Is customer experience and the voice of the customer the CMO’s salvation?

The Economist Intelligence Unit has recently published a report titled ‘Outside looking in: The CMO struggles to get in sync with the C-suite’, sponsored by SAS.  This report has showed up as rather interesting for me and I want to share with you that which has caught my interest.

CMO’s face a number of big problems

The fundamental problem is that CMOs don’t get much respect from the rest of the C-suite.  CMOs say that they are doing a difficult job well: making a contribution/delivering significant value to product development, sales and customer service.  The problem is that the rest of the C-suite don’t agree – they question the value/contribution that CMOs are making.  And it doesn’t look like they listen to CMOs with much respect.  Here is how the EIU report puts it:

“CMOs believe they are constrained because the rest of the organisation does not consider marketing to be strategic; the C-suite believes marketing has not earned the right to be more strategic because it is ineffective at demonstrating value of its investments.”

Here are the other big problems that CMOs face:

1. Many organisations have trouble defining, clearly/exactly, the CMO’s role and responsibilities. Which could explain why it is that there is no agreement on what business objective the CMO (and the marketing function) should focus upon and be held accountable for.  Worse still there is a fundamental disagreement between what CMOs see as marketing’s priorities and the priorities that the other members of the C-suite assign to the marketing function.  Which makes me wonder if members of the C-suite actually talk with each other, share and agree what they expect of one another.  Doesn’t look like it. The EIU report says “..their greatest challenge: getting everyone to agree on marketing’s priorities.”

2. The  marketing function is not coping with the challenge that comes with the territory that falls under the market umbrella: advertising, brand, market research, communications, customer analytics, social media, mobile and so forth.  Why?  First, the marketing function lacks people with the necessary skills and expertise to cope/deal with this broad/dynamic challenge.  Second, members of the C-suite do not feel the CMO’s pain – they are not approving the necessary marketing investments.

So whilst it looks like CMOs are in a difficult position, there is no need to despair.  The EIU reports offers a route to influence, credibility, impact and respect from the C-suite.

What can CMOs do to make an impact and amass influence/respect in the C-suite?

The EIU report advises CMOs to focus on the customer experience and the voice of the customer. The authors pin their hopes on the following quote from Steve Cannon, CEO, Mercedes Benz USA:

“Every single customer experience is a brand moment of truth. If we create an aspiration through our advertising, and a customer walks into a store and does not deliver on that promise that reflects on marketing.” 

Any intelligent person could drive a coach and horses through this assertion.  And for the the time being lets just accept and go with this assertion.

OK, if Customer Experience is the unifying theme and the rallying call for the organisation then how exactly can the CMO contribute to this play given that the CMO is not the CEO and does not control all the touchpoints, which as a whole, generate the Customer Experience?

Focus on the voice of the customer:

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) stand a better chance of increasing their internal influence – and changing lingering doubts about marketing’s strategic contribution to the business – if marketing can consistently deliver insights and tools that benefit others across the organisation, from salespeople to call centre agents to merchandising teams.”

How feasible is this ‘success route’ being put forward by the EIU?

I say that there is a big difference between a poor strategist and a good strategist.  A good strategist takes into account feasibility.  Specifically, he asks this question: what is the likelihood that my client can execute this strategy?  And the good strategist keeps on going until he comes up with a strategy that the client has a good chance of being able to execute successfully.

So let’s ask this question, how likely is it that marketing can:

a) marshal the voice of the customer from all the disparate sources and turn this into a comprehensive view – single view of the customer;

b) generate actionable insight into customers, how they interact with the business as a whole, the jobs that they hire the business to do for them, and their experience of using the product and dealing with the company?”; and

c) inspire the various members of the C-suite to act – to make changes in their priorities, policies and practices – so as to improve the customer experience?

I’ll let you decide for yourself.  For my part I could not help noticing the following hurdles identified in the same EIU report:

1. Single customer view.  “The airline [BA] has spent the better part of the last decade integrating its systems to support the effort; data warehouse not stores 200 separate data sources from different parts of the business to provide a more granular view of the customer, based on information they have volunteered.”

2. Converting data into actionable insight. “For all the talk about data-driven customer insight, marketers are just starting to understand how they should be using the growing repository of information they are collecting through digital media and other channels.”

What do I say?

I say that if you and your organisation are serious about building your competitive position and commercial success on the Customer Experience then follow the example of Steve Cannon the CEO of Mercedes Benz USA.  Why?

Because, the role and this responsibility or organising the business around the Customer Experience is a huge change full of organisational politics. And as such it is beyond the remit and the capacity of the CMO and the marketing function.  This role/challenge – that of aligning the organisation around the customer experience requires marshalling resources, reassigning resources, engendering and dealing with organisational conflict – belongs to the CEO.

Here is what Steve Cannon did in the words of the EIU report:

“..aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience has been the focus of Steve Cannon since he took over as CEO in January 2012…. Investments in customer experience programmes have been large – such as the formation of a dedicated customer experience team – and small – like providing Mercedes Benz dealers with iPads equipped with custom apps and videos.” 

