B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Marketorium Carlos Hidalgo event wrap

Turning CMOs into CEOs and other takeaways from the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC

What do you get when 400 marketers come together for two days in Sydney? At least two dozen insights, writes author and corporate storyteller Gina Balarin.

What is it about the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Sydney that makes it unique?

I’ve been in marketing for a while. I’ve attended many conferences in my time, in the northern and southern hemispheres. But there’s something special about this event that makes it stand out from other marketing events.

It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly. It could be the free-flow of ideas, the honesty of those telling the stories from the trenches, the sheer joy shared and the passion and purpose almost every single marketer brings to this amazing conference and their job every day.

Or it could be the waterside location, the great quality food, the sociable drinks sessions, the cool freebies and the fact that it’s all wrapped up together by the inspirational marketer, Emma Roborgh, who truly gets what other B2B marketers need: a forum to learn, share, grow and remain inspired.

Whatever it is that makes the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum a special event, I left full of inspiration, ideas and a desire to take the lessons from these sessions and apply them as quickly as possible. Here are a few of my key takeaways and why this event showed, more than ever, than today’s CMOs have the potential to be the CEOs of the future.

Marketing is about growth

“Marketing can and should be seen as a growth engine, instead of the party planner or necessary evil,” said event MC Carlos Hidalgo. It was a sentiment repeated across the event.

In her opening keynote, Unisys SVP and CMO Ann Sung Ruckstuhl took the theme further. She said marketers are both salespeople and educators – as this is increasingly one and the same thing – and is surprised more CMOs aren’t running companies.

Accenture CMO Tracy Gawthorne shared research that, sadly, reveals two-thirds of CEOs don’t believe their CMOs have the business acumen or leadership to take the organisation where it needs to go. She remains optimistic, however, saying there has never been a better time to be a marketer – but only if we stop talking about marketing!

Gawthorne’s advice is to move away from the idea that marketing is there to serve and move to a mindset that we are empowered decision-makers and custodians of the brand’s purpose. If we can use our voices to influence the way the business thinks – using its language, not the language of marketing – we can show we deserve a seat at the decision-makers’ table.

“Show up as part of the business – you don’t have to prove what you do. Speak the language of the business and you’ll have a much stronger voice” – Accenture's Tracy Gawthorne

While the research indicates CEOs don’t currently think CMOs can up their game, she hopes “the people in this room will change that”. How? By thinking and behaving more like business leaders than marketers.

“Great B2B marketers are change leaders”

The statement above comes from Thomas Barta, author of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. His research shows the importance of change leadership skills when assessing a marketer’s effectiveness.

Marketers are in a unique position – we think about change every day. Our worlds exist in the future: driving campaigns, innovation and technological advances. But we need to do three things to convince the C-suite we aren’t crazy fortune tellers: make sure the issues we tackle are big enough to influence the whole company’s future, side with the revenue camp and talk in a language CFOs understand (and care about) and become our own influencers.

How do marketers become more influential?

The answer can be found in Craig Griffin’s job description. He’s the Head of Marketing and Growth at Macquarie.

If marketers want to become more influential, Griffin says we should learn from the world’s fastest-growing companies and collaborate by building a growth function: create teams to solve specific business problems. These teams bring together relevant stakeholders around the business – including marketing – and lead the company towards success.

Joanne Schofield, Marketing Director ANZ at Rackspace, agrees with the idea of creating a “growth function” but warns marketing needs support. She says every marketer embarking on a business-changing initiative should “find the advocate in your business who will stand beside you and support those crazy ideas”.

In becoming true business leaders, we must make sure the problem is on the right side of the revenue line – that we’re driving growth, not increasing costs.

We need to prove we benefit the business

It occurs to me that the difference between good marketing and extraordinary marketing lies in how we use our unique talents to make a genuine difference in the business.

And perhaps that’s the biggest challenge facing marketers. While no-one at the conference said it outright, I believe that sometimes we are our own worst enemies. It is our desire to drive things forward, to make a difference, to get things done and out there that prevents us from saying ‘no’ more often which, in turn, prevents us from making the time (not taking it) to go bigger, to be braver and to lead our organisations confidently into the future.

We can do it. People like Ruckstuhl, Gawthorne, Griffin and Schofield – to name just a few of the inspirational leaders who took to the stage – are doing it.

So consider this a call to arms: do less, influence more. Let’s show the world that CMOs are the CEOs of the future.

Gina Balarin is founder of marketing agency Verballistics and author of The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People.

The B2B Marketing Leaders Forum events in Sydney, Singapore and Melbourne feature insights from the world’s leading marketers. To find out more, go to b2bmarketingleaders.com.au

Further reading: How marketers can build influence and gain a stronger voice in the C-suite