July 22, 2021

Top 3 Challenges for B2B CMOs in 2022

We haven’t had a Drew-on-Drew episode in a while, so buckle in for a meta-conversation between Question-Drew and Answer-Drew for episode 250! That’s right, Renegade Thinkers Unite has reached episode two-five-zero, and with so many interviews over the years, Drew has tracked the challenges that B2B CMOs have faced as well as the solutions they’ve implemented to lead their organizations to greatness.

Pulling together these insights as well as those gleaned from Renegade Thinkers Live discussions and the confidential conversations at CMO Huddles, Drew reflects on three core issues that B2B CMOs are facing these days. Tune in to learn how CMOs are working to recruit and retain top talent, lead hybrid workforces, and preparing to meet their CEO’s growth expectations for 2022.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How to attract, win over, and keep great talent
  • How to adapt to post-pandemic changes in the way we work
  • Four growth buckets to focus on in 2022

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 250 on YouTube

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:27] The Top 3 Challenges for B2B CMOs in 2022
  • [2:36] How to Recruit and Retain Employees
  • [11:14] How to Lead a Hybrid Workforce
  • [22:37] How to Meet 2022 Growth Expectations
  • [32:54] Final Thoughts: Setting Up a Spending Model with Your CFO

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with… Drew Neisser!

[0:27] The Top 3 Challenges for B2B CMOs in 2022

The top 3 challenges for B2B CMOs right now? Retention. Leading in a hybrid workforce world. Meeting growth expectations. —@DrewNeisser #RTU Share on X

Hello, Renegade Thinkers! I think it’s important every once in a while to commemorate milestones. This is actually episode 250 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. That’s a lot. That’s like five years’ worth of episodes. I’m feeling pretty good about this. And it’s also been 20 episodes since we last spoke one on one with Drew. That’s me, of course.

The format in this one is a little funky and you’ll get used to it—I’m going to ask myself questions on one mic and answer on the other—but I want to give you a sense of what’s happened in the 20 episodes since we last spoke. I’ve recorded about 15 one-on-one podcasts. I’ve recorded another 17 Renegade Thinkers Lives, which is a live streaming show. We have three CMOs on each of those. You’ve probably heard some of those on Renegade Thinkers Unite because we rebroadcast them. We’ve also had at least 16 huddles with a bunch of CMOs. I think it’s probably over 100 have participated in the last four months.

That’s a lot of CMO conversations and unless I’ve got wax in my ears and I’m not paying attention, I suspect I’ve kind of learned a lot in the last few months, so I want to get at that. I’m going to just push myself a little bit and say, “Hey Drew, what have you learned in the last few months?” So, hang on for a second. We’re going to start first with this question…

Hey Drew, what are the three biggest challenges B2B CMOs face right now?

Well, CMOs always face a lot of challenges, but for the sake of making this show interesting, I’m going to focus on three challenges that I think are imperative for CMOs to really address.

One is retention. Two is leading in a hybrid workforce world. And three is meeting growth expectations. Those are three big challenges.

[2:36] How to Recruit and Retain Employees

“Purpose-driven companies tend to have higher retention because people feel better about their workplace.” —@DrewNeisser #RTU Share on X

Let’s get at each one of these one by one. Why is retention such a big issue right now?

Well, as I’ve talked about I think on some of the shows, and certainly written about, there’s this thing called the “sansdemic” where there’s literally a shortage of people. You can’t find people.

To understand this, it’s important to look at demographics. It’s also to look at the pandemic which reduced the workforce. In the US, in particular, you just happen to have—the number of students coming out of college is less, you have fewer international students, you have fewer H1B visas, so you basically have almost a million less people coming into the workforce.

And in the B2B world, there wasn’t really a massive layoff or any of that kind of restructuring that happened in the B2C world, particularly in travel and entertainment. Instead of having to lay people off, a lot of B2B businesses are looking to hire, so that is the big reason behind the shortage.

Okay, so what’s a smart CMO supposed to do about this talent shortage? Because you’ve got two issues. You’ve got retention as an issue, and you’ve got recruiting as an issue.

This is interesting and we’ve talked about this a lot in huddles. In fact, I think we spent the entire month of April on recruiting challenges. Every CMO I speak with has at least one employee that just quit, by the way. They just quit. They YOLO quit, or they were recruited away.