As regards what Steve Cannon is doing at Mercedes Benz USA I draw your attention to the following:

1. Steven Cannon was the CMO before he came the CEO.  When he was the CMO he did not take charge of “aligning the organisation around a superior customer experience” No, he did it when he became the CEO.  I say he is a smart man who has a sound grasp of reality.

2. If the CMO had come up with the clever idea of buying hundreds of iPads for dealers it is highly likely that he would have reinforced the C-suite’s already always listening of the marketing function as the “department of coloured pencils” (how one CEO described the marketing function) and s/he would not have got the budget approved by the CEO/CFO.

What do you say?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

7 thoughts on “Is customer experience and the voice of the customer the CMO’s salvation?”

  1. Maz, a thought that your post triggered, (though I am afraid it is a little tangential)

    BA like many companies worry about getting customer insight, stitching data together and creating huge data warehouses that provide actionable analysis.

    I can’t help but think that most of this is management procrastination, most of the real insights are blindingly obvious (like giving your sales man an app so he can sell tell customers all about the car they want to buy).

    Interesting that it takes the CEO to do the blindingly obvious



    1. Hello James

      I am in total agreement with you.

      Reminds me of Cameron/Leveson – Why act even when it is obvious what is so (corruption, flagrant abuse of the law) when you can be seen to be doing something – setting up a commission and so forth.

      I have a saying “It is not technique nor tools that we lack; courage is what is lacking, the courage to act.” and “Questions of courage/will cannot be addressed through answers that concern themselves with techniques and tools: no technique/tool will put courage into the game.”



  2. Hi Maz,
    Your question ‘What can CMOs do to make an impact and amass influence/respect in the C-suite?’ made me think of the CMO and ask myself….who is the CMO’s ‘customer’?

    Their ‘customer’ it seems to me is the CEO and the rest of the C-suite. If we agree with that then perhaps the CMO, if they want more influence and success, should focus on what their customers want and what their ‘customers’ don’t that they want yet.



  3. Hello Adrian
    I disagree with your answer.

    The C-suite cannot be the customer – the members of the C-suite are like fellow members of the football team. If you think about the C-suite and use the football team analogy then there is an argument to say that:

    On one level the customer is the person who has put the team together and pays their salaries. That suggests the Board of Directors. And possibly the shareholders.

    On the other level, there is no demand for the football team if there are no customers – the supporters who pay the money to turn up and see the show put on by the football team.

    So I am tempted to say that the true customer of the CMO is the customers – s/he who buys the services of the entire organisation.

    The challenge of the CEO is to orchestrate the right play and ensure that the members of the C-suite understand their play and their roles in the play. And that they then execute their roles, make the required contribution.

    Put differently, any failure in the CMO is ultimately the failure of the CEO and/or Chairman.

    What do you say?



  4. Hi Maz,
    Perhaps we will need to agree to disagree on this one. Yes, I agree that the CMO’s ultimate customer is the customer or consumer of what the organisation produces. However, if we take a different viewpoint then we could argue that the CMO’s ‘internal customer’ is the CEO and the rest of the C-suite in that the CMO provides services for them in exchange for a return.

    Still disagree?



    1. Hello Adrian
      It looks like we will have to disagree on this one.

      As I see it, the ideal / collegiate way to look at the situation is as follows. C-suite as a whole orchestrates a play and then each member of the C-suite is responsible for executing its portion of the play, helping other members to do their role/make their contribution, and hold all members of the C-suite to account.

      Under a command & control context, it is the CEO who designs the play and then instructs each member of the C-suite on their role / contribution. And then it is the CEO who is responsible for ensuring that each member of the C-suite does what he has been instructed to do. Of course the CEO may delegate the work that goes with and yet he cannot delegate the accountability for the performance of this role.

      Further, I totally disagree with the concept of ‘internal customer’ when it comes to the boss/employee relationship. One dictates, the other does. Such a dynamic does not exist in a customer/service provider relationship. Arguably, the service provider has more power than the customer – to serve him or not, how well to serve him.

      To sum up, if the CMO is not doing his/her role then at the very minimum both the CEO and the CMO are jointly accountable for that which is so.

      Let me give you an example, I am used to running large teams of people to accomplish a mission. And I am clear that I am responsible for:

      a) Communicating the mission to all team members and allowing them to ask questions and get their questions answered;

      b) Spelling out the play – the approach that we will use to accomplish the mission. I get that I may or may not have involved some or all members of the team in coming up with the play;

      c) Clearly spelling out the roles/contributions each member is expected to make and answering any/all questions to ensure that each member gets it. Including asking them to spell out what they have heard their role/contribution to be.

      d) Clearly communicating what the rights and obligations of each member to other members in the team. There will be strong dependencies between some, weak between other.

      e) Creating a mechanism where each member of the team can raise issues and a safe place for these issues to be addressed.

      f) Coaching the team members to do what has been agreed. Including intervening when I consider it necessary. And in some instances calling time and taking someone of the team and putting a guy that has been sitting on the bench onto the team.

      How is the CEO any different? And if the CEO is not fulfilling this role then why is he there? Is he just the titular head?


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