Thoughts on being a successful ecommerce CMO today

May 6, 2020
In 2010, online advertising was basically just Google. That was a pretty big shift for marketers and ecommerce CMOs, who had to go from traditional advertising and television to digital. It required a whole new skillset. A new way of writing, working with data, utilizing technology. Then there was retargeting - Facebook, Criteo, social media. Then outreach transformed with Linkedin, automation, and access to huge amounts of data. Marketing requires a huge number of hugely different skills.
For CMOs these changes can represent a pretty big hurdle. No one can keep on top of all these things (at least most of us can’t). However, the one thing that has kept me going, week after week, is learning from others. Sometimes it’s a networking group. Sometimes it’s a roundtable or simply a squad of execs and marketers who want to chat. There may be no way to skip the line or “hack” your way into becoming a better CMO, but these groups have helped me with just about everything else.
Given all of the changes and uncertainty happening right now, it seems to be a good time to sit down and share my own learnings and story here. So let’s cut to the chase and get into what I’ve found to be the biggest drivers of success for a CMO in ecommerce today.
Here’s what I’ve noticed and what I try to focus on myself.

#1 Be tech-driven

It’s never just an extra gadget here or a bit of automation there. Successful teams build funnels from the ground up with technology in mind. It’s an entire system. Zalando did this perfectly, integrating tech teams right into the marketing department. They knew that algorithms and hard data were needed to drive success, and that’s exactly what happened.
I’m lucky to have done ad tech in the past, as it helps me understand the technical space much better. A CMO doesn’t need to be a tech expert, but you do have to put your marketing ego aside a little and see what technology and data can do for you.

#2 Embrace being cross-departmental

Ten years ago, I never thought I would be the one to build up a BDR team from scratch, but now I’ve done it. And so are many others in my position. Especially in B2B, the funnel has become extremely long, and that means marketing needs to have a deep relationship with every other department.
Product roadmap, pricing, and other traditionally non-marketing topics are always on my radar. They are the CMO’s business and a CMO has a duty to take these topics on. You know the customer, and you see how they engage with your brand. That knowledge should be shared, even if it feels out of your comfort zone.

#3 Speak IT

Coding is a language, just like everything else. We often think of ecommere as flashy ads and the occasional tech stack, but it’s really all built around code. I wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of the industry changes and opportunities that occur if I didn’t speak an amount of code.
At the end of the day, I need to know that I can use the software in front of me. If I need something done ASAP, I can use a bit of Python and make it happen. A little goes a long way here, and you can start to understand platforms and tools that before might have been too difficult.

#4 Think long-term

I talk a lot about TikTok. Right now, our main audience is definitely not on TikTok. But our next generation of users might be. Technology is moving so quickly that the next generation, who will become part of your target audiences in the very near future, might be on completely, totally different channels than the ones you use now.
It’s not that you have to get on TikTok to stay relevant. But I try to always look at what’s next. How do big trends and buzzwords affect me, and is it maybe a little more important than I first thought?

#5 Listen

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned the most by putting myself out there, finding and taking part in different types of groups. Whether you prefer traditional networking, educational roundtables, or more personal gatherings, you have to surround yourself with people who can surprise you.
In fact, I get some of my best insights by talking to competitors. It can be a lot of time investment, but I like to think it pays off.
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Marcel Hollerbach
Board Member & Demand Generation