The market is so hot that folks are getting offers just as a means of getting raises. The end result is your staffing costs are going to go up, which is either going to force CMOs to do more with less people, or more with less budget for other things. We’ll get to how they’re doing that in a second.

All right, well you didn’t really answer the question that I asked so would you get back to it? What are CMOs doing about it? You’ve done a really good job of establishing the problem, but what can CMOs do? And by the way, why do they care?

First of all, let’s get at why they should care. They need to care because there’s a huge issue on a corporate level that a CMO faces. A CMO cares about brand, right? Well, employees are the front line of the brand and if you have a shortage of employees, it’s going to be harder for you in your department to deliver but it’s harder for the organization to deliver.

Also, high turnover makes it harder for you to offer a consistent brand experience. There’s that moment where you’ve got new frontline people, new SDRs. They can’t sell as well. You’ve got new customer service people. You’ve got a new marketing ops person who doesn’t know how to look at the numbers right away. All of these things are going to make it difficult for you to deliver a good brand experience.

All right, you’re still focused on the problem.

I know, I know. We’re not quite done yet. The other part of this is that empty positions will make it harder for you to meet your goals. If, say, SDRs or BDRs are in your group and you have a lot of empty slots, you’re not going to be able to make the calls to get those MQLs to SQLs to pipeline.

We’re going to focus a little bit now on what are CMOs going to do about this retention problem, how are they going to address it. Well, what’s interesting is—and this is where employees, retention, and brand come right together—CMOs are in the middle of helping organizations to find their purpose.

Purpose-driven companies tend to have higher retention because people feel better about their workplace. Conversely, if there are issues with your brand, if you have reputational issues, it is easier for employees to leave your business.

Shoring up your brand and also, by the way, awareness matters. There are all sorts of studies that have shown that people are more likely to want to work for a company that they’ve heard of than one that they haven’t. Why? Well, some of its bragging rights. You want to tell your friends you work for, like, Disney, not Joe Blow production company that nobody’s ever heard of.

Brand starts to matter a lot when it comes to both recruiting and retention, and CMOs are obviously right in the middle of this thing. This is really probably one of the bigger challenges and one of the places where all the pieces connect.

Also, by the way, when you are launching a new brand campaign, your first line of offense is getting your employees on board with the new brand. You have to get them to buy in. Well, if all these employees are—like you’re missing employees or they’re unhappy, then it’s a lot harder to make this new brand successful. So, in terms of actions—

Finally, you’re going to get to some actions that they can take.

Yeah, yeah. Okay, so what are CMOs doing to improve retention? Well, first of all, they’re recruiting in all sorts of ways. They personally are. When they have a candidate they really like, they’re making offers quickly and they’re doing things like introducing them to their CEO. You want to impress somebody, a recruit in your marketing department? Get the CEO on the call to join you and have the CEO say how important it is.

Another strategy—one CMO suggested that they reached out personally to the three people they wanted to hire and said: “You are the only person I want to hire for this job.” They did that on LinkedIn, and one CMO was able to convert all three of the people. This is you being active, not delegating.

And, of course, as I like to talk about a lot—one of the things you can start to think about doing is recruiting in places that you haven’t always recruited before, particularly if you want to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in your department, that means going to historically black colleges and universities directly. Or going to schools like, say, San Diego State or state schools where they have high levels of diversity.

You’re going to actively be involved in the recruiting process and from a retention standpoint, you’re going to make sure that this is a company with values that people want to work at and the culture of the company.

This is a big change, by the way. We used to hire for culture fit, say, “This is our culture! Come and see if you can fit!” Now we hire for culture add. And that’s a big question a lot of employees have: “Is this a place I can bring my whole, my true self?” These are all the things that CMOs are thinking about when it comes to this big, big, number one topic right now, which is recruiting and retaining top quality talent.


If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug CMO huddles for a second. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.

One CMO described Huddles as timely conversations with smart peers in a trusted environment while another called it a cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session.

If you’re a B2B CMO that can share, care, and dare that with the best of them, visit CMOHuddles.com or send me an email or ping me on LinkedIn to see if you qualify for a guest pass.

