Want to Accelerate Innovation? Find Your CMO


I can’t tell you the number of times I’m asked to facilitate a session to accelerate a project and this happens: all the introductions are complete, and while it’s very clear that all the “backstage” players are present (R&D, Development, Corporate Development), the essential front of house team members who connect that value to the marketplace are nowhere to be seen.

To be fair, of all the roles around the innovation table, it’s the CMO position that is experiencing the largest transformation.  Long gone are the days when the CMO could engage in large advertising and event projects, or perhaps singly focus on brand building, while allowing the day-to-day work of sales and marketing to go largely on autopilot.

The modern CMO has a multitude of issues they are dealing with as they work to build value in the core business. These include:

  • Driving outcome-based advertising and marketing, such as building a digital path and analytics strategy that align all the stakeholders.  For example, in a massively distracted world, how do we connect with our constituents in a way that they value?
  • Building “omni” channel approaches and managing channel interactions that even a few years ago would have seemed far fetched.  How can we use these channels to create positive experiences in service of our clients and customers?
  • Using a dynamic approach to understanding and rapidly adapting to the changing demands and expectations of their end consumers.  This means putting in place make-sense tools that are responsive to what real clients are asking for.  For best in class examples, think Disney and Virgin.

Our CMO’s are incredibly important to our innovation process, and are also dealing with enormous change. This makes quality CMO team resources a very scarce entity in most firms.  It’s also the position that is under the most scrutiny these days with tenured leaders now seeing stints of less than four years.

This shortage of good internal talent has a real impact on innovation teams, since almost without exception, massive assumptions are made about the value delivery engine very early in most product and service design cycles.  Untangling these issues, once the service offering has been architected, is hard and expensive work.  Keep in mind that the business case of nearly every new product and service is very dependent on the costs and responsiveness of the value delivery engine. You need a team member with rich market and sales knowledge who can avoid the systematic miscalculations that can otherwise sink a program.

Here’s an example: In a firm I worked with recently, the product team initially had sketched out the product based on traditional two-step distribution, with assumptions that the installation would be handled by highly qualified technicians.  However, in the region that this new product needs to serve, the install will be handled by an onsite generalist – forcing significant additional requirements on to the product that could easily have been missed without a very close look at not only the end consumer, but the exact delivery pathway.

Here are 5 specific ways the CMO viewpoint accelerates innovation:

  1. They have radar for clear value propositions.  Having a CMO voice on the team keeps it honest when it comes to feature creep and scope that really only serve the interest of the internal teams.  By keeping razor sharp focus on the end customer and delivery chain members, unnecessary complexity is avoided.
  2. They have a keen sense of channel alignment and conflict.  Omni channel can mean omni headaches.  It is very important to have a pathway to market well thought through, with value to be provided by, and value to be shared with, each step in the chain.  If a legacy value chain member is not adding value, the hard questions need to be asked…and your CMO will be able to cut through the fog.
  3. They will bring clarity to the question, “who exactly are we building this for?” Ultimately, the end user product or service experience needs to be brought to bear on every decision that is made by the team.  Design and operations team members are famous for drifting to the edge of the spec and beyond.  By being ruthlessly honest, the right CMO member keeps the team on the narrow road.
  4. They understand that ultimately the firm will be known for its character and trustworthiness.  In the name of being agile, it is really easy to take a very compromised product to market for a “test.”  There is nothing wrong with good agile design and your CMO will be superb at understanding just how to architect a good beta relationships to allow you get your data – without leaving any brand baggage behind.
  5. They understand the limits of the front line delivery team better than anyone.  True story – we architected a new product that needed to be sold to the same government agency as our current product line.  Slam dunk right?  Wrong, it turns out that there was a different procurement officer in every location than the person we currently knew.  Needless to say, we didn’t make our ramp up goals.

So how do we help make the case for the CMO resource to be applied to early stage work?  As leaders we should insist that we are always looking at the full value proposition.  For a nice piece on keeping the full value chain in mind, see the work by Deloitte-Doblin on the ten types of innovation.  According to their work, the first portion of the program is the highest leverage point of any innovation project, and by having the full view of the opportunity, higher value programs are built.  The Deloitte team found that top innovators used twice as many innovation “types” as the average firm, and were rewarded with substantially higher returns for their stock.

My work allows me to help assemble carefully chosen innovation teams across manufacturing, energy and water.  You’ve probably gathered that there are a large number of process details, decision making methodology and facilitation know-how that go into doing this well.  If you’d like to have a deeper dive on how this all works, give me a call at 847-651-1014, or click here, and set up a no strings attached, 20-minute phone call.

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