It’s Time for CMOs to Lead Strategic Planning from the Outside In

By Sheryl Pattek, Vice President, Principal Analyst Serving CMO Professionals, Forrester

There’s a particle accelerator in the basement of one of the most celebrated art museums in the world — the Louvre. It’s a piece of technology in the most unlikely of places that produces helium and nitrogen beams from a single source to reveal layers of work that are invisible to the human eye.

Why would the Louvre have invested in and put such unconventional technology to work? The better question is, “Why not?” Rather than go on a competitive hunt for more masterpieces, the Louvre devised a strategy to make the most of the assets it had. Staff members were determined to put themselves in the mind of the masters, to think outside in, and to imagine how their artists might have used their precious (and difficult-to-come-by) canvases in more ways than one. Could they discover new treasures that would fuel the Louvre’s leadership in the art world?

Putting its strategy to the test, the Louvre used the accelerator to undercover five lost images from the masterpieces of famous artists from Picasso to van Gogh. The device revealed several layers of images that had been painted over in the final version of the painting. No one knew they were there. By putting an unconventional artist-centric strategy in place, the Louvre harnessed its greatest assets. It armed that strategy with the right technology and a scientific approach to uncover the hidden story that lay beneath the surface of a painting.

In the same way, it’s time for CMOs to lead the transformation of their firm’s strategic planning process to an outside-in perspective focused on the customer.

We have accelerated into the age of the customer, where technology-empowered customers create imbalances that now reshape industries. Your firm no longer has absolute power over its customers; to survive, your company — and your business strategy — must become customer-obsessed.

At Forrester, we believe a customer-obsessed enterprise focuses its strategy and its budget on the technologies, systems, and processes that win, serve, and retain customers. Fail to help your firm adapt to increasingly powerful customers, and you risk more than near-term disruption — you risk your company’s long-term viability.

As we outlined in our “Predictions 2015: CMOs Boldly Reach For More Influence In The Enterprise” report, it’s time for CMOs to lead the enterprise shift toward the customer, starting with their strategic planning process. Get your strategic plan right and aligned to the customer, and you’ve taken an important first step toward customer obsession.

Our new report, “Revamp Strategic Planning From The Outside In,” provides three ways that CMOs must step up to serve as the customer advocate in the C-suite by shaping business strategy to deliver more value to customers, generate greater loyalty, and produce better business results. But, CMOs, you can’t do this alone. To succeed, you must collaborate effectively with your CIO and business unit (BU) leaders to build unified strategies and a shared business technology (BT) agenda designed to win, serve, and retain customers. Here’s how:

  • Center strategic planning on the customer life cycle. Your customers have an ongoing relationship with your business, which Forrester calls the customer life cycle. You must spur your executive peers to use the customer life cycle as a framework to shape strategic planning decisions from the outside in and measure the impact of their decisions on customer loyalty.
  • Feed strategic planning a diet of customer insight. Determining the optimum choices among various potential strategies should not be left to intuition. Instead, as the voice of the customer at the C-suite table, you must feed the strategic planning process a diet of customer insight built from data and analytics. To succeed, you must partner with your CIO to create a complete view of customer behavior.
  • Tag-team with CIOs to drive customer obsession through BT. Technology empowers your customers and also powers your ability to deliver new competitive advantage. You must help the executive team understand that improving customer experiences and competing for customer loyalty demands new more BT-centric competencies — something the CIO cannot do alone. Work closely with your CIO to ensure that your company’s supporting BT architecture and investment priorities align to drive customer value and loyalty.
  • Help your CIO elevate technology’s role in delivering customer value. Your CIO can connect the dots between technology and your need to satisfy customer desires across every stage of the customer life cycle. Encourage your CIO to bring her technology perspective to the executive team to help shape strategies that support world-class customer experiences.
  • Help BU leaders make strategic planning a continuous process. Strategic planning must evolve into a continuous process in order to take advantage of rapidly emerging opportunities. BU leaders, including eBusiness leaders, need to ensure that the firm continuously reviews and tests its strategic choices and assumptions. Flag changes in customer behaviors and expectations early so that strategy choices can be retested and adjusted.

To help your organization prosper in the age of the customer, it’s up to you, the CMO, to take on the responsibility of transforming your organization’s strategic planning process by placing the customer at its core. You must educate your peers, reveal the world of future possibilities, and prepare the company to make the strategic changes it needs to deliver customer value today and into the future.

The time is now. The opportunity is yours. What are you waiting for?

How are you adapting your strategic planning process to the customer? I’d love to hear your comments and perspectives about this topic. Please reach out to me via email, on my blog, or at my Twitter account with your thoughts.