I took a different route to becoming a Chief Marketing Officer. I started my career in sales, then project management, then business development. In those positions, I was an employee of two small (<60 employees) companies and then one very large (>40,000 employees) company. My next position was Founder & CEO, which I held for 13 years before selling CWNP to a private equity firm who was rolling up a bunch of certification companies. Then I was a consultant for 5+ years, the last of which was as a fractional CMO. The point of all that is to note that I didn’t start out in marketing and work my way up to becoming CMO. In fact, until the last 3-4 years, I never had the goal of being a CMO. But those varied experiences gave me a certain perspective on making business decisions. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and a few good ones.
How Should a CMO Make Decisions?
The easy (armchair quarterback) answer is clear: with data. But what if you don’t have all the data you need? Then it’s not so clear, right? So what data do you have? Too many times, we have to make decisions off of imperfect or incomplete data. We have to go with “I think”, based on our experience. That’s when we make mistakes.
I really love setting up A/B tests, because I’m almost always wrong with what I think will work before we run the test. I’m sure this visual and copy and call-to-action is far better than the other one. I’m just sure of it. Then we run the test and I’m so completely wrong! But that’s what makes it easy. When you have the data right there in front of you that tells you the other combination of visual, copy, and CTA was more effective at converting the target audience into leads, it’s difficult to even pretend you were right. Good data drives good decisions.
You (We) are NOT the Audience
In my humble, new CMO opinion, this statement is one of the hardest to overcome, not only as a CMO, but as a marketer in general. We like what we like, respond to what motivates us, and we are attracted to the things that attract us. But we are not the audience. We are the marketers talking to the audience. Our bias as people, sometimes as people who look, act, and think a LOT like our audience, gets us in trouble as marketers to that audience.
We have to maintain our separation from that audience. We (ok, at least I do) have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not the audience. Despite the fact that I started and operated a small business for over a decade and did all the things that I am sure the FINSYNC audience does today, I am not that audience. I started CWNP in 1999 and sold in in 2012. Those were different times. We used different tech and had difference customers, suppliers, and partners. We are not our audience.
Thou Shalt Listen to Thy Customers
It really should be a commandment, shouldn’t it? Everyone – and I do mean EVERYONE – at any business should interact with actual customers on a regular basis. Yes, I know it’s dangerous to put hard core software devs in front of customers, but we’re not asking them to sell something. We should be asking our employees to listen to our customers. We need to hear what they say, what they think, how they work, how they use our products, how they use our competitors’ products, why they use ours or our competitors’ products.
But, from a marketing perspective, what we need most from our customers is their words. We need to learn how they speak, what words they use to describe the problems that they live everyday that we solve. When you hear how 10 or 20 or 100 customers describe a problem, you hear patterns of words and those words are magic to the marketers’ ears. Why? Because when you speak like your customers speak, your target audience hears their own words, and instantly relates.
It’s called showing empathy. I don’t mean empathy as is so often confused with sympathy. No. Empathy means understanding what someone else is dealing with. When you understand the problem that your audience has that you are trying to solve, you can speak to your audience in their words. Then marketing becomes magical.
Make decisions based on data, but first decide to talk to and listen to your audience.