Sandra Malone, Director of Marketing at marketingmoves, interviews Paul Berry, recently at Promethean

Can you share some insights with us about what it takes to be a CMO in today’s environment?

Although the title CMO wasn’t used until quite recently the role of marketing leader has changed very significantly. In the ‘60’s Drucker wrote “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” I am not sure many non-marketing business leaders would view things this way now. Other departments have grown in capability and stature to the point that there are some that ask if the CMO is an endangered species. Finance and Operations have found increasingly robust ways of delivering cost based value to the business and with the increasing sophistication of ERP systems and analytics have often usurped Marketing’s position with regards customer data. Sales forces and marketing too often are in competition for ownership of the customer’s “heart” and the increasing promotion of finance heads to CEO to please/appease the city or institutional investors have all marginalized the role of marketing and the CMO. But marketing itself is not blameless – too many teams focus on the promotional aspects of marketing and not enough on the analytics, on definition of customer personas and ultimately on building in to their teams the skills to deliver real programs with tangible and measurable business benefits.

If the difference between what an item costs to produce and the value the end customer pays for it is dependent on the perceived and economic value of that item, then Marketing needs to show the value that the brand and all activities in supporting it brings.

From your LinkedIn profile, you’re far more than a CMO! Managing 8 M+As through due diligence must have been extraordinary. Tell us if Marketing was (or wasn’t) pivotal in any way in those processes.

It depends on your definition of a CMO! If asked what I am, I would usually say a “Business Leader with a background in Sales & Marketing”. I am not a specialist in either discipline but more a generalist who understands how to blend these disciplines and business management to deliver business goals.

With regards M&A, there are only 2 ways to grow a business – organic or acquisitive. Both are valid and both have challenges and risks but the starting point as to which to use and when is “the market”. Understanding the strategic goal for a business and the market that that goal is set against can determine whether the best route is organic, acquisitive or both. It is possible to plan and model organic steps, you cannot always be sure that you can make acquisitive steps of the right type or at the right time or right price. So a plan that solely rests on acquisition to achieve a market goal is risky.

The business disciplines in marketing help determine the route and then help in the assessment of business “fit” – does this acquisition take me nearer the goal or not? Is the cost of acquisition in both financial and organizational terms worth it? Or would that better be deployed in organic growth. My marketing training and background has served me well as too many times there is a “macho” element to acquiring other businesses and that can take over and over-ride good business sense. Assess what the market/customer needs are, determine the mix or organic vs. acquisitive and prosecute both with a clear-eyed view on results. Measure as you go.

Marketers today need more than mere marketing skills to make an impact. What business skills should marketers look to acquire to be successful?

As marketers we are trained to understand customer’s needs, yet rarely is that same effort put in to understanding our own business needs or the needs of adjacent functions e.g. finance, sales or operations. In my 1st role after University I was a Brand Manager in a company following Drucker’s view as above. We gained a new MD who had the view that none of his marketing team would gain promotion unless they had field sales experience. I thought he was crazy! Yet it turned out in my case that I had a flair for sales but more importantly, it grounded me in understanding the customer firsthand and that was invaluable. I urge my teams to follow a similar path – walk in another team’s shoes and you will understand them better. Add to that the marketing skills you have and it will create better business outcomes.

As a British national in Atlanta, tell us about “two great countries divided by a single language”

Atlanta is in the Deep South and at times it seems the Confederacy is still alive and kicking! I have to say the people here are great and absolutely love an English accent, even my northern one! But I have to switch to sidewalk, elevators, acclimate and aluminum every now and again to make myself understood. But it is worth it as the business culture in the US is different – very entrepreneurial, positive and creative.

You’ve attended Stanford University. How has that changed your approach to marketing and your work? Was the Stanford lens valuable?

I wished I had done this 10 years ago! A very impressive faculty with some real marketing thought leaders who probably gave me 3 things from my time there. Firstly, reminded me of some basics I had stopped using as time marched on- never get lazy and miss steps out of a process as you may miss the point. Secondly some new techniques for ascertaining customer value and measuring impact on this and thirdly some great contacts, both within the faculty and also my peers on the course.

We all need to follow lifelong learning and this was a great way to do that. In fact I have already booked my next course there in 2013!

Finally, your recent work with Promethean was global, but niche because the business develops and supplies public and private software solutions. What does it take to be a world class global marketer like you?

I don’t think of my self in those terms but in achieving the things I have I would probably point to the following.
a) Surround yourself with the best people you can – ones that complement your weaknesses and bring positive challenge to the work.
b) Don’t think you have to be the expert on everything – you can’t be. I often use a sporting analogy to get over what I mean. I used to play team sports and always to the best I could. It is not my job now to be the best striker or linebacker anymore, it is my job to be the coach who puts the right team in place and gets them performing – the fact I used to play the game helps my understanding but it isn’t a competition between me and the team. A good recent example is social media – a recent phenomenon that marketing needs to embrace. I could spend time trying to become an expert but it is better that I know what is needed to support our business goals and bring in an expert to work out how we get it done.
c) Listen – basic skill learned in my sales roles. If you are talking you are only hearing your own ideas, if you are listening you will have others to add to your own.

Paul, many thanks for your time.

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