I’m not good at keeping promises to myself. On the contrary, I’m good at keeping promises to other people; ask me to try and pick up Almond M&M's on my travels, and I’ll move heaven and earth to get them. Promise myself that I won’t gorge myself at Super Duper Burger on my next trip to San Francisco, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll fail (and this week in the city, I’ve let myself down badly on that count). Similarly, I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention ‘The CMO Myth" again for the sake of my blood pressure, yet here we are.

Regular readers (hello!) will recall that at 451 Research, we’ve long-held the view that the claim that the chief marketing officer (CMO) will outmuscle the chief information officer (CIO) for budgetary control over information technology (IT) is not only untrue, but that it is also unwise. Nothing that we’re seeing in either our qualitative or quantitative research supports this nonsense, yet I reckon this week, I’ve still heard it repeated half a dozen times, which is bad news. Even worse news is that it now has a younger brother: “Marketing will eat Sales.”

Deep breath, everyone. Here is the crux of this slight pivot in shonky thinking: At some unspecified point in the future, marketing will eat the sales organization and take over the entire customer relationship. Notwithstanding that sales and marketing do not represent the entirety of customer relationships in the first place, it is indicative of the misapprehension that we are allegedly on the cusp of creating digital marketing machines that will be able to make the role of a sales professionals redundant. How is this to be achieved? Apparently with data, that’s how.

The office of the CMO is not going to challenge the CIO anytime soon, nor is it going to subsume the sales department, nor should it.

Now, I’m not down on data. In fact, I’ve become an utter bore on the insights that I’ve gained from having a smart thermostat installed this summer; it is already helping me save money on heating my 110 year-old terraced house in London. The reason I’m able to trust this data is that I have faith in the veracity in its source—a single, solar-powered temperature sensor in the hall. Yet, I know that to interpret the data, it isn’t telling me a precise average for the entire house, let alone in individual rooms, but, rather, it is giving me a reliable and consistent guidance point on which to make judgments. But even with that single source of data, I have to use my knowledge and experience of the ambient conditions through the house to interpret it correctly.

As organizations, we know that the data we employ every day has at least some basis in fact. We also know that we need to employ similar filtering processes to help us interpret how to use that data to perform actions. We would also acknowledge that if we provided that same data to someone without the experience to filter it accordingly, they’d come up with different, incorrect conclusions. If we scale out this operation multi-fold, then the potential for interpretive errors increases exponentially. It’s one of the key reasons that data-intensive operations require the input of specialist analysts.

Yet, if we are to buy into, “Marketing will eat Sales,” we are supposed to believe that the nascent industry for marketing analytics is already so incredibly advanced and mature, that it is ready to gobble up an entire estate of customer data and then spit out a correct response on a consistent enough basis to automate a sales process? Really? I don’t think so.

A strategic approach to represent the customer life cycle through technology is a very good thing. But it is not about one function eating another. It is not about telling one business function that they are better, more advanced or produce better insights than their peers. Instead, we should be guiding organizations toward understanding their own capabilities so that, ultimately, they are able to build a sustainable, long-term plan toward managing their own chunk of the customer life cycle.

Such a reality-driven, down-to-earth vision is not going to generate anywhere near as many headlines or keynote speaking slots, but crucially, it is what organizations really need to hear today. To repeat, the office of the CMO is not going to challenge the CIO anytime soon, nor is it going to subsume the sales department, nor should it. Gaining better insights into your customers, via the collection of data and interpreting that through both technology and insightful and context-aware people is a worthy and lofty enough challenge in its own right.


Matt Mullen is a senior analyst of social business for 451 Research, where some of his primary areas of focus are digital marketing and social media technology. Follow him on Twitter @MattMullenUK.


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