CMOs are in the hot seat: Accenture

When asked who would be the first to go should growth targets not be met, 33% of CEOs point to chief marketing officers, says Accenture report


Chief executives have given the entire C-suite some responsibility for disruptive growth, yet no one is accountable. At best, there is diluted and fractioned accountability. Yet, when asked who would be the first to go should growth targets not be met, 33% of CEOs point to chief marketing officers (CMOs). If CMOs focus on disruptive growth, rather than mainly on traditional growth avenues, they have a chance to impact the bottom line. These are the findings of a new report by Accenture, ‘C-level disruptive growth opportunity’, based on the company’s annual CMO Insights report.

Robert Wollan, senior managing director, Advanced Customer Strategy, Accenture Strategy shares his views on how CMOs must take a greater role by actively driving the disruptive growth agenda and generating new value for the business. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What are the opportunities and challenges impacting business growth today, globally and in particular in India?

In a digitally disrupted market, where traditional revenue sources are becoming more elusive, business leaders are revising their growth strategy into two areas—incremental growth from their current portfolio through traditional approaches, and ‘disruptive growth’ opportunities that push well beyond today’s boundaries. Forty four per cent of CEOs globally cite ‘disruptive growth’ as being very important to their overall growth strategy. It presents a huge opportunity for organizations that proactively drive it. This is especially relevant in India, with its mix of India divisions of global multinationals and large Indian companies—both are looking for that disruptive growth to stand out.

According to the Accenture report, CEOs say CMOs are the first in the firing line (37%), ahead of chief sales officers (34%) and chief strategy officers (29%). Why is this?

As front-office functions continue to converge and more C-suite leaders enter the mix—from chief sales officers, to chief digital, chief experience and chief strategy officers—CEOs have given the entire C-suite some level of responsibility for disruptive growth, yet no one is fully accountable.

Today, 90% of companies are in this position, with three or more C-suite leaders ‘responsible’ for disruptive growth. CMOs played a major role in the era of customer acquisition, so they likely will have a disproportionate share of the blame if targets are not met—even though the disruptive growth is coming from other areas today.

Yet, although it may not be explicitly said in everyday interactions, more than a third (37%) of CEOs say that CMOs are first in the firing line if growth targets are not met. Despite diluted accountability throughout the C-suite, Accenture Strategy’s research highlights that CMOs are clearly in the hot seat, but the majority may not know it.

Organizations that rely on ‘growth by committee’ struggle to consistently achieve their targets. It breeds a C-suite culture where everyone is responsible, yet no one is accountable—and onus unduly falls onto someone, usually the CMO.

What is disruptive growth?

Examples of disruptive growth initiatives include developing partnerships and ecosystems with digital disruptors, launching platforms that elevate current products into expanded service models for customers, and increasing revenue through next-generation connected data monetization.

Why are CMOs seen as the primary driver of disruptive business growth and not the CEOs? Is this applicable for India as well?

It is true that in many cases the CEO does take charge as the leader of the disruptive growth agenda. However, across the globe, CMOs are seen as one of the more likely leaders to take control of the disruptive growth agenda due to their unique position of being in the direct line of customers, prospects and the wider market, their access to digital levers and their focus on innovation.

CEOs see CMOs as the primary driver of disruptive growth (50%), closely followed by chief strategy officers (49%) and chief sales officers (38%). CMOs are well positioned to lead the growth agenda due to their experience of being brand guardians, which will help enable them to intuitively navigate new opportunities internally and externally, and identify new areas of growth.

How can CMOs actively drive the disruptive growth agenda and generate new value for the business?

Never has there been a better time for CMOs to reposition themselves by taking control of the disruptive growth agenda. Such initiatives are often the most creative, have the biggest revenue potential and command strong leadership. CMOs that want to reach their potential and move into a disruptive growth role can do so by the following:

Opening the door: The executive that can best articulate a disruptive growth strategy will be the de facto ‘chief growth officer’. As many companies look to create this position, CMOs should be the ones to step forward to create the platforms that will catapult their company forward into new business opportunities.

Making priorities disruptive: While traditional marketing activities continue to be important, more focus can be afforded to driving disruptive growth initiatives that present higher revenue growth potential. Initiatives include launching new business models, developing new partnerships and increasing revenues from data monetization.

Accepting clear responsibility for disruptive growth: Establish the ‘office of disruptive growth’. Marketing then becomes the epicentre of disruptive growth that moves their organization to own a greater share of each customer, as well as fostering new customers.

Paying attention to the evolving competitor landscape: Who your competitors were yesterday are not who they are today. Only 43% of CMOs believe defending their organization against new competitors that have not traditionally been part of their industry is a priority to their organization today. Organizations can avoid being disrupted, but only if they can see what’s coming.

Becoming a new market entrant: Only 30% of CMOs say their organization is moving into a different industry outside their traditional industry. Organizations that want to get ahead need to diversify their offerings and appeal to new audiences. CMOs have the opportunity to guide that process and identify the best fit.

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