The CMO’s New Mission: Accelerating Digital Selling

As pressure builds on CMOs, it’s critical to become an indispensable ally to sales teams.

As chief marketing executives put the finishing touches on 2021 plans, it’s clear that marketing’s role in accelerating digital selling has become a top priority. And they know it’s the only way to achieve meaningful growth. The problem is that they are not sure they can pull it off. Only 5 percent of CMOs are highly confident in their ability to impact the direction of their business, influence strategic decision and get support for their initiatives, according to a study published recently in HBR. That’s the lowest self-ranking of any role in the C-Suite.

More evidence that pressure on CMOs is building? The Gartner’s 2020 CMO Annual Spend Survey finds that CMOs are holding increasing accountability for sales. Return on investment (ROI), marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads are the top three focused metrics. That compares to measures like brand health/brand tracker at No. 8.

“The Gartner’s 2020 CMO Annual Spend Survey finds that CMOs are holding increasing accountability for sales.”

And at the same time, CMOs must do more with less, with 44% of CMOs facing midyear budget cuts as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And 11% are chopping budgets by more than 15% according to Gartner.

All this shows in the increasingly short tenure of CMOs. The average CMO stayed in his or her position for just 41 months in 2019, down from 43 months in the prior year according to search firm Spencer Stuart.

There are plenty of underlying reasons for this pressure, including unhappy CEOs, impatient customers and a more urgent need for growth. But perhaps the best reason for CMOs to make this shift is that they finally can, leveraging the digital innovations they’ve been building over the last several years.

Many of the companies we work with say marketing is now responsible for bringing in the best potential customers and getting these eager buyers into the hands of sales at the right time. And they know they must do it cost-effectively.

Behind the Convergence of Marketing and Sales

In many ways, this isn’t new. CMOs have long tried to make it easier for sales teams to reach the right audience in the right ways. But there are several critical differences now, making digital sales acceleration an urgent mission, not just something nice to have in the marketing plan.

The first, of course, is COVID-19. It’s disrupted the selling process in many businesses, and in some industries, it’s been crippling. In organizations with high-touch, agent-assisted sales processes, personal sales calls became impossible. That’s forced a quick–and often flawed–transition to digitally powered solutions.

Second, many CMOs are aware that marketing needs to do more to spur sales growth. And armed with increasingly sophisticated digital marketing tools, they are aware they can enable sales as never before. They are targeting quick wins and longer-term payoffs through digital selling efforts, making them a primary focus in 2021.

They know returning to growth is essential, and many are aware they weren’t delivering, even before the pandemic. (Their bosses know it, too. A study from McKinsey finds that while 83% of CEOs say marketing can be a significant driver of growth, 23% don’t believe that their marketing organization delivers on that growth.)

Customers, with their continually rising expectations of digital experiences, are also driving the change. People no longer have the patience for the old-school approach to the sales funnel. In the digital age, they expect highly personalized transactions, offered in multiple channels. Forrester anticipates that more than 50% of B2B companies will realign the sales enablement function to marketing to serve these buyers better (currently at 23% as of Q3 2018), further highlighting the convergence.

Three Ways to Speed Up Digital Selling Efforts

Just because CMOs understand it’s time to shift their agenda to help with demand generation and digital selling doesn’t mean they’re clear on how. CMOs have to define new capability requirements, reconsider their organizational design and operating model, hire new skills while upskilling existing talent, and redesign customer sales and service experience.

The smartest companies start with fundamental questions about which 2021 marketing priorities are best accelerating digital selling. And they are often building initiatives in three key areas:

1. Nurture and Engagement: Moving from One-to-Many to One-to-One

These efforts prime the buying interaction through the successful deployment of relevant and personalized content. They are empowering sales with digital content that can be updated and customized with shorter lead times. And typically, they use advanced analytics and “next-best-action” logic.

2. Experience and Innovation: Bridging Journey Inconsistencies Toward a Smoother Purchase

CMOs are looking for ways to get rid of friction, framing the buying process around customer personas. They’re dissecting the buying journey to prioritize and address high-value digital pain points and opportunities. And they are investing–sometimes heavily–in service design that leverages supporting technology to improve the entire purchase experience.

3. Organization and Culture: Spanning Siloes in Integrating Workflows

These efforts focus on training specific skill development, such as social selling. Sometimes they require work on a company’s operating model and an organizational redesign, comparing the current model to new priorities and jobs to be done. They also include business-case development, pilots and reinforcing mechanisms that can transform culture and drive buy-in. And they include defining and implementing critical shared metrics, aligning the organization as a whole (and individual teams) around common goals.


CMOs should position themselves and their departments as indispensable allies to sales teams. With the goal of seamless collaboration between marketing and sales, progressive marketing organizations are deploying new capabilities for targeting, automation and intelligent lead-nurturing. And these digital tactics are creating a much greater (and measurable) impact on new business.

Prophet’s Marketing & Sales practice helps accelerate digital-selling efforts, finding quick wins and longer-term payoffs. Contact us to learn more.