How marketers can help the company change

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: May 23, 2016

Delighting customers is high on every CMO’s agenda. This often means building capabilities to serve customers faster, better, or in a more personalised manner. Technology isn’t the hardest part, however; what’s really tough is driving changes within a company. It’s time for CMOs to develop new muscles and lead (from my column).

When research firm Econsultancy and Adobe recently polled marketers on their priorities for 2016, “optimising the customer experience” topped the list. (Adobe is’s parent company)

Most marketers clearly understand that today’s customers want more than just a basic product, they also want a good experience. But the customer experience bar is rising.

Not long ago, an extraordinary customer experience meant short waiting times, friendly associates, or other basics customers have now come to expect (including a good price). The study found that marketers believe customers want personalised experiences too. That’s hardly surprising. Just think about an average customer’s day. In the morning, she drives a car that automatically switches on the light when it becomes dark. At lunchtime, the waiter at her favourite restaurant asks: “One espresso, as always?” And when she logs into her Amazon account, she’ll immediately see the items she previously looked at.

Customers are getting used to some basic intelligence in day-to-day brand interactions. Some years ago, that customer would have tolerated a bank’s mass mailing. Today, she’d probably think: “I don’t need a damn loan—don’t they know me by now?”

Creating a personalised customer experience may sound easy—but it isn’t. Delivering what people want, when they want it, often requires advanced IT solutions and major changes in how a company is organised. It’s no surprise that marketers, when asked in the same study about what it takes to optimise customer experience, say: “a strategy, a long-term view, a plan, and executive support.” Just think about those words; they basically mean customer experience efforts are far reaching, long term, and must be anchored at the top of an organisation.

How To Lead Organisational Change

I recently hosted a cross-industry CMO workshop to problem-solve how marketers can ignite organisational transformation. Most CMOs agreed that driving change is tricky, as the financial benefits of customer experiences can be hard to prove, marketing doesn’t always call the shots, and CMOs are simultaneously juggling several priorities (e.g. catching up on digital skills). But there was also broad agreement that, despite all the difficulties, marketers must be the organisational drivers of change.

Too few CMOs today realise the extent of their powers as leaders of change. Insights from the extensive CMO research for Patrick Barwise’s and my new book “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader” highlight three reasons why marketers as drivers of change have an edge if they:

Bring Their Most Powerful Change Data

No data beats customer data. No senior leader can ignore what customers say—at least not for long. There’s just one condition needed to turn customer data into powerful data: clearly linking it with indicators that matter in the C-suite (e.g. revenue or profit). Armed with such powerful data, CMOs find it much easier to make the case for a transformation.

Tell Their Most Powerful Change Story

MIT Professor George S. Day sees it as key priority for a CMO to act as the visionary for the future of the organisation. Most people who must change so that a better customer experience can be provided don’t report to marketing. They work in sales, call centres, or at other touch points. It’ll be hard to force change with authority. Instead, marketers can use a more powerful weapon for change: a convincing customer story. “We want to help more customers to eat healthy by … ” or “we give kids a better future through education if we … ” These are great client examples of CMO stories that led to an internal following.

Display Their Most Powerful Change Motivation

Driving organisational transformation can be a troubling experience. What looks sexy on the outside, in reality means difficult meetings, barriers, and sometimes even outright rejection. To keep going, any leader involved in transformation needs tenacity and a personal dream for what’s right for the future. What unites marketers is a true passion for customers. Every marketer wants his or her brand to be loved. When it comes to a transformation, customer passion is, perhaps, the strongest CMO power. People may find CMO data compelling. But, in the end, what’s really contagious is a true passion to serve customers better.

Customer experience is a moving target. Getting it right is key. CMOs must make a leap and drive the needed internal transformation—simply because they can and are in a position to do so.