This is a rallying cry to marketing managers: “It’s time for you to step up”. The business world is changing faster than at any time in history. Over the next decade companies will need to make significant strategic and cultural transformations as they respond to digital disruption, globalisation and continuing market shifts.
We will witness a strategic shift towards customer centric organisations: organisations who put the customer at the heart of strategy, product development and operations. And this shift to a customer-centric organisation will facilitate the meteoric rise of the marketer. Marketers could become a very influential member of the executive. Provided of course that marketers are prepared to step up.
But to be a key player at the executive and boardroom table marketers will need to shift their focus and develop new competencies in strategy, innovation and leadership.
The Shift to Customer-centred Strategy
The digital revolution is still in its infancy. As many companies grapple with these early impacts of digital and social media they are being forced to transform every aspect of their business.
Today’s customers have more choice, influence and power than at any time in business history. The balance of power as flipped convincingly into the hands of the customer. Today customers have very high expectations around service and delivery. They expect everything in real time.
Big data and analytics have enabled marketers to build an unprecedented understanding of customers and their behaviours. Social media has facilitated intimate and collaborative relationships with our customers – often in real time. As a result, strategic focus is fast shifting from the traditional competitor-centred strategy to customer-centred strategy.
To achieve profitable growth many companies will seek to transition to a customer-focussed strategy where efforts and resources are directed to the creation of unprecedented customer value and new untapped demand. Customer centricity will lie at the heart of product development, ICT, operations and frontline activities. It will force an alignment between strategy and operations.
Who is going to drive these new customer-centric organisations? Logically it should be marketers. Marketers’ proximity to and understanding of customers, their needs and behaviours and their expertise in loyalty and customer service means they are perfectly positioned to drive the strategic agenda and influence operations, ICT and frontline activities.
Marketers Must Build Their Influence
The actual impact and influence of the marketer in a customer-centric business environment is hard to overstate. Yet many mid to senior level marketers do not yet possess the competencies required for them to step up to this position of influence.
While marketers are well represented in the C-Suite most do not have the executive power and influence of CFOs or COO. Few CEOs have a marketing background and few marketers sit on boards.
This is partly because the executive still views the marketing department as the implementers rather than drivers of strategic intent, growth and operations. And for good reason. While senior marketers are often respected for their strategic acumen within their function, their contribution to the broader strategic conversation is too narrow. It is time for them to broaden the scope of their knowledge and influence.
In order to position themselves as the strategic drivers of their organisation marketers must broaden their strategic viewpoint and develop competency in three key areas: strategy, innovation and leadership.
Developing Strategic Competency
If marketers are to become the key drivers of strategy they need to broaden their strategic perspective and view their business through a different strategic lens.
A customer centric organisation positions the customer at the centre of strategy, operations and culture. Customer centricity has touch-points across the entire supply and value chain. It will drive product development. It will influence ICT, production, processes and organisational values. It will shape recruitment decisions and organisational development.
Marketers will need to broaden their strategic perspective across all these fundamental functions within the business.
As businesses are required to become more innovative, adaptive and customer-centric, marketers in turn must develop new competencies and practices. To achieve growth in today’s business environment managers must build an innovative mindset and bring innovation tools and processes into their practice.
An innovative mindset is developed by looking beyond our assumptions and constantly challenging the status quo. It’s about looking beyond the established market boundaries to create new customer value and drive new demand. Marketers who look beyond market boundaries will discover the breakthrough ideas and innovative business models that lead to unprecedented customer value, new demand and competitor-free market space.
To achieve this, marketers need to bring innovative thinking practices, innovation tools, processes and values into the organisation. Marketers should also facilitate a collaborative environment that unites customers with the organisation to co-create products, services, communications and processes.
Leading Across The Organisation
For marketers to help drive a customer centric organisation and align strategy and operations they need to build greater influence across the organisation.
Marketers can apply their skills in communications, collaboration and behaviour change to help the organisation align strategy and operations and develop customer centric products and processes. Further to existing skills they must build their profession acumen across other functions of the business and broaden their strategic conversations.
While often visible and appreciated for their strategic perspective, marketers are often viewed a subject matter experts with limited understanding of the broader business issues such as supply chain, finance and operations.
Marketers need to look beyond the marketing function to develop a strategic and operational perspective across other functions of the business. They need develop their financial literacy and their working understanding of the supply chain. They need to speak the languages of finance, ICT, HR, operations and importantly the board.
With a broader perspective of the organisation and an ability to communicate in the language of its many functions, marketers will be in a position of authority and influence. They will effectively position themselves as the rightful drivers of customer centred strategy.
The Role of Educators and Associations
There has been no other time in business history where marketers have had to chance to raise their visibility and influence across the executive. The extent to which marketers succeed will be largely up to the individuals and other bodies that support professional development of marketers.
Tertiary institutions have an important role to play in structuring post-graduate marketing degrees and ensuring marketers develop broader business knowledge, particularly in finance and operations. When I completed my Masters of Marketing Degree I did not undertake a single financial unit, because no financial units were offered as part of the degree. This is unacceptable. Universities must ensure that post graduate degrees offer a range of core and elective units in financial management, operational management and leadership.
Similarly it’s incumbent on professional associations to support their members with a professional development program that builds more than the marketers’ technical skills in marketing. They must help develop the full professional so as marketers have the knowledge and support to raise the influence of marketing in their organisations and across industry generally.
It Comes Back to You
However, the fundamental responsibility for raising the influence of marketers rests with the marketers themselves. If you’re a marketer with aspirations to build your influence and hold an executive role it is imperative that you steer your career and your professional development towards a holistic understanding of business.
It’s imperative that you build deeper working relationships with the CFO and COO in your organisation. Its important that you learn to speak the language of the various functions in the business rather than depending solely on the language of marketing.
If you are currently in a mid or senior level marketing role, the challenge has been laid before you. This is the moment when you can transition your career and lead from the front of your organisation. This is the time when you can build a highly influential role within the executive. Are you going to step up?
(photo by Håkan Dahlström)