The Myth of Selling to the CMO

Building long-term partnerships with big brands seldom start with the CMO

"If only I could get to the CMO," thinks just about every purveyor of marketing technology and services. "They'd see how unique and valuable my [insert buzzword] solution is, and all barriers to a deal would be removed."

It doesn't matter what side of the table you're on. There are more than enough false assumptions in this statement to fill the room. I've heard this countless times from entrepreneurs and sales reps. They believe CMOs of big brands are all powerful. That they command marketing to happen from ivory towers and direct legions of directors, managers, and agencies to execute accordingly. The reality is much more nuanced and, dare I say, political.

The CMO is essentially the CEO of the marketing organization. Like a CEO, the job boils down to three things: set the strategy and vision, put the resources in place to execute it, and get out of the way. Resources are budget and people, whether internal or external. The challenge for those who want to sell into this marketing organization is that they don't understand the people or the part about the CMO getting out of the way.

Let's start with the optimal way to sell marketing solutions into large brands (from my experience). I refer to this as the "champion-to-hero" approach. The first step is to meet with a person within the marketing organization who can become a champion of your solution. This person could be at any level. The ket qualities of a capable champion are twofold: they are driven to advance within the company, and they have direct access to decision makers who can authorize a deal i.e. sign a check.

Once you identify and meet with a potential champion, the next step is to equip them with the knowledge and materials (ammunition) to spearhead the solution and get it across the line. This is one way enterprise sales has dramatically changed in the past five years. Sales people need to be both thought leaders and thought-leader makers. A champion will only be as successful as the information and data they wield.

Now the deal is done. But the challenge is just beginning. It's incumbent on the sales rep and their support system to transform mere champions into full-blown heroes. While the success of a [insert buzzword] solution can take many forms, the goal is always the same: your champion achieves a measure success and recognition -- hero status -- that leads to career advancement. And while your hero gets internal recognition, who gets recognized externally? Who gets the profile in the Forbes CMO Network for this ground-breaking work?

It's the CMO, of course, and rightly so. After all, she's the one who set the vision and put the resources (including our hero) in place to execute it. But how does this dynamic work in reverse?

Let's say you're able to meet with the CMO. You know, that person who's gotten out of the way. And what you're proposing is not a new strategy for the brand (you wouldn't be so bold) but rather a solution to help her execute that strategy. In other words, a tactic. Although she can certainly sign the check, her team has to actually execute it. And here's where the politics come into play.

When the CMO brings a tactical solution to her team that requires execution, the incentives are completely out of alignment. The CMO could think it's the best thing since product placements, and it very well could be. But her team has very little incentive to make it succeed. Because if it's successful, the CMO is the hero both internally and externally. No one's getting a promotion. If it fails, the failure can easily be attributed to execution, for which the CMO is not responsible. This is why a referral from the CMO to her team often means the deal or partnership is DOA. There's just very little incentive to follow through, especially given all of the other initiatives with true hero potential.

Given the nature of politics, very little of this dynamic occurs on a conscious level. I'm also sure this isn't the case 100% of the time. CMOs certainly can get things done. Nevertheless, my message for entrepreneurs and sales folk is that the path of least resistance and greatest success with big brands leads through champions and heroes. My message for CMOs is to try and replicate the champion-hero formula when introducing any new solution to your team.

In the end, everyone becomes a hero...including the tenacious-yet-over-zealous sales rep.