The Hard Truth: The C-suite is Just Not That Into You

by Paige O’Neill, Sitecore


There is a hard truth that we as CMOs need to face … and CMO to CMO I am just going to put it out there. As much as things have changed over the last 10 years, and as much as marketers now have a more strategic seat than ever at the C-Suite table … why does it still often feel like the rest of the C-suite is just not that into you? Like they just don’t get what we are trying to do for marketing/lead gen/pipeline/the brand/the customer experience?

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Think I’m paranoid? Consider this: In a recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 80% of CEOs say they either don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMO.That’s quite a data point, and I’m sure we all feel like our own CEOs don’t feel that way, but since 80% of CEOs reported feeling this way, most of us are obviously wrong.

And this misalignment couldn’t come at a worse time. According to a 2018 eConsultancy Report, 40% of senior executives say the CMO is now primarily responsible for creating the business case for tech investment — their digital transformation and customer experience. And the need to create an engaging digital experience has never been more intense, as more and more industries face the immense pressures of doing business in a post-Amazon world.

 So, where’s the disconnect?

Sitecore recently partnered with SoDA to survey over 1,000 CMOs and other senior marketing executives, asking a series of questions to see if we could figure out why marketers are having such a difficult time getting the executive support they need for digital transformation initiatives.

Marketers have been left to untangle and implement a very complicated martech stack to improve the customer experience, but they don’t have full control over where the company’s budget gets allocated. There’s competition from the rest of the C-suite, who also need to fund their initiatives. That can lead to funding gaps.

In addition, the rest of the C-suite often don’t fully grasp the complexities involved in creating a cutting-edge customer experience or the technology that’s required to get it accomplished. It’s also likely that marketing executive need to get better at articulating the need for these investments. Put together, it leaves CMOs in a very tough spot.

The survey results showed one glaring area that’s driving the C-suite disconnect – mapping out a clearly articulated business strategy for personalized digital experiences that directly supports the company’s business objectives. Only 49% say their company has a clear roadmap for digital experience and is aggressively executing against it. However, approximately 67% of the marketers rated their companies as “experts” or “masters” in delivering personalized digital experiences. That represents a 16-point delta that doesn’t add up. How can you be an expert or master, but you’re winging it without a clear plan?

More than 85% said that personalization of digital and experiences was a “major competitive advantage” or an “important facet” in driving their business. But the top response, at more than 40%, when asked to identify the biggest barriers that are hindering your ability to deliver more personalized digital content and experiences, was “budget”. If personalization is such a high priority, why can’t senior marketers get the necessary funding? A Sitecore/Avanade study showed that 73% of companies see a lack of collaboration between Marketing and IT, and 69% see the same between the CMO and CIO. Without your colleagues’ buy-in, it becomes an uphill battle.

Many of the other results from the survey show a clear pattern – marketers are overestimating their capabilities. So, it’s time for all of us to be honest with ourselves and realize that very few companies are actually delivering the personalized customer experiences they say they are. There is no one-size-fits-all, there is no silver bullet. The path to digital experience success requires testing and learning. And the majority of our marketing peers are in the exact same boat, trying to figure out how to close that C-suite disconnect.

I’ve been on the front lines of either marketing or implementing digital experience technology for over a decade, and here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about how to secure alignment among the C-suite, gain trust, secure the needed budget, and be one step closer to delivering on the promise of an advanced digital experience that creates lifelong customers:

Be honest and realistic. Personalization takes some time and investment. It goes to the old adage of underpromise and overdeliver. You’ll gain the trust of the CEO so they don’t have to be primary decision-maker for CX investment, which is the case in 32% of companies surveyed in the eConsultancy report. It will increase the chances of securing the necessary investment to build out your martech stack.

Develop a clear, documented strategic approach that ties into core business objectives. We all know that creating enough quality content fast enough is a major hurdle. But doing nothing is not an option. Start by focusing on a specific sector, then create enough vertical content to get the results you want before moving on to another. Automate certain tasks, improve efficiency and productivity, then scale up to meet your multi-channel content needs.

Know what success looks like – for your business. The most important thing is to get started, even if it’s small. Simple personalization can lead to strong conversions. But know that there is no perfect solution that fits for everyone. Every company is different – their objectives, their products, their location, etc. What works for one company, may not work for another, so don’t get bogged down by paralysis by analysis. Get going, learn where you’re succeeding, then test, refine, and keep moving forward.

Know what’s important to other C-suite members. It won’t matter how good you are if you don’t develop an alliance strategy with the executive team that focuses on driving efficiencies through your people and processes. If you can measure it, you can manage it – and secure further investment for it. Speak their language to get executive buy-in. Having this conversation now will save wasted time and money, leading to a business plan that everyone can confidently agree on.

The good news is that overcoming the C-suite disconnect isn’t insurmountable. By simply level-setting on expectations, being honest with yourself and the rest of the executive team, and setting a clear strategy with tangible objectives, you’ll be one step closer to becoming the toast of the C-suite.


Paige O’Neill, Sitecore

Paige O’Neill, Sitecore

About the Author: As the new CMO of Sitecore, an integrated CMS, and e-commerce solution, Paige is an expert at handling new roles in marketing departments, having been through the process on multiple occasions. Dubbing herself as the chief marketing “synthesizer,” Paige has a knack for synthesizing all the information that is thrown her way and gaining a quick understanding of the company’s goals and priorities.