Growth Insights for CEOs

Do I Need a Chief Growth Officer? Five Questions to Ask Your Top Marketer in 2018

Posted by Paul Sparrow



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Back when my hair was long, and my taste in music was more eclectic, I was a huge fan of the musician Neil Young. Among the great albums he issued was one called “Rust Never Sleeps” – introduced at a time when newer artists threatened his relevance.

For those of us who work to market and grow businesses today, there’s a lesson to be had in Neil Young’s album title – a concerning parable that rings true as we think about the threats to our livelihood: Rust, indeed, never sleeps. Obsolescence is always nibbling at our heels. Stagnation leads to decay which leads to death.

As 2017 gives way to 2018, there’s a restlessness in the marketplace that has CEOs looking to their product gatekeepers – marketers – for the cure. But the aging tactics of old – websites, trade shows and brochures – are so timeworn, that even a big fat can of WD-40 can’t restore their luster.

As a result, CEOs continue to hand “walking papers” (aka the proverbial pink slip) to their chief marketers at a record pace – according to AdAge, by the end of 2017, at least 30 percent of CMOs were expected to join the unemployment lines. The reason: their inability to “muster the blended skill set they need personally to pull off digital business transformation.” 

Simply put, CEOs want results. No longer are they placated by conflated SEO metrics, or mollified with an increase in really solid marketing qualified leads (MQLs). They don’t even care so much that page views are spiking and followers and likes and retweets are booming on your social channels. They want business – and a lot more of it.

The solution, according to a recent Forrester report, is the Chief Growth Officer, or CGO – think of this person as a Chief Marketer on steroids, or, in my Neil Young example, the “Rust-buster.” The CGO brings a focus that is 100 percent strategic --  laser focused on an insightful plan that will resonate with today’s involved customer and move the growth needle in a contemporary way.

More than simply a surrogate for the CMO, a CGO often has a mandate to work across key areas that drive growth within the organization, including R&D, operations, finance and sales. From this holistic perch, the CGO can take a broad, sweeping vision and often impact things like corporate culture and innovation – and conventional thinking as well as execution. 

Lest the CMO be relegated to managing the Facebook account or placing the advertising order, they must evolve and adopt the growth-oriented strategies sought after by ROI-minded CEOs. In the long run the title of the individual doesn’t really matter, but his or her effectiveness in bringing in more revenue sure does. Do you have a true CGO on your team – a growth-focused executive planning and setting the pace for accelerating your business? 

In my view, a candidate for CGO needs to be able to answer these five questions if they are to make a strong case for stewardship of this important role: 

  1. What’s the plan? Your CGO needs to construct and have a firm grasp on the overarching strategic plan of the organization.
  2. Why the plan? A CGO needs to understand the essence of the plan – what it was based on – the insights, market trends, analytics and data at its core. They should be mindful of how to gather and incorporate client data, prospect data, competitive intel, and economic insights.
  3. How the plan? What is the method by which the CGO will execute the plan? What resources will be incorporated? How will marketing tools be incorporated? What cross-functional planning is required? How does Sales get involved?
  4. When the plan? What is the timing for the execution of the plan? How often will it be reassessed and updated?
  5. Outcomes of the plan: Will your CGO have a thorough understanding of the dynamic measurement of the plan, on an ongoing basis? Do they understand and can they articulate the ROI in terms of measurable and quantifiable metrics that have a downstream impact on revenues? They also should plan to monitor the “why” insights data as things change. Without this step, and the necessary adjustments that will be made as the plan cycles, growth will be stunted. 

If you lack the skill internally to activate a Chief Growth Officer swiftly, perhaps you should consider turning to an “Executives-as-a-Service” firm like Chief Outsiders, which offers fractional CGOs who follow a process called the “Growth Gears” to help mid-market businesses quickly identify opportunities and execution paths for strategic growth. 

For less than the cost of hiring a CMO or CGO, working alongside the CEO, a fractional Chief Outsider can help you figure out what advantages, limitations, openings and hazards lie between you and your best growth strategies, and develop a process to navigate and accelerate in a positive direction. 

Whatever you decide, make today the day you determine to bust the rust and combat obsolescence in your market-driven focus. Today’s marketplace is moving much too quickly, and customer tastes are shifting far too unpredictably to stay the course. I’d strongly encourage finding a strategic minded, growth-oriented executive who can build your revenue machine to grow, scale, and thrive. Your future depends upon it!

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Topics: Business Growth Strategy, Revenue Growth

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