This question first came to me after a client of mine requested my insight on what to call their newest addition to their executive committee – a CMO. Wait… CMO? Really? Chief Marketing Officer? Too old school. Chief Digital Officer? Not innovative enough. Chief Data Officer? Nah. Chief Customer Officer? And so forth.

With this exchange came the realization that, with the rise in all-things digital, the lines between IS, marketing, sales, finance, merchandising, digital and many more were getting blurred. Job titles seemed to confer legitimacy over perimeters that were no longer clearly defined. So let me make a bold statement – CCO roles are the new black – a sign of a constant reshaping of the corporate organizational chart.

What happened to the good ol’ CMO?

Let’s start with an empirical observation: “80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs”.

How come, you might ask? It seems unrealistic that 80% of CMOs are unfit or simply undersized for their position. Turns out the role of CMO is a thankless job. There often is a disheartening gap between their job description, what is expected of them, and the means at their disposal to execute their strategies.

Now let’s add to it a new factor: customer insight is increasingly driving corporate strategy. As a result, there is a shift in what is expected from a CMO. A solid marketing background and track record are no longer sufficient. Their core responsibilities are expanding to a more strategic focus (growth, innovation, product design…); as well as a commercial role (direct impact on sales) and a more global, enterprise-wide P&L role.

The fogginess around a CMO’s responsibilities might be triggering a shift in its denomination.

“Keep in mind that the pure CMO is the role of a bygone era. An anachronism that harkens to a time of expense accounts, three-martini lunches and patient shareholders. As such, the modern marketer must be accretive, not destructive, to the bottom line if they are to play a meaningful role in any organization” –Neil St Clair, Forbes, March 2015

Do we really need another C in the suite?

Today, rare are the companies able to identify profiles who can play across all fields. As we’ve said, the rise of customer data centric organizations and the evolution of CMOs’ responsibilities push companies to turn to a new role: the CCO (Chief Customer Officer).

A textbook CCO represents precisely these utopian CMO profiles who can do it all: increase revenues, optimize customer impact & reduce costs. These often have significant sales / marketing / operations background and are typically former GMs / CMOs / COOs.

This new “title” is not all about the hype though: 73% of senior marketing executives agree that customer centricity is critical to the success of the business and “improving experiences along the customer journey can boost revenue by up to 15%”.

What’s new is this position allows for a more “holistic” perspective of a company’s customer – and business as well. The old CMO seems irrelevant, obsolete in this context – as well as the more recent Chief Digital or Chief Data Officer. A Chief Customer Officer should now be innovative, data-driven, social & mobile-focused, ROI-oriented. She/he is now charge of designing new products and services, collecting payments and reaching short term revenue goals. She/he is an operations, finance, sales and business development executive, all in one. Seems like the safest bet to make for a CEO. Or is it?

That’s where picture-perfect expectations and reality often have – or will – come to clash. A key step towards a CCO who will be able to do his job efficiently & actionably is the breakdown of organizational silos…. Which not every company can or is willing to do. Their authority, role, and accountability need to be clearly defined to avoid being simply figureheads.

What next?

Whether or not Chief Customer Officers are made to last, they will question the traditional modes of organization and trigger dynamics that will continue to foster innovation in the years to come.

Their ability to provide successful storytelling grounded in data will make for more efficient narratives. Their mission to instill customer-centric behaviors across companies will inspire change. Their close ties with the digital world will benefit the customer and company equally. And finally, their strengthening partnership with CEOs will make for a more collaborative corporate governance.

Additionally, they force us – HR professionals, CEOs, Marketing, Digital, Operations teams alike – to “think outside of the box” when it comes to the jobs of the future. What doesn’t exist yet but could benefit or will be necessary to the organization? Is it a Chief Ecosystem Officer? Chief Ethics Officer? Chief Intellectual Property Officer? Chief Data / People / Revenue / Diversity / etc. Officers? Only time will tell.

I don’t yet have the answer, but one trend is clear and here to stay – companies are recruiting new “hybrid” profiles everyday that challenge the statu quo of their organizational charts (“growth hacker”, “social media engineer”, “analytics advisor” are a thing now). More than empty buzzwords, these unprecedented job titles should entice companies to reflect on where their strategic efforts will be put in the next few years and thus adapt their recruitment plans accordingly.

Written by Jérôme Soudet
September 2017 – France

CSA Partner for France

Tel: +33 1 53 42 31 10, +33 6 71 57 52 20