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Why A Data-Savvy CMO Is The #1 Predictor Of Business Success

Why A Data-Savvy CMO Is The #1 Predictor Of Business Success

Humans create quintillions of bytes of data a day (that’s 1 followed by 18 zeros), but what does it all actually mean for your company?

It used to be that a C-level executive paid other people to ask - and answer - those kinds of questions. But no more. Technology has enabled marketing teams to identify and extract real-time insights into customers and campaigns, and that means everybody inside of an organization has to be nimble and data savvy — especially those at the top. When competitors are lining up to eat your company’s lunch, you need to make informed decisions quickly.

Want to know how MarTech-savvy companies like Starbucks, Accenture, and Tableau found a way to not only embrace, but also understand, the promise of data? Check out our interview with digital marketing and martech experts, Dan Hoffman and Thomas Scott Adams (both part of the Aquent Expert Network).

Thomas served as Starbucks’ MarTech Project Manager, HP Enterprise’s Digital Marketing Program Manager, and is currently Accenture’s Sr. Digital Project Manager. Dan began his work in digital marketing more than a decade ago, working with clients ranging from startups (two of which he founded and sold) to the Fortune 500.

Aquent (AQ): Why does it matter if a CMO, or other executives and senior managers, understand data if they have the option of delegating that responsibility to their teams?

Adams: When I'm going into a new organization, I always look at the CEO and the CMO. If they're using data, if they're being really collaborative, if they are really into changing the culture and really being on the cutting edge, then everyone below them will. If they aren't, then no one below them will. So, I really feel like looking at that leadership is just a huge indicator of the status of how that marketing team is going to be performing. If we don't get that senior support, it'll be a huge uphill battle.

Hoffman: For me, it's top-down. You have to have support from all levels of the organization that believe this is the right way to go — not just that the CEO has to be able to be challenged on a specific assumption — and really encourage that kind of environment. When that happens, it sort of filters down and then it’s pervasive. At the same time, you're educating the whole company using the advocacy of the marketing group.


AQ: How do you convince companies with “old-fashioned” ways of operating to adopt new MarTech tools and strategies?  

Adams: When I was at a large retail client, they didn't have financial insight into their marketing programs until after the quarter or month was closed. Using data visualization, I got all their campaigns together so they could actually start seeing how much money was spent in a real-time scenario. Instead of having a report three weeks after the month ended, they knew which programs needed to be pulled back, or if there were extra funds, which programs they could actually do.

Hoffman: If you've got a marketing organization that's driven by somebody who isn't that keen on capturing, testing, and validating data and challenging hypotheses, then it is going to be harder. I really see this across lots of organizations. The ones that are really becoming leaders are moving away from this guess-based marketing into something that's much more data-driven and validated.

AQ: What kind of difference can it make when C-level executives are on board with data-enabled operations and marketing?

Hoffman: At SmartDraw, we had a very flat organization, and for good reason: We thought we had lots of smart people throughout the entire company. So, we had a culture that was very open to people questioning and asking very pointed questions. Because of that, we had to have a company that was filled with people that were, if not data-savvy, at least data-sensitive. We were not a good company for people to come in and say, “This is the way I’ve always done it, and this is the way I think it should be done.” And that was true from top to bottom, from the C-levels all the way down to the new employees.

AQ: How do you train people who've already been working at the company for a while to become more data-savvy or sensitive, and create that technology-forward spirit?

Hoffman: We actually brought someone to do some internal programs — you know, the basics of understanding data, and data analysis, and how to not make assumptions, that kind of stuff. The people in marketing had much more intense training. Across the organization we developed new employee onboarding with a whole section about where our leads come from, how we capture data, what tools we use, etc.

You'd be surprised - in my experience, if you give people a little bit of exposure to data, they want more — so it pretty quickly goes from, “what is this?” to “oh, that's really cool” to “how can we do this more?” Even people in other areas of the company were asking about how to get more data into their area.  

Then they’d ask, “Is it OK if we have ad-hoc meetings with other departments and organizations?” People were hungry for it. Once they were exposed to the way that we did it, and they saw how important marketing was to the overall company, they constantly asked for it. We had people transferring into marketing from different roles, because they really wanted to do it.

Adams: At Tableau, people were really adoptive. It's a very tech-savvy company. They really loved the data. Others have been harder to get adoption until you actually show workers the impact of what they’re doing from a data perspective. After that, they kind of want to do more; they want to be part of the whole team. Rather than just saying, “I'm doing this, my part,” they look at it like, “My part is making a huge impact on the overall organization.”

So, I think once you shift that mindset to, just, I'm doing my work, versus, I'm contributing to the overall good of the company, I think that's when you get people on board. People really don't know this insight, or that data point, is valuable until we actually kind of include them in the process.

AQ: There’s all this talk about digital marketing and MarTech and why they’re great, but we also know from research that the CMO is the shortest-tenured role in the C-suite. What’s the connection between that role and longevity?

Adams: There’s nowhere to hide!

Hoffman: Exactly! There's no more BS’ing. Everyone jokes about PowerPoint, because I can make up charts and graphs all day long, and if I'm a good presentation expert, you're going to agree with what I say.

But now, imagine that that's no longer just some made-up story that I'm presenting. There's live data that I’m standing up presenting to people, and there's people asking questions, and poking holes in it. Some people have more in-depth knowledge in analytics, and understanding statistical backgrounds and they’re calling BS on things. If you can't defend what you're saying, then you shouldn’t be in that role. Those days are over.


This interview has been condensed and edited for grammar and clarity.


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