Lessons in sales and marketing from Unilever abandoning its role as CMO

In early April, one of the world’s largest advertisers announced that it was ending its role as chief marketing officer (CMO). Instead, Unilever named its first digital and commercial manager to reflect the “blurring” of the boundaries between digital marketing and commerce.

Unilever’s bombshell came on the heels of B2C brands such as Uber, McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson as well shelving CMO roles.

So does this mean the beginning of the end for marketers? And how can we use this information when planning the next exercise?

Unilever’s decision reflects trends I see in the industry as founder and CEO of Sales Redefined. In B2B, we see the best results with teams that bridge the gap between sales and marketing, preventing a leaky funnel to create a lead generation journey from awareness to conversion to paying customer.

Traditionally, there has been a break in this journey where marketing teams are responsible for the first half and sales are responsible for the second half. We know that over 50% of sales reps don’t respond to marketing leads, and nine out of 10 sales and marketing professionals don’t think there’s alignment.

Unilever’s move is an effort to bridge that gap between the teams and give ownership to the entire journey under one roof.

But I don’t think we’re seeing the disappearance of the CMO role just yet. Marketing has become such a broad function and includes everything from social media and SEO to PR and branding.

There is still a huge set of skills that brands and businesses need.

However, what we are seeing is shifting responsibilities and closing the gap where historically there has been a divide.

Not just a divide in culture, but also a divide in goals and how success is measured.

While the move towards deeper alignment and integration has long been underway, COVID-19 has accelerated this process, accelerating digital transformation by three to five years as consumers demand greater digital interactions.

The B2C industry has quickly adapted to meet these needs, while the Gartner Future of Sales 2025 report predicts that by 2025, 80% of B2B business interactions between suppliers and buyers will take place through digital channels.

It’s time to align sales and marketing

What does all this mean for the new exercise? This means that we must prepare for this change now.

According to our own research, only 8% of companies have strong alignment between their sales and marketing teams. Those who do generate 209% more revenue. It’s a huge incentive to jump on the alignment train.

As you plan for fiscal 2023, alignment needs to be a top priority, and it needs to happen from day one. This means bringing your sales and marketing teams together for an initial brainstorming and planning session, and asking them the following key questions:

  • Where do you win?
  • Where do you see the greatest demand and why?
  • Where are you losing?
  • What are the main questions that prospects ask you?
  • What are the biggest challenges your customers face?

By understanding on both sides where the biggest opportunities lie, and then bringing them together, that’s where you’ll start to see success.

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