How CMOs can ensure B2B success in a digital world

B2B digital CMO
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The shift to digital business is happening. Fast. As companies embrace this shift, the focus of business strategy moves to extracting the maximum insight from customer data stores; insight into customer needs, and likely future behavior. This also means that businesses will need to gather more data, at increasingly granular levels to supplement what the company already has.

This business-critical customer data usually lives within the purview of the CMO, and it is the CMO who usually has the tools at their disposal to supplement what the business already has. This is why the CMO role is evolving from one of driving customer awareness to one that includes the custodian of strategic insight in buyer needs and behavior.

At the same time, markets of all kinds are being disrupted and customer behavior is changing faster than ever. The pressure is on to provide near real-time guidance on where opportunities and threats lie, and how to address them. This means that the level of MarTech investment to provide that insight is going to increase. In fact, it is often in the space of customer data insight and marketing technology that the shift to digital really starts to provide the most value to a company.

The digital CMO must therefore be able to understand and evaluate the opportunities of new martech investments and use that technology (and the process excellence that is required alongside it) to deliver the strategic direction and guidance that digital business demands.

Meeting customer needs while ensuring business profitability

The CMO won’t be responsible for managing aspects of the business such as supply chain, manufacturing, etc. However, the pace at which markets change and the constant influence of external forces like natural disasters, government tariffs, and new entrants and disruptors, means that successful businesses will have to be extremely agile. 

This agility can only be delivered through a combination of highly flexible, responsive processes (think DevOps writ large). Actionable insight must also be delivered to enable the right strategic and operational shifts to occur, and prevent costly missteps and missed opportunities.

This further emphasizes the capacity of the CMO to collect, manage, and process market and customer data right at the heart of almost every aspect of business strategy.

As a result, CMOs must be in a position to do three things very quickly:

  1. Identify and understand changing market and buyer conditions. For example, are needs and tastes shifting? Will new sources of raw material meet the need better?
  2. Evaluate the impact of those changes on the business. Do small changes in buyer behavior now signal a more significant shift that must be anticipated and responded to?
  3. Act on market shifts, responding quickly enough to outpace competitors and be ahead of customer needs.

All these things require the CMO to be a source of strategic insight for the business. What are customers and prospects looking for? How are they behaving? What are competitors doing and, critically, what other factors in the market are shifting that might influence customers or pose a threat or opportunity to the business?

The CMO will ultimately be responsible for setting the agenda across more and more of the business – by utilizing analytic tools to help steer the business towards areas of maximum impact.

Better understanding of customer needs and behavior enables a business to focus on the right areas, avoid pitfalls and move in a more agile, responsive way. That understanding is going to come from the set of tools, and the set of data, that live within the world of the digital CMO.

It’s not going to be easy, though.

In the future, CMOs will have to balance priorities between improving operational excellence with laying the groundwork for delivering the kinds of capabilities we’ve been discussing. 

For B2B, that also means carefully evaluating the lessons learned from the B2C world, and extending those to their own business: How do you engage buyers in complex, crowded markets? What kinds of technologies enable us to better predict interest and willingness to buy? Where are the emerging opportunities?

The B2B CMO faces additional complications, especially when it comes to tight alignment with B2B salesforces. B2B sales leaders, facing pressure to move more to online, digital commercial models, must shift their focus to building a salesforce that can be tightly integrated in the digital sales world. But that salesforce must also add value to the B2B buyer’s process if they want to remain relevant to the business and provide differentiation in markets often commoditized by global disruptors and highly informed buyers.

These sales leads will likely turn to the CMO for help, and the B2B CMO must be ready to provide hard data – based on powerful analytics capabilities – to be successful. For 2019, B2B CMOs must:

  • Engage even more closely in “joint” planning with their sales peers in order to steer digital business models and avoid becoming out-maneuvered by more agile competitors
  • Evaluate the business capability to utilize the customer data stores that already exist and rationalize them into more consumable data lakes – to extract more insight, faster
  • Look closely at analytics tools, especially those based on machine learning and AI, to begin to build the engine to drive digital excellence in sales and strategic operations.

There is often a tendency to compare digitization to painting your house. It’s simply a thing you do and then you’re good to go and move on to the next thing. That underestimates what we’re going to see when digital transformation becomes real.

The shift to digital will continue to force businesses to evaluate, and re-evaluate, how they gather, store, and use data to drive continuous improvement.  And that improvement will be measured at the most fundamental level by how well the business understands, anticipates, and meets customer expectations and needs. 

The process of digitalization requires a change in the entire mindset of running a business, with a need to adopt a business model that is entirely built around the ability to process information. And that information will live, in large part, within the realm of the CMO.

It’s a lot to ask, but the new CMO must be able to deliver, or the business will face a rocky road ahead.

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Geoff Webb is vice-president of product marketing at PROS, a Houston, Tex.-based firm that enables companies to sell smarter in the digital economy with AI.

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