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B2B World Fest Media Planning and Buying Marketing

B2B marketers are finally gate-crashing the C-suite


By Gordon Young, Editor-in-Chief

October 9, 2023 | 7 min read

Gordon Young, founder of The Drum, has noticed the increasing complexity of the B2B CMO role - but with risk comes rewards - a seat at the big table.


Repackage, relaunch, resign - was once the motto of the high-flying marketer. However, according to new research by EssenceMediaCom, the B2B profession is as much a revolving door as ever - as this churn is driven by change of another type.

It found that 90% of market leaders said their role had become more complex, which explains why they have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite.

Said one: “CMOs are leaned on to do a lot of cross-function alignment, collaboration, pulling various people together on a topic that may have nothing to do necessarily with marketing.”

There was a sense that CMOs were increasingly taking on the responsibilities of a CEO but without the power. The study is timely. We also sense that thanks to the rise of tech, the role of the CMO is being transformed to the point that marketing itself is becoming harder to define. But we had to try. These themes will form a major part of B2BWorldFest, a one-day conference and video series on the Future CMO we are launching next week.

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The EssenceMediaCom survey involved 188 interviews with Fortune 500 B2B marketers, conducted in August 2023, and found that CMOs faced three main challenges:

Keeping pace with the company

CMOs are now leading digital transformation efforts across their businesses and spreading their sphere of influence across their organizations. For example, 62% said the ownership of customers’ experience had shifted from sales to marketing.

But while marketing is adapting quickly - they are being hampered by the fact that the rest of their organizations are not developing at the same pace. Silos, misaligned goals, poor tech implementation and old processes are hobbling the full realization of customer centricity. At times, the CMO is taking the blame.

Making customer-centricity real

The way B2B customers behave is changing due to online resources and privacy regulations. CMOs must now use intent data and advanced audience segmentation to stay competitive. With more ownership of the customer journey, B2B Marketing departments are getting bigger budgets. 70% of survey respondents reported budget increases in the last three years, with most money going into data and technology.

However, this evolution has brought complexity to CMO roles. Eighty percent of respondents agreed that customer-centricity has become more important over the past few years. Achieving a holistic view of the customer is challenging as buying journeys become more complex. While customer experience mapping and personalization are recognized as priorities, sharing audience insights across departments and aligning team structures with customer needs lag.

Rethinking B2B marketing playbooks

As CMOs spearhead digital transformation, customer-centricity, and innovation, many still rely on legacy playbooks, limiting creative approaches and differentiation.

The digital landscape, congested with competition, presents challenges in determining which channels work best for different market segments.

The survey highlighted that content development and distribution have gained importance, reflecting the increasing need for relevant content to address diverse customer touchpoints. Experimentation and innovation are key as marketers adapt to the evolving expectations of B2B buyers.

The future B2B CMO

So where does that leave us? On the one hand, CMOs are under more pressure, according to the research, as they manage demand gen, data science, e-commerce, and CRM, all while coordinating the classic pillars of product, price, place and promotion.

But on the other new opportunities are opening up as they become part of the C-suite.

In this age of digital transformation, marketers are increasingly seen as orchestrators of growth, as opposed to the first budget line finance would cut in a downturn.

As some economic storm clouds gather on the horizon, it suggests that CMOs are well placed to consolidate their place in the C-suite.

You can check out last year’s B2B WorldFest here. For more information about the event, click here. And if you need a notification to manage your diary, register your interest for The Drum Live stream here. It's November 2. See you there.

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