Teams Bridging Gap

The CMO World According To Gartner SMB Leader Kelly Hopping

The role of the chief marketing officer is evolving in real time. With financial performance objectives and the generally perceived notion that CMOs don’t last longer than a handful of years in their jobs, change seems to be the only constant for the chief marketer in the digital age. 

According to Gartner’s latest CMO Spend Survey, CMOs plan to double down investments in digital channels with analytics and insights continually rising in strategic importance. Recently, at BrightEdge Share19, I managed to get some time with Kelly Hopping, CMO at Gartner’s small to medium business (SMB) division.

Hopping manages a portfolio of three buyer brands within the Gartner portfolio, focused on harnessing reviews and insights to connect buyers with software vendors. She has full marketing responsibility from the top of the funnel (brand, PR, and social), all the way down to digital (SEO, SEM, display, and affiliate partners), as well as analytics and B2B vendor marketing.

Building And Bridging The Digital Experience Gap

The first thing that stood out for me was Hopping’s passion and desire for finding and developing talent. Reflecting on taking a year to hire the right VP of performance marketing, she emphasized just how important it was for CMOs to find people who can manage big budgets at scale while also having holistic knowledge of the entire digital marketing ecosystem. For CMOs to build the best performance-based marketing teams, it is essential to bridge the "experience gap," she said.

The experience gap is a generational void where the most senior talent have traditional big budgets, offline brand experience, but very little new media and digital experience, Hopping explained. The rising stars of digital and new media have the knowledge and technical acumen, but they lack the softer leadership skills and learned experience that comes with time spent managing large teams and big budgets. Today, it is vital for CMOs to have a balanced team that possesses both technical and leadership skills, as well as tenure and new ways of thinking, she said.

Another great piece of advice Hopping shared was for CMOs to help their teams develop not only digital skills sets, but also an intimate understanding of the business. Since digital is such a large portion of CMO activity, and now touches all aspects of a business, it is essential that marketers learn all the ins and outs of how the business works–the financial profile, the value proposition, and the competitive landscape–not just their own area of responsibility, she said.

This includes understanding key business priorities and ensuring the CMO aligns their department to that strategy. CMOs are, in essence, responsible for driving the value of the business into the market by enabling teams to position, message, and differentiate, while pulling the right marketing levers to deliver the expected financial impact.

For digital marketers who have ambitions of becoming the next CMO or CDO, this is a necessity, not an option, Hopping said. If you don’t understand the business and how marketing profitably accelerates that business, then you can’t run an effective marketing organization.


Kelly Hopping
“You cannot scale business impact in the mid- and long-term if you are always focused on short-term transactional activity.”
Kelly Hopping, CMO for Gartner’s SMB division

Leveraging Technology And Talent In Digital Markets

Hopping also touched on how advancements in AI and machine learning are transforming the way businesses and CMOs operate. This is especially true in digital marketing, where automation helps teams scale and gain efficiencies, freeing up time to focus on more innovation, creativity, and testing.

For Hopping and her team within Gartner, taking advantage of technological shifts means managing people, processes, and technology in-house. This was especially the case for key digital areas such as search marketing, where talent historically was managed through agencies. According to Hopping, with 90% of revenue being driven by digital marketing, combining talent with technology is a key opportunity for differentiation and scalability.

Using AI and automation as an example, Hopping explained how automating transactional tasks helps teams focus on high-impact activities aligned to the business, such as improved customer focus, creativity, and untapped digital opportunities.

“You cannot scale business impact in the mid- and long-term if you are always focused on short-term transactional activity,” she said.

For Hopping, having a combination of both left- and right-brain team members is key so that data-driven decisions can be guided and enabled by human logic, while still delivering on more complex, business-specific KPIs beyond revenue and gross profit.   

In terms of KPIs, Hopping said she is tremendously proud of the fact that her team consistently exceeds performance expectations. The most beautiful aspect of digital marketing, according to Hopping, is the ability and empowerment to drive the revenue and gross profit for the entire business, rather than just fighting that age-old ROI battle with leadership to justify offline marketing investments.  

That performance mentality is engrained in Hopping and her team, affecting every decision they make on growth initiatives. Hopping said she is constantly looking at ways to run her business smarter, and to scale growth efficiently in preparation for potential expansion.

As she put it, “When you manage every aspect of digital marketing in-house, you have to work smarter and be agile to create margin to scale and innovate.” 

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