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Gartner’s Sorofman: ‘The Most Progressive CMOs Think Like CEOs’

Marketing used to be considered a soft discipline within an organization, taking the back seat to sales, finance, IT, operations, and others. 

However, the need for CX innovation is changing the game. Think of it this way: If becoming an experience business is the key to standing out, and marketing is leading the charge, then it’s no wonder why CMOs now have a seat at the table, according to Jake Sorofman, a research VP at Gartner. But it also means that CMOs need a whole new skill set and need to own areas of the organization that they’ve never touched before. 

Sorofman is speaking at Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference, May 10 to 12 in San Diego, about the changing role of the CMO. Read the interview below for a sneak peek at his talking points. 

CMO.com: How and why has the CMO role changed so much?
Sorofman: Today’s CMO can sometimes bear only passing resemblance to the CMO of even 10 years ago. People used to joke about marketing as the department of arts and crafts. But, these days, there’s no mistaking marketing as a soft discipline. According to Gartner’s most recent “CMO Spend Survey,” the average CMO spends nearly as much on technology as the CIO. And, more often than not, CMOs take the lead or substantially contribute to digital commerce, customer experience, and innovation projects, and most CMOs now own or share P&L responsibilities.

Exactly why the role has changed is really just an artifact of a world that’s changed: Customer experience is the new battlefield for competitive differentiation; innovation cycles have compressed; and consumer expectations for personalized and tailored products and experiences are growing rapidly. Marketing is now data-driven, technology-dependent, broader in scope, and more accountable to business metrics than ever before. All of this makes it an exciting—and somewhat fraught—moment in time to be a CMO.

CMO.com: What is the new skill set that’s needed to fit the new role of the CMO?
Sorofman:
The most progressive CMOs think like CEOs—they deeply understand and align to the mechanics and economics of the business. They also understand their customer, both from the perspective of customer economics and customer need. They keep an equal foot in the as-is and the to-be, running marketing like a revenue machine for today and exploring opportunities for transformation and disruption tomorrow. And they get technology, but, perhaps ironically, don’t really talk about digital. Why? Because it’s the starting assumption for most everything they do. For the most progressive CMOs, “digital marketing” now sounds a lot like “color TV”; it’s becoming an unnecessary modifier.

CMO.com: How does the CMO’s new role affect the marketing organization overall?
Sorofman:
The pressure and responsibility is shared across the entire marketing organization. Today, marketers are expected to be both broad and deep—what my colleague Chris Ross calls “fat-T” marketers, where the dimensions of their breadth and depth have both expanded. You often hear this described as the full-stack marketer: They have utility skills in many aspects of data, technology, design, brand, etc. They don’t need an army to accomplish a whole lot. And they focus their efforts through the lens of the customer and specific KPIs. There’s no hiding behind the veil of internal goals and highly specialized roles anymore.

CMO.com: Can you briefly talk about your session at Gartner’s conference and what attendees can expect to learn.
Sorofman:
I’ll be presenting on CMO patterns and trends, specifically as it relates to spending, leadership, and skills. I’m also excited to be co-presenting with my new colleague, Jane-Anne Mennella, on customer experience—specifically personas, customer journeys, and how to translate “front-stage” CX design into a “back-stage,” cross-functional work plan.

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