Next-Gen B2B CMO How to grab a seat at the big table

Kim Metcalf-Kupres – VP and CMO of Johnson Controls

Kim Metcalf-Kupres, CMO, Johnson Controls, with Bob Domenz, CEO of Avenue

Kim Metcalf-Kupres of Johnson Controls is part of a leading edge of a new breed of B2B CMOs—those who’ve grabbed a seat at the corporate strategy table and are regarded as essential growth drivers, not simply marketing communicators.

I had a chance to interview Kim for my B2B CMO column on innovation, an article which unfortunately couldn’t include her equally compelling comments on how she secured her place as a strategic CMO, and what’s required for other marketers to prepare and step up to the demands of the next generation of marketing. Here’s what she had to say.

Bob Domenz: Can you describe your path to your current position, and to how you function in it?

Kim Metcalf-Kupres: My role as CMO is a relatively new officer position for Johnson Controls. I was appointed to this office in May of 2013 – and we’d never had a chief marketing officer in the company before. It was a profound step for the organization, and a really purposeful one.

“What we really have to get serious about is growth.”

As an industrial company our core strengths are in operations and engineering, and really running and driving the operating businesses around our technical solutions and products. It is very much a B2B model. However, there was a growing appreciation that we’ve done a tremendous amount to optimize the performance of our core businesses. What we really have to get serious about is growth.

The growth strategies for the company need to come by a presence in new markets, presence with new products and offerings. In adjacent business spaces that are very, very accessible from our current positions but also some that are associated with megatrends from an outside-in perspective that are going to be very disruptive over the next ten to twenty years.

There was a really strong appreciation by our CEO at the time to say, “We need to be thinking much more outside-in. We need to be really focused in making strong investments in our ability to grow both organically and inorganically, and there has to be a very integrated view.” Consequently, my charter is a really broad one that includes strategy, business transformation, innovation, marketing and sales capabilities.

Bob: But I’m guessing that the road to this role took you through much more than marcom and sales support.

Kim: Yes. My path to this chair involved over twenty years with the company, allowing me to have many different experiences. That built credibility and gave the executive team confidence that I’d be able to come into a role and have it strongly connected to the business objectives and the strategies that we were pursuing and be able to drive results.

“The challenge for the next generation of marketing leadership is that marketing has to become much more tightly tied to business results.”

I think this is a fairly stark contrast to a lot of traditional CMOs who have always been about advertising or lead generation, with a limited voice and a limited seat at the strategy table. They struggle to transform that voice because they haven’t had the business experiences to be credible.

I think the challenge for the next generation of marketing leadership is that marketing has to become much more tightly tied to business results. It’s not about justifying your advertising budget anymore. It’s about really understanding and participating in the execution of the business objectives. I find that far more satisfying and far more encouraging for the discipline as a whole.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to work and exchange ideas with people like Beth Comstock [of GE] and others where they’ve had that role at the table, not only talking from a marketing strategy perspective, but where they’re talking business strategy. I think that’s where the true marketing leadership of the future is really going to be, and I’m proud and happy to be part of it.

Three things you can do to become a next-gen marketer

Particularly if you’re not working in a marketing-savvy, Fortune 500 setting, it’s easy to look at a high-profile B2B marketer like Kim and say, “Yeah, but she’s got the budget… her organization has the vision…what have I got?”

Judging from my experience working closely with middle market B2B CMOs, the answer is that every B2B marketer, especially senior marketers, can take a giant leap toward a more strategic business role by pursuing three basic avenues:

1. Expand your skill set.
This may seem like Career 101, but the more you keep learning—especially in an environment of constant change—the more valuable you become. Your leadership is looking for answers to an increasingly bewildering set of questions, whether it’s how to make sense of Big Data, what content marketing really is and does, what the ROI of your digital investment is, or any number of other vexing issues. Be the one to “unvex” your CEO and you will find yourself invited to more and more meetings beyond your usual brief.

Learning can be structured and traditional—most of the better business schools have excellent executive education programs that offer specialized seminars on single topics, as well as full-fledged degree programs—but it can and should also be informal, collaborative and peer-to-peer… much as we are doing here at the B2B Brand Council.

2. Own the crossroads of cross-functionality.
People have been talking about breaking down silos for years now—and most silos are still standing tall and all too proud, hampering efficiency, innovation and overall competitiveness. Fostering cross-functional cooperation is the fastest way to break down those persistent barriers, and marketers are often in the best position to facilitate the cross-over of needs and abilities. Product launch is one excellent example—by assembling, motivating and assumptively running a cross-functional product launch team, you will not only improve your chances of success dramatically, but you will also take give your organization a valuable experience of the benefit—to all—of working more closely and seamlessly.

3. Make a little proof go a long way.
Consider the advice of B2B Brand Council member Sandy Howe, Senior Vice President of ARRIS, in terms of how to build business credibility with your leadership. She says, “One of the things that I believe has made our team as successful in working with all the executives internally is that we’ve pursued a lot of that “build it and they will come” approach. In other words, we look for small trials, small successes that are highly measurable, and then prove them out.”

There’s nothing like proof—even small-scale proof—that your thinking can create revenue (and, better yet, drive profitable growth) if you want to get the corner office’s attention and confidence.

About Kim Metcalf-Kupres: Kim is the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Johnson Controls, where she is responsible for all marketing functions, including. strategy, innovation, product management, sales and communications.

About Bob Domenz: Bob is CEO of Avenue, the B2B marketing strategy and activation firm. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the B2B Brand Council.