Could you transition from CMO to CEO?

Could you transition from CMO to CEO?

Jeff Dodds, Executive Vice-President and CEO of Tele2Netherlands, and former Chief Marketing Officer for Virgin Media, explains why taking the helm of an organisation is not such a big step for today’s marketers.

Jeff Dodds took on the CEO role at Tele2 Netherlands in April 2014, having worked in marketing, most recently at Virgin Media. He has also worked in agencies, including BBH. He tells us why he believes today’s CMOs are potentially well equipped to become chief execs.

Q. Why do you think more CEOs don’t come from marketing?

A. There is so much debate that rages about the transition of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).

My view is that it is really not a problem in reality, but it is one that the marketing industry likes to create. And I think that’s because of general uncertainty about the role of marketing in organisations.

Looking back a bit, it is not surprising that the person who, essentially, managed the advertising budget and communications plan was not going to be a natural candidate for the role of CEO.

However, today the role of a CMO is a million miles away from that. It is about the whole customer experience: understanding the lifetime value of customers; customer care; product proposition; pricing strategies; and the whole brand and its reputation. And with all that comes needing to be on top of managing marketing’s return on investment (ROI).

These are super-critical roles within an organisation, yet all too often marketing is still thought of as simply about customer acquisition. Think about it – this is not the role of someone who just does the TV ads.

If you were to give a branding expert the CMO job description today and ask them to name and position the role, I think they would come back with a Chief Commercial Officer, not a CMO. Would you comfortably make the transition from CCO to CEO? Yes, of course you would.

Q. What do marketers need to do if they want, ultimately, to run the business?

A. In my experience, the CMO emerges via one of two routes: either from communication and advertising where they have not needed to be particularly commercial, so they must learn this element of the role; or, they have come from sales where there is more data and finance involved, therefore they need to learn about the creativity and disruption that the communications and advertising people will be more comfortable with. I think this is probably easier than the other way round.

My background was sales and finance, but what helped me when I went to Honda was that the brand was famous for its amazing advertising, so I was curious about the role that creativity was playing in the transformation of the company.

There is a growing awareness around the importance of the need to innovate and differentiate in the whole area of customer experience and engagement. It’s no longer just about the product and the proposition.

It is also crucial to have a financial perspective now. We are in an age of accountability and the expectation of organisations is that an enormous amount of testing and measurement should be going on, and that everything you spend needs to be scrutinised. Marketers must learn the language of those on the board of their company. They want to have a commercial discussion about conversion rations, ROI, the costs of customer acquisition, and so on; you need to be able to do that. What we are seeing emerge is a slightly less creative role, but one that focuses on the customer, the product and measurement.

Q. What advice do you give your marketers who are thinking of moving upwards?

A. I have always told my teams that they must demand the conversation so they can get to understand what they need to know. The organisation is full of financial levers and you need to know which ones you’re pulling. Talk to people in every part of the business and find out the questions they need answers to. What are the levers of customer care, for example? Are you preventing churn and saving money? Ask those questions.

You have to be curious across the business; live in the horizontal, not the vertical.  Having a greater impact on the business as a whole is the only way for marketing to grow its profile.

Sophie Hewitt-Jones Editor CPL
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