources, the need to deliver revenue impact faster, and adapting to rapid shifts in customer behaviour. Additionally, keeping pace with new regulatory requirements or technologies also poses a significant challenge”. 

To meet this challenge B2B CMOs are using a host of new technologies to automate and adapt to drive efficiencies. Michael Gwilliam, Marketing Director APAC for Medallia, comments, “New technologies like generative AI are empowering CMOs to automate tasks, improve efficiency, and gain a deeper understanding of marketing performance through advanced analytics”.

“The key lies in harnessing technology strategically to optimise marketing efforts and drive results. Indiscriminate implementation for the sake of novelty can be counterproductive. When done right, technology becomes a powerful tool for CMOs to achieve their strategic goals”.

CMOs also face a constant battle between prioritising short-term tactics that deliver immediate results and pursuing long-term strategies that ensure sustainable growth. Gwilliam comments, “Effective communication and clear goal setting are crucial for CMOs to navigate the pressure to prioritise short-term tactics over long-term strategy. By establishing clear strategic objectives and actively aligning the marketing organisation with those goals, CMOs can combat this pressure”.

“Transparency in both expectations and how those expectations will be met empowers the marketing team to focus on achieving the long-term goals envisioned by the organisation”, adds Gwilliam.

Embracing the Customer

Customer experience is the new battleground for B2B success. As Cheng points out, this shift demands a strategic transformation for B2B CMOs, “Formulating a customer-centric approach is imperative. We have the perfect storm now to grasp that opportunity for marketing to drive outcomes with insights. By effectively leveraging customer data, marketing leaders can gain deep insights into customer aspirations and preferences, allowing for hyper-personalised contents to feed into their demand-gen, customer loyalty or partner programs”. 

Guard advises, “A strategy I find particularly effective involves stepping into the customer’s shoes. By understanding their daily operations and the clients they serve, we gain a clearer picture of how our product or service integrates into their value chain. This deeper understanding of the customer journey empowers marketing teams, including CMOs, to tailor messaging and offerings that directly address the customer’s business needs”.

The B2B CMO as customer champion

The B2B CMO of today is no longer just a marketing expert – they need to be a champion for the customer. In this new era, as Gwilliam highlights, B2B CMOs need to wear many hats, including:

  • Relationship builder: Forging strong connections with customers is paramount. This includes fostering open communication, actively listening to customer feedback, and building trust.
  • Strategic aligner: Effective CMOs ensure marketing strategies are aligned with customer needs as well as business needs. This means understanding customer pain points and developing solutions that resonate.
  • Customer culture champion: A customer-centric culture permeates the entire organisation. B2B CMOs play a vital role in driving this cultural shift, ensuring all departments prioritise customer satisfaction.
  • Growth driver: Ultimately, happy customers translate to business growth. By prioritising customer experience, B2B CMOs become catalysts for increased customer retention, upselling, and positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Collaboration with all stakeholders

This customer-centric transformation necessitates close collaboration with other C-suite executives. Sales, product development, and customer service all play a critical role in shaping the customer journey. Cheng observes, “Successful B2B CMOs and marketing leaders have a common trait – they prioritise cross-functional collaboration, working closely with sales, business units, product management, finance, customer success and other functions to gain insights, inform strategies and align marketing efforts with business priorities”.

By fostering a spirit of collaboration and shared accountability, B2B leaders can create a truly customer-centric organisation. “Delivering seamless CX cannot be achieved in isolation. Often, raw customer data and insights come from other functions outside of marketing. Only when marketing and other teams start to build the bridge and have intentional conversations around driving a cohesive CX strategy, will you see real transformation”, says Cheng.

Given marketing’s pervasive influence across all organisational functions, fostering strong relationships is paramount for CMOs. This, according to Gwilliam, necessitates a two-pronged approach, “First, gaining a deep understanding of each department’s objectives and operations. Second, proactively educating them about the marketing team’s focus and strategic direction. By bridging this knowledge gap, CMOs can foster collaboration and ensure all departments work in unison towards achieving shared goals”.

Understanding the B2B customer journey

The B2B customer journey, unlike its B2C counterpart, is a complex and often lengthy process, typically involving a committee of people. It’s not a simple “see it, like it, buy it” scenario. To effectively navigate this journey and convert prospects into loyal customers, understanding each stage and its nuances is crucial.

“Unlike B2C purchases”, observes Guard, “where a customer might see an ad, like the product, and make an immediate online purchase, the B2B buying journey is far more complex. Research indicates that roughly 60-65% of the B2B buying process is completed before a potential customer even makes contact with a vendor. During this pre-engagement phase, B2B buyers actively educate themselves, researching their options and reading content – potentially including articles you’ve published – to gain a comprehensive understanding of available solutions.

The Power of Data

Data is the fuel that drives informed decision-making. Data and the insights it can generate, are essential tools that empower B2B marketers to map the B2B customer journey, understand buyer behaviour, personalise marketing efforts, and ultimately measure success. By leveraging data effectively, B2B marketers can guide B2B buyers through the journey with greater precision and convert them into loyal customers.

Guard advises, “Data-centricity is paramount for the modern CMO. However, it’s crucial to go beyond simply collecting data; the true value lies in extracting actionable insights. Within my team, I emphasise a focus on deriving meaningful interpretations from the data, not just being overwhelmed by the raw information”.

“Furthermore, I strongly advocate for an experimental approach – we shouldn’t just rely on existing data, but actively test and explore new possibilities based on our findings. This data-driven experimentation allows us to continuously refine our marketing strategies and optimise results”.

B2B CMOs who leverage data analytics to gain a deep understanding of customer behaviour are best positioned to create targeted marketing strategies and exceptional customer experiences. Cheng comments, “We are very fortunate to have a plethora of marketing tools and technologies that allow us to analyse and distil data and insights.  But that becomes a double-sided sword. The fact that data comes from different platforms and multiple channels poses a challenge. How can we solve the problem of data silos – making sure we can effectively cleanse, segment and action on data from different systems and channels?”

New skills and strategies

Today’s B2B marketing landscape demands a unique blend of skills and strategies to navigate the ever-evolving digital world and connect with complex business buyers. Cheng advises that today’s B2B marketers need to stay curious and be willing to learn, “Constant experimentation is the key to marketing growth. That’s why I’m a huge advocate for dedicating a portion of the budget, say 5-10%, to exploring new technologies and marketing tools. It’s about pushing boundaries and using a marketing lens to drive a truly customer-centric strategy. This approach keeps things exciting, fosters innovation, and ultimately helps us improve as marketers”.  

Understanding ABM principles and implementing targeted campaigns for high-value accounts is becoming a valuable skill. Cheng has observed a pivot towards Account-Based Marketing (ABM) in recent years, “ABM is not a new concept. However, with evolving customer expectations, increasing sizes of buying committees and reduced marketing budgets, more CMOS are adopting ABM strategies to tailor marketing initiatives towards high-propensity clients”.

The B2B CMO role is no longer confined to traditional marketing activities. It’s a strategic leadership position that demands a deep understanding of the customer. By embracing this evolution, B2B leaders can ensure their organisations stay ahead of the curve and achieve lasting success in the customer-centric era.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.