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Grant Johnson

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The #1 Success Factor for CMOs: Leading Change


This past spring, the CMO Council issued a press release about the “DNA of a CMO, “stating: “among the most essential qualities, a CMO must be: a visionary & thought leader; a strong business driver; able to secure executive support & foster cross functional relationships; customer centric; competitive strategy guru; and a brand advocate & champion.”

These attributes make sense, but the ability to “secure executive support” doesn’t quite capture the hardest, and most essential, quality and success factor I’ve seen for CMOs (at least in technology companies where’s I’ve spent the past two decades). That quality is the ability to lead successful change initiatives, especially on a global basis. I’ve seen others fail when, upon achieving executive support for a change initiative, the CMO thought that hard work was done.

Having led global brand building change initiatives at AST Computer in the 1990’s and FileNet earlier this decade, I’m certain neither brand development initiative would have been nearly as successful had my team and I not secured cross-functional, cross-divisional and cross-regional (i.e. EMEA and APAC) buy in and participation. The easy way could have been to dictate the key change, given both companies were led by strong-minded CEO’s, but simply stating strategic intent is not the same as implementation and ensuring consistency of execution.

Russell Reynold’s published a white paper a couple of years ago on “The Successful CMO” which listed personal competencies that a CMO must possess to succeed: “leadership skills; strategic perspective; adaptability; and flexibility and backbone.” I found these last two attributes, flexibility and backbone, crucial to driving successful change. Having the courage of one’s convictions is key, along with fact-based evidence (e.g. customer input) as supporting rationale. However, as I’ve learned, flexibility is just as important. Trying to drive change down a straight track (“do it because I’m in charge”) can be the fastest way to derailment of key change initiatives. Flexibility to accommodate different organizational, personal, regional and cultural perspectives is key to successful and lasting change.

Recently, John Ellett, co-founder and CEO of nFusion Group , blogged on key trends to consider in 2010 planning: “Change will be imperative: Whether it is competitive position or media mix, the status quo won’t be acceptable. Successful CMOs will be the change agents for their companies. So trend #1 will be an increase in structured change initiatives led by marketers. (blog: http://marketing-has-changed.com/five-trends-that-will-shape-marketing-p...)

The key corollary to successful marketing change initiatives at technology companies is the art of leading change in organizations dominated by left-brained engineers — but that’s a story for another blog.

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More Stories By Grant Johnson

A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™