Growth Insights for CEOs

CEO is #1 Marketer (Like it or Not)

Posted by Pete Hayes



‘But I’m Not a Marketer’Chief Outsiders and University of Texas McCombs school research about market and operations oriented companies

“I didn’t even know what to call it,” said the new GM of this fast growing, game changing new technology division. “I just sorted the buyers geographically, in groups of end-products by usage, then sized each total market, showing what revenue and share I thought we could get out of each. Then, we estimated how these potential opportunities would change by improving various attributes of our product…” The GM went on to tell me that this presentation to his Board, largely made up of investors who’d already shelled out $10’s of Millions, was unlike any other. Rather than the Board being restless about progress, wanting to see a return on their millions in, they were practically reaching into their wallets, eager to make an additional investment. 

What Was Different?

The GM had brought clarity to the table. He’d taken a market-oriented perspective and worked to remove any biases in his presentation and strategic plan. This was refreshing and appealing to his Board. With his market-based insights, he had even built a model to show the dynamics of how he would respond if some of his assumptions proved wrong. I was impressed.

Yet when I called him out as a “market-oriented CEO, “frankly praising him for his approach and ingenuity, he tried to convince me he didn’t know anything about marketing. After some further discussion, he explained more about his position: He wasn’t confident in his ability to translate his strategic plan and vision into an actionable implementation plan. On that, we agreed. And it was the basis for our coffee meeting this particular day.

Market-or-Operations Oriented?

What did I mean when I classified the GM as market-oriented? According to our research with The University of Texas, McCombs Business School, there are two types of companies: Market –or– Operations oriented. Typically, and almost by definition, Market-Oriented companies (about half of the total in the middle market) already have a VP of Marketing or CMO on staff (and note that a VP of Sales and Marketing doesn’t count). As you may know, Chief Outsiders business model addresses this situation directly: we bring experienced C-level marketing executives to Operations-Oriented companies who (according to our research) can benefit from the disciplines of market-facing behaviors, adding executive horsepower to their C-suite. It’s a simple idea. And is built on the premise that the CEO – whether market-oriented or operations-oriented – is indeed the #1 marketer in the company. 

Who Else But the CEO?

After all, who else initially and ultimately decides which markets to serve? What products or services to deliver? How to keep up with and out do competitors? The challenge for this ‘#1 Marketer’ is ultimately how to scale. At some point in a company’s growth, the CEO’s plate is full. Their attention is split across the critical aspects of running and growing their company. And when the pivotal time comes to enter a new market, launch a new product, find ways to compete and restructure their channels, CEOs don’t have the bandwidth to turn their pressing vision into a plan, and worse, they have no one to hand off the job of getting it done.

This is the point in which a company will hire a CMO or VP of Marketing. This addition to the C-suite must complement the CEO’s style, and quickly earn and keep their trust, in order to off-load the appropriate elements to finalize the strategy and execute implementation.

Leverage to Gain Executive Presence

In our experience with mid-market CEOs, they will admit or accept that they are indeed the #1 Marketer for their companies; and that some point, they’ll need to share this role with a competent marketing executive. That’s when they get new leverage to lead. Harvard Business Review calls it “executive presence – recognizing that potential executives have to demonstrate it in order to move up the ranks. Taking this a bit further, we believe that without the benefit of an executive marketer on staff to collaborate on vision and offload implementation, the CEO is buried in the business, rather than developing the presence and position to lead from a higher, more powerful level.

So whether your skills are more operational, or market-oriented, if you’re not already leveraging yourself with a marketing executive, perhaps now is the time – whether full-time, or part-time. Let me know how we can help.

Pete Hayes, Principal and CMO of Chief OutsidersPete Hayes is Principal & CMO for Chief Outsiders. Follow him at @petehayes or call him at 512-923-6512, or write pete@chiefoutsiders.com 

Topics: CEO Marketing Strategy, Business Leadership and Strategy, CEO Strategies, CEO Choices, Marketing Implementation