The Best CMOs Have Carried the Sales Bag

Posted on March 16, 2015

I’m not sure about you, but I’m worn out reading articles over the past 2-3 years about how CMOs can’t get along with CFOs, CEOs, and are struggling to deliver measurable value for their companies. Much of this hype is over-blown to attract eyeballs to blog posts and articles.  The fact is, CMOs (like any other executive) need to build cross-departmental relationships, encourage collaboration, and understand what their peers need in terms of reported insights.

The Real Reason CMOs May Lack Credibility with Sales

In all the ballyhoo about CMOs suffering strained relations with Sales organizations, the prevailing wisdom offered is that CMOs need to do a better job of demonstrating how their tactics and expenditures tie to lead generation.   Sure, this is a good idea — but isn’t this a core responsibility of any well-run marketing organization?  I’m not sure that there is any revelation in these types of statements.

I’m going to raise the ante and shift the focus to what writers are not talking about: you can never truly understand sales cycles unless you’ve carried the sales bag.  While CMOs are responsible for a broad set of responsibilities (PR, Demand Generation, Branding, Product, Marketing Ops, etc.) — I think it’s fair to say that no CMO ever gets fired for failing to deliver an award-winning PR strategy.  No — the modern CMO is largely measured on their ability to execute demand generation.  So if the primary objective of a CMO (and his/her marketing organization) is to help drive demand for their company’s products or services to their Sales organization, wouldn’t they be more effective if they had actual sales experience?

“If CEOs, CFOs and CSOs want a CMO that truly understands selling cycles — hire a CMO who has carried the sales bag.”

More than digital acumen, building fancy-pants KPI dashboards, or implementing the next whiz-bang automation tool — the future CMO “rock stars” will have carried a sales quota and perhaps even led a sales organization.

Why Sales Experience Can Help a CMO

There are three reasons why I believe having prior sales skills will be critical to the success of current (and future) CMOs:

  1. Credibility – building rapport with sales organizations down to the individual rep level is critical for CMOs.  There’s no better way to win the hearts and minds of sales professionals than a few beers at the bar exchanging sales war stories, and applying that experience to be the “voice of sales” in marketing decision making.
  2. Perspective – understanding buyer information needs during complex sales cycles can shape more effective communications, lead generation, and sales enablement tactics.  What’s more, Buyer Personas transform from abstract profiles to real people because you’ve seen them before in your own selling experience.
  3. Instinct– with all the pressure on Marketing to deliver qualified leads, Sales has its part to play in not only closing their pipeline, but improving close rates and providing Marketing with buyer insights during the sales cycle to improve sales enablement.  For any marketing leader, having the prior sales experience is invaluable in calling B.S. if sales reps are not doing their part to collaborate with Marketing (e.g. rejecting MQLs without legitimate reasons, failing to provide CRM win/loss insights, failing to apply buyer-specific narratives)

I can speak from experience when I took the stage to be announced as the CMO of a global hosting/cloud infrastructure company in 2011 at a national sales meeting.  I shared with the sales reps sitting in the audience that my first job out of college was 100% commission sales (no base, no draw) such that if I didn’t close deals that month — I didn’t pay the rent, car payment, or have groceries.  Want to develop a keen ability to prospect and qualify?  Try working 30 days call-to-close cycles with no salary draw while carrying a quota (you’ll never forget it.)  Sharing that experience from 25 years earlier and my vision for Sales/Marketing collaboration received a standing ovation and helped build valuable rapport.

Having both carried the sales bag and led sales organizations has given me invaluable insights as a CMO when making decisions about sales enablement, field marketing, or other activities where I had to “think like a sales rep” and not a marketer.

To truly understand another man’s challenges, you must first walk in his shoes.  Is it time for future marketing leaders to first acquire sales experience?

You decide.


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