B2B CMO 100: Role of the CMO

How has the role of the CMO shifted to accommodate a very different B2B environment, industry and world?

When we examine the relative impact of the pandemic on marketing teams and strategies, we weigh up the specific parameters on which they work: field marketing and their newly digitised efforts; account based marketing and its consumption of data; or demand generation and emerging marketing talent. The CMO, of course, has to consider these almost at once, and much more. It has not been an easy ride for this Chief over the last 18 months. They are perhaps the only executive who have had to do more with less—and that means their roles have had to shift considerably.

Peter Stojanovic, Editor of HotTopics.ht, moderates a considered, intimate discussion about what this shift looks like, how marketers from Hyderabad, India, to California, and everyone in between, have adapted and what happens next, between two award-winning CMOs, Meenu Bagla, CMO of Cyient, Simon Mouyal, CMO of athenahealth.


Who is the CMO?

The debate opened up with a perhaps inexhaustible question. What does it mean to be a CMO today?

“The first thing that comes to mind,” began Simon, “is to be a full-stack CMO, so you can provide a holistic experience to audiences. One has to have touchpoints that drive demand and growth, brand and messaging and positioning to deliver consistent and compelling work across those channels, at a high level. In short, a CMO has to be a master of all those channels.”

“The CMO is truly the CEO—the Chief Experience Officer,” said Meenu. “One of the key responsibilities of the CMO is to craft experiences, not just for customers, but for the wider community. That’s the biggest pivot.

“Traditionally, B2B CMOs were demand and sales enablement roles, but the last 18 months have show how experiences can wildly change our remits. I myself have discovered my own ‘P’s’, the most powerful of which is purpose.”

Meenu went on to describe that when purpose imbued products and services during a time of crisis, such as a pandemic, it connects stakeholders and together they feel belonged to a community or a partnership, which is a powerful emotion. Another ‘P’ for her was pace. The pace of change, in structure, strategy, go-to-market and technology, in customer’s expectations, was something she had never seen before. She gave the example of field marketers, who, overnight, had to contend with the almost complete digitalisation of their remits.


Authentic communication

What also came out of this debate was the need for honest conversations between vendors and clients. For Cyient, that meant being open about where one was struggling—India experienced a terrible second wave of COVID-19—and where they were on their “journey”. According to Meenu it heightened the level of respect between customer and partner.

Simon, US-based and healthcare-centric, had a slightly different take.

“We learned that brands couldn’t fake it anymore. You see it, you say it, you be it—and people can tell when you’re lying within any of those steps,” he warned.

To be authentic, he continued, have the right proof points on show to educate your audiences and the right customer stories, too. Marketers have had to market those strengths as core differentiators, building on that narrative to derive, or at least inform, purpose. Done well, employees feel proud to work for you and support that messaging outside the company. It’s a positive feedback cycle.

One interesting narrative shaped by the pandemic was the influence of external factors on B2B marketing that was, at least to these marketers, unprecedented.

“We discovered that what was happening outside of our walls, of our company, also impacted the role of the CMO,” said Simon. “Social injustice was a big component of our messaging and the pandemic directly impacted many of our healthcare workers, so we made sure we were in tune with that.


Testing, testing

That forced another adaptation in Simon’s brief.

“We had to engage with customers and healthcare professionals virtually whilst testing new formats of communication. We hyper-personalised our conversations and campaigns because many in our sector were literally overwhelmed by the pandemic so when you reach out to them it must be helpful.”

Over in India, Meenu explained the multi-faceted challenge facing her and her team since March 2020.

“Cyient is an engineering services and digital solutions provider catering to 300 enterprise customers, across aerospace, rail, transportation, geo-spatial, medical devices—a diverse list of sectors,” she began.

“All of those sit in different regions, with different expectations and impacts so that no one-size-fits-all approach could be conceived. To compound that, India itself experienced a terrible second wave [of COVID-19] which meant as a delivery center we were impacted too.

“What I was concerned about, after securing our global approach to customer engagement, was how we continue to engage with our clients without over-burdening them. I went back to my ‘P’s’ and found that it was about finding a balance between pace and purpose.”

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