Home Thinking Aloud Top 5 Things CMOs Will Be Expected To Manage In 2021

Top 5 Things CMOs Will Be Expected To Manage In 2021


by Per Ohstrom, CMO with Chief Outsiders

In every industry competition is becoming tougher, there is price pressure and that nightmarish threat of commoditization. In this environment, clear value propositions and effective strategies become critical. That’s why more forward-looking organizations invite marketing to take a place at the executive table, alongside finance, IT, R&D and sales. And, oh boy, is there a difference in performance when the CMO leans in.

In the C-suite, the CMO is often the most outward oriented member, with the best market knowledge from scanning competitors, trade media and listening to the Voice of the Customer. Together with sales, marketing can send the company up a steeper growth trajectory.

The CMO Role is Evolving

An annual survey by Chief Outsiders asked CMOs with Fortune 500 and mid-market company experience about their outlook for 2021. The result was clear: marketing is no longer just about solving customer engagement or sales funnel problems. It is more and more about growth, and CMOs are expected to adapt.

There are a handful of new, key capabilities companies are looking for in their marketers, foremost among them the ability and skills to develop strategy. Good alignment with sales is highly valued, and necessary to effectively manage the customer experience.

Marketing is also tasked with generating actionable customer insights and managing the brand strategy. And last, but not least, creating effective content is still a major part of the CMO job description.

This is a tall order, requiring a broad skill set. The CMO will have to apply the helicopter outlook, cruising at altitude ready to touch down and roll up the sleeves when circumstances demand.

Top Five Things CMOs Will Be Expected to Manage

CMOs will have a lot on their plates in the near future. The annual survey by Chief Outsiders identified the following top five things CMOs are expected to manage in 2021:

1. Growth Strategy.

Growth comes from different sources. Marketing can support increased market penetration and share of wallet with existing customers. They can also develop new markets by converting non-users with great value propositions, or work closely with R&D to develop new products that meet customer needs.

2. More of the sales funnel.

The sales funnel has traditionally been managed by, you guessed it, sales. Now it is becoming a shared responsibility with marketing. Both functions aim to find, convert and keep customers, and marketing is getting more involved in qualifying leads, not just finding the prospects. Especially in B2B, sales and marketing are two sides of a coin. One cannot prosper without the other.

3. Digital Technology Selection.

As in every other department, marketing digital technology is morphing from cutting edge to table stakes. Digital marketing is now accessible and affordable to all organizations. Data gathering is simple, analytics tools make it easier to decipher customer activities and emerging needs. CRM systems are commonplace in all size organizations, and used together with email marketing can greatly facilitate outreach by automating lead nurturing. Marketing is the natural stewards of this development, and are increasingly asked to manage it.

4. Customer Engagement Tactics.

Increasing competition is pushing brands to improve the customer experience. Making emotional connections helps increase Customer engagement and loyalty. In a world of seemingly indistinguishable value props, the best brands focus on engaging their customers, and turning them into promoters.

5. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Tactics.

The 2021 CMO Market Insights study also found shot-gunning a market is being complemented and sometimes even replaced by Account-based Marketing. Focusing on a handful of targets in a market allows better focus and understanding of customer needs. Marketing has an increasingly important role in both identifying targets and formulating messaging and communication mix to reach them. ABM is a highly effective tactic, and the CMO is the right person to put in the driver’s seat for the effort.


John Wanamaker — known for his innovations in the area of modern department stores, and considered by some to be a “pioneer in marketing” — famously observed, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” In the years since, department stores have become a sunset industry, and new marketing tools have changed the equation. Now, CMOs can get a very good idea of which marketing tactics drive tangible growth and double down on those efforts.

Per Ohstrom is CMO with Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading fractional CMO firm focused on mid-size company growth. He works with manufacturing, rental, distribution and other B2B companies to find practical and differentiated solutions for growth.