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Tenure of The Average Chief Marketing Officer is Just 26 Months: Why That's Great News for Printers

A couple of years ago,

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: October 6, 2008

A couple of years ago, the tenure of a CMO at a major company was revealed to be 23.2 months; the latest report that I can find from executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart is that it is now 26.8 months.

The printing industry has been advised for many years to concentrate its selling efforts outside corporate purchasing departments and go directly to marketers and communicators. Is that good advice when the people in those positions are constantly changing? Whether it's 23.2 years or 26.8, it's not long. In my experience, it takes six months for a new executive to become familiar with their environment, another six months to accurately diagnose problems with all of their subtleties and implications, and another six months to show progress. Eight months later it seems, they are gone.

This lack of stability in client company personnel can be problematic. That's not always great news, but it certainly can be.

First, if you are a new vendor, it takes considerable time to start the selling process of introducing your company and breaking down pre-existing business relationships to induce them to try your offering. You often have to wait until current suppliers fail before you get your own opportunity to work with that client. (Reminds me of the old saw about the bad sales rep who said “I've never messed up one of your orders. All I want is a chance.”)

Second, the players are always changing. Because selling outside the purchasing department requires knowing decision-makers, influencers, gatekeepers, and others, a more complex network of relationships needs to be created and maintained. Understanding that network and nurturing those relationships takes time and effort. Many printers feel that they should keep selling to purchasing departments because they perceive that there is greater stability and certainty in those relationships, and the costs of selling using other strategies may have greater risk and higher, uncertain costs, with longer sales cycles.

Printers who sell to traditional positions like purchasing managers are making a tradeoff which may be justified in their minds. What they give up in lower selling prices, is balanced by lower and more predictable sales costs. Some in the printing industry may consider the lack of interest in selling to non-purchasing personnel to be a lack of sophistication and a weakness in the sales practices of printers.

It may actually be an economic decision based on a realistic acknowledgment of their inability and lack of resources to execute a grander strategy, Indeed, the marketplace rewarded such a production-oriented sales strategy in the past, but things are not that way anymore. The marketplace does not reward such activity today.

Multi-tier selling is critical in this current business environment. It offers a more balanced view of the client. It provides for better client communication when there is a change of command. This can benefit the incumbent as well as a new salesperson, when the changing of the guard opens the window for new opportunities.

Why is short CMO tenure “good” for the printing industry?

It's only “good” if the opportunities that are created by the disruption are taken. There is intense pressure on new CMOs to perform and have early successes. They need ideas. They need a mix of continuity from the prior office-holder, and they need to stop things that were no longer working (which is presumably why the prior CMO was replaced). Most of all, they need to have a measurable, almost immediate, positive impact on their company's sales volume.

Knowing past communication campaigns, even those worked on by competitive printing companies, and their effect is important. How well do you know the range of printed materials used in the marketing departments of prospect and client companies? Do you have a sense of what the client's competitors are doing? Your role as a supplier can be immensely helpful to a new CMO.

A change in CMO is often the precursor to a change in ad agency, public relations firm, and the company's network of freelancers. How well do you know those resources? Can you recommend new ones to the fresh CMO for them to consider?

Finally, a change in CMO often means a change in media. How equipped is your company to discuss the use of print? ...how print works with other media? ...new uses of print? ... effectiveness of print? ...the ROI of print? Can you supply the links to non-print media that the company may need?

All of these questions can only be answered when the printing business is viewed as an expert in these areas. Competence in graphic communications has to extend well past the production floor for the printer to be viewed as a credible advisor in these matters. Value-added is not a task performed for an extra fee; value-added is an established mutually profitable relationship between peers.

Marketing is supposed to be a long-range strategic activity that permeates an organization. Yet, with the average CMO tenure at little more than two years, it is clear that marketing is far more tactical today. Print is a superb tactical medium. Printers who actively participate in the transitional changes when a new CMO arrives can have a significant advantage over competitors who do not. And, since that CMO may leave for a new position in two years, that former CMO may take the proactive relationship that was created to their next assignment. In that case, what you do today is preparing you for a new relationship two years from now where you'll never have to make a cold call. And if you're having trouble getting into a company today... don't worry, that person will be gone, on average, in 26.8 months.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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