[11:14] How to Lead a Hybrid Workforce

“You're going to test and track and be agile when it comes to the management of your team.” —@DrewNeisser #RTU Share on X

Drew, you said the second challenge was a leadership challenge right now. The leadership challenge being the hybrid workforce. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Sure, so we had a huddle just the other day. It was a large group, about 16 CMOs from a wide range of B2B companies. When I asked them, “What approach you were taking?” the discussion went in this direction to the hybrid when where people going back to the office and so forth.

There were 16 different answers. One CMO noted that at their company, 100 percent of employees were being required to come back, and then another one said, “We’re going 100 percent virtual.” Let’s talk a little bit about first the extremes and then we’ll come back to the middle.

The extreme—what are you going to do if you require 100 percent of your people to come back?

Well, it’s pretty much guaranteed—unless you have the best pay in the business and/or you’re Goldman Sachs, and even then, chances are 100 percent of the people aren’t going to come back. In an employment situation like we have right now, it’s quite possible you will lose employees.

But you know what? I respect the companies that decide to go back 100 percent that’s their call. If they think it’s important to the culture, if they think it’s a competitive advantage to have employees go back, then that’s great. And that the nice thing about that policy is it’s very clear: If you want to work for this company, you’re going to go.”

What about the company that went 100 percent virtual?

That’s a really interesting approach as well. It’s certainly one that Renegade is planning to do, and one of the reasons is our employees really like it. Yes, there’s the fact that you don’t have overhead and yes, there’s the issue of collaboration that you have to work, really, really hard around.

But what’s fascinating is—and this is something that, again, I asked this group of folks and have asked others—productivity is not correlated with time in the office. In fact, one CMO in our huddle this week noted that they had already started bringing people back to the office and those people that were coming back to the office were less productive.

One reason, interestingly enough, was they weren’t working as many hours because they were commuting back and forth, so I thought that was pretty interesting. If you look at your own behavior and you check your team, what you may see is, a lot of us have been working longer hours because we can. We don’t have our commutes and we’ve just taken that commute time and turned it into office time. That may not be the healthiest answer or the best thing for everybody long-term, but that’s what’s happened.

Drew, you mentioned that there were a lot of other hybrid models. Let’s talk about those and then let’s talk about some of the implications that go with that.

Let me give you some examples. One company was surveying the employees and giving them the flexibility. They wanted everybody to be in the office two days a week, another company wanted everybody in the office three days a week, some four days a week. And it really depends.

Those companies that are mandating a certain number of days a week in the office are already getting pushback from the employees who elected to move somewhere else, which is not that insignificant a number. So, if you are forcing people to come back and they don’t want to come back, again, you have to assume that they’re not going to want to come back and that’s going to create a problem.

Now, if you say you have to come back, but you make exceptions, I think that’s a problem. I think you’ve got to be consistent with this thing. Whatever the rules are, if you’re saying you’ve got to be in the office two days a week, then you have to hold everybody to that.

And if you make exceptions, then everybody who doesn’t want to work in the office can raise their hand say, “Hey, Drew, I want to work remote all the time.”

So why am I spending so much time [on this], why is this is such an interesting and challenging topic?

Yeah, let me ask that question. So, Drew, why are we spending so much time on the hybrid workplace and why should the CMO care?

Well, there are a lot of implications for this. One, offices used to be a source of culture. The game room, the water cooler, the free lunches. These were things that enriched the employee experience. If you’re going to bring some of those back, that’s great.

But if you don’t have those anymore, you now as a leader have to be thinking, again, “Oh, all right. They’re in the office two days a week, they’re away three days a week—how does that affect the way we communicate and collaborate?” And this is really going to be a big issue.

For example, you’re the CMO, and you go back to the office three times a week. Your savvy number two’s that report to you—your operations person, your data person, your head of SDRs—all decide to come back the same days you do. Which is going to be very convenient, but you have one outlier that just says, “You know what, I’m going to work remote.” Your creative lead.

How are you going to make sure that you’re not showing favoritism? How are you going to make sure that you’re actually tracking your behavior? What’s going to happen is there are these sidebar conversations and you’re going to get an idea from the person who’s right there and you’re going to implement that idea and you’re going to make a mental note, “That was so great to get that idea from that person.”

And you got that feedback and they got feedback from you. You as a CMO have to now be thinking about—I need a plan for every one of my employees, regardless of whether they are virtual all the time, present all the time. You’re going to overcompensate for the ones that aren’t present. You’re going to over-communicate. These are things that you didn’t really have to worry about before that I think are going to be so important.

And again, if we say that office was part of culture and culture is part of brand, this hybrid flexibility is also going to be part of brand. It’s going to be how you are perceived, so a lot of companies are going to find their Glassdoor ratings are going to plummet if they force people back or they don’t handle this right.

And that Glassdoor rating, while it will hurt you on recruiting, it can also hurt you on sales because some people do go and check. You want to buy from companies that have satisfied employees.

There’s another thing that’s here that is tricky that I’m by no means an expert on, but we’re in uncharted territory with a hybrid workforce because of the psychological impact of the pandemic. There is a deepening mental health crisis, and CMOs need to be on top of this, they need to understand how to balance the pressure they have on their roles with these other realities.

What’s very tricky is, if you have remote employees, it’s hard to get the body language over these Zoom calls. Just keep that in mind that this is still a very stressful time for a lot of people.

I think the way you need to think about your—let’s assume you’re in the hybrid world—you’re going to test your way through this. You’re going to track and monitor it like you would any marketing campaign. You’re going to test and track and be agile when it comes to the management of your team.

And again, because you are a chief as a chief marketing officer, you’re thinking about the broader employee picture and how this is impacting the brand. So if you don’t have an employee survey in place that’s tracking at least twice a year, probably a really good idea to do that now and make sure you have measures in there that speak to this environmental job satisfaction. That this is a company that cares about me, that wants me to succeed regardless of where I’m working.

All right, I think I’ve beaten that one up. Oh, I haven’t really—

Drew, do you have any last thoughts on this leadership in a hybrid world?

Hah, guess what, I do! A few things that enlightened CMOs can do in this hybrid world. One of the things is rose to the surface— a lot of CMOs realized, “Whoa, I gotta be more empathetic.” This was very early on in the pandemic, but it’s here to stay. That empathy that you developed during it, you really have to stay on that. Listening, well, never goes out of style.

When it comes to hybrid, this rule still applies: You’re the leader. Delegate. Only do the things that only you can do. What can only you do? Set the vision, lead by example, focus on a few big things.

And lastly in this leadership thing—you’re going to track performance reviews relative to where people are and how many days they’re in the office or how much they are remoting so that you can be fair.

[22:37] How to Meet 2022 Growth Expectations

Four important growth levers for 2022 from @DrewNeisser on #RTU: Current Customers, New Geographies/Verticals, Partnerships, Acquisitions Share on X

Let’s talk about meeting growth expectations. What do you really mean there? Try to get some specifics here.

One of the things that we are talking about in the month of July in CMO Huddles is the fact that the economy has been very strong and it is quite likely that boards of directors right now are saying to their CEOs, “What’s your growth plan for 2022, and how are you going to grow beyond what you’re doing now?”

What’s the CEO going to do? They’re going to go to every one of their folks and say, “I want to see 2X. I know you did great in 2021, you did plus 50 percent. I want 2X of that.” When you hear that kind of expectation, meeting those growth expectations is going to be, I think, a huge challenge for CMOs in 2022.

That’s obvious. Growth expectations are always an issue. How are they going to break this down?

All right, we’re gonna break it down. We can put growth into a number of buckets. We could start with customers. We can say we want to sell more to our current customers. Upsell and cross-sell them.

That is part of a growth strategy, and the way I want to think about this for the purposes of the podcast is—I want you to have three or four [buckets/growth levers], and let’s say for the argument’s sake, you have four. Each is going to give you 25 percent of your total growth goal.

Number one, we’re going to get 25 percent more growth through customer upsell, cross-sell. How are we going to do that? We’re going to focus on customer engagement.

We are going to really deliver value to those customers. We’re going to educate them, we’re going to be ahead of them, we’re going to be thinking about the problems that they have in their world, and we’re going to be helping them.

We’re going to set up customer advisory boards if you don’t already have one of those. We’re going to set up community channels. All of these things are a way to make sure that your customers are ready to be advocates on your behalf, ready to provide referrals, ready to provide product input so that when you go back to them to upsell and cross-sell, they’re going to be ready and willing to do that.

Is that all it takes to grow your internal customers?