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A Coke and a Pink Slip for Professional Service Marketers



There’s a cautionary tale in the winds for marketers at professional services firms.

Coca Cola recently fired its Chief Marketing Officer.

Whoa. You may very well be asking, “what does selling soda pop have to do with me?” After all, brown, sugary, carbonated water is not quite like tax planning, a recruiting assignment, a compliance plan, litigation services, or even an architectural design, right?

But Mondelēz, Tyson Foods, Kellogg, PayPal, Best Buy and others have shown their CMO the door, too.

Here’s why: CEOs are demanding that marketers move beyond being a cost center and transform into revenue centers. CMOs and the CMO position may be headed toward extinction because they’re not geared to delivering measurable results and they’re not able to tie marketing activities into revenue recognition.

If your firm’s Executive Committee or partners question the value, costs, or the ROI you're returning to the firm, it’s probably a good time to be proactive and steer the ship in a new direction.

The Cautionary Tale for Professional Service Firm Marketers

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.51.10 PM.pngSam Melnick, in a MarketingProfs blog post called “Five Lessons For All Marketers from the Departure of Coke’s CMO” writes that “If CMOs cannot translate the role of Marketing into the only language that truly matters to the business—money and growth— marketers cannot expect job security, respect, control, or confidence.”

For many marketers in a professional firm environment, this portends a radical shift in the scope of their responsibilities and a recasting of their role from being a cost center (as perceived by partners) to a revenue center.

Even if you aren’t a CMO, this is still a cautionary tale. (Substitute “Director of Marketing” everywhere you see the phrase “CMO”).

But what happened at Coke and at a lot of other firms is a lesson for the senior management and shareholders at all types of professional service firms, too.

If Coke and other companies are moving marketing from being a cost to being a revenue center, isn’t that movement just as desirable for an accounting, consulting, or law firm as it is for Best Buy?

From Chief Marketing Officer to Chief Growth Officer?

Even though firms like Coke are moving away from hiring a CMO to employing a CGO or Chief Growth Officer, the jury is still out as to whether professional services firms will go the CGO route. This involves a lot more than giving someone a new title, and frankly, I’m not sure that the professional services world is ready for this transformation.

While the goal of creating a marketing organization that’s a value center driving long-term company growth just makes plain common sense, it’s going to mean a change in attitudes and perceptions, more investment in marketing and sales operations, hiring the right person with the right experience and skills sets, and giving that person the proverbial “seat at the table” which firms have been reluctant to do for as long as I can remember.

In a blog post titled Chief Growth Officer, Definition and Overview, Debra Andrews writes “Chief Growth Officer is a hybrid position that bridges the traditional departmental silos in B2B organizations such as Business Development, Sales, Marketing, Operations, and Information Technology. CGOs work on internal alignment as it applies to targeted growth, starting with external market dynamics, customer needs and preferences, and buyer behavior. CGOs help reshape their organizations to stay ahead of and engage with potential buyers wherever they are in the purchase cycle.” 

See why I’m skeptical about how quickly this is going to happen?

What’s a Professional Service Firm Marketer to Do?

How to Win the Revenue GameI have a very blunt question for you: are you prepared to be held accountable for measurable top line results and are you capable of taking a significantly deeper dive into the world of marketing operations?

That’s a lot different than the traditional, cost center-based marketing that you’re doing today. In addition to the creative, right-brained activities you love, like creating a website or putting on a special event or webinar, the marketers of tomorrow will need to bring left-brained capabilities to the table. Skills and expertise in areas like marketing technology, data management, measurement, analytics and reporting of marketing and sales activities, process development, and execution management will be demanded.

Marketers will need to manage the systems, data and processes that contribute to growth.

You’ll need to align the people, resources and assets of marketing, business development and firm thought leaders all in pursuit of meeting growth goals.

You’ll need to deliver a trackable and measurable return on investment, and deal with partners and business developers at the end of the sales funnel in newer and stronger ways. Growth officers just don’t stop working when they hand off a lead … it’s when a contract gets signed that your job is done.

Should You Start Worrying About Your Job?

You can have some measure of relief that this move from CMO to CGO is not going to happen overnight in professional services. In fact, it may not be until the current crop of Baby Boomer shareholders retire that new management will see the inevitability of focusing the firm’s marketing department on growth and revenues, rather than on tactical or vanity marketing chores.

You have some time, but that doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore the world of marketing operations and start preparations for moving your career in new directions.

My advice?

Open a Coke, take a few refreshing sips, and start planning for a new future.

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