How to Become the CMO

How to Become the CMO

Email marketing programs – and the people who run them – are often among the single most profitable programs (and people) in an organization. The efforts they make to increase the stickiness of client relationships can add millions of dollars of marginal revenue to an organization.

Yet, when I find out that a new CMO or SVP of marketing has been added to a company, there is usually one glaring connection between nearly all of them…

They’re not email marketers.

Why is it that so many great, profitable people who develop outstanding customer onboarding, activation and retention campaigns do not often ascend to the top spot in a marketing organization? How can such profit-driving folks get overlooked when it comes time to drive the overall marketing efforts of an organization?

For me, the answer comes down to one simple fact…email marketers have an enormous amount of trouble acquiring new customers.

It’s the hunter/gatherer dichotomy in full-blown living color. Email marketers are gatherers…and it’s the hunters who get rewarded. It’s THE reason why the search and social people get all the attention and the email people don’t.

CMO’s are usually judged on two key KPIs – (1) overall revenue growth and (2) customer growth. Not on ROI (so stop talking about it so much.) Not intensity of customer relationships. Certainly not on cost savings. Move BOTH the top line and the customer count or we’ll be looking for a new CMO in short order.

I had a CMO I once worked for who – when I told him I could save the company $3 million annually – told me “I don’t care about how you can save $3 million. I care about finding $3 million in new customers.” The ROI lover in me was completely shocked. How could you NOT want to save three million dollars! The answer was simple – cost savings are temporary, while new customer relationships are buildable – so that $3 million in new customers could turn into $10 million in total value.

I had another CEO tell me “yeah – email is not as profitable as you think. We spend an enormous amount of money acquiring those names.” When you stop and look at the data it’s a completely uninformed opinion…but was more of a case of the CEO choosing to protect the hunters over rewarding the gatherers.

A CFO told me (and I am editing to remove the profanities), “you email people…any idiot can give away 20% and free shipping. That cost kills us.”

These attitudes are prevalent and pervasive in the marketing and overall business culture. The question is, how do you overcome it as an email marketer?

To me, there are three keys to pulling yourself off the B team and onto the A team.

  1. Always be on brand point – The CFO is actually onto something. If all you’re using email for is discounts, all you’ll get is a discount customer. While many brands have moved past that approach, the knee jerk reaction to lower revenue numbers is “send a coupon!” It short term gain, long term pain.

    By aligning with the brand message generated by your corporate marketing team, you essentially become a part of the branding team. You learn what goes into the branding aspects of your organization…and puts you in place to know when a new position is opening up.

  2. Use Holdout Samples and/or model your effect – email marketers are generally focused on the wrong metrics – open rate, click rate, unsub rate and all that. While these metrics can be important, they are directional. Keep an eye on them but don’t be a slave to them.

    The real metric you have to crush is overall organizational impact. There are two sales numbers – directly attributable revenue and actual revenue. With email marketers, there’s often a 3-4X difference in what your systems tell you email generates versus what email actually generates. Holdout samples – where you don’t mail a % of your database (2-3% is common) help you to determine the overall value difference of your email marketing program. You think the search people get all that revenue by themselves? A holdout sample – and some good analysis – will give you the numbers that provide your overall impact to the company. Hint – bigger numbers get more attention than smaller numbers.

    Here’s the big one…and not everyone can do this, I know…

  3. Build custom audiences from email – One of the biggest ironies of the “you can’t find new customers” is that email marketers generally have the BEST database in the company for determining customer value. You know EXACTLY who the best customers are.

    The key here is to build look-alike audiences, then advertise/buy media to those specific audiences. A smart media buyer will already be pumping you for customer segments – sort of like how Biff kept getting Marty McFly to do his reports/homework. If you’re able to, try launching a look-alike acquisition campaign based upon the superior segmenting capability of your email database. You will (probably) be astounded by the success and begin to shake the label of “gatherer.”

Being an email marketer does not mean you should take a back seat to anyone when it comes to running the show. Keep these three things in mind and improve your odds of taking the top spot.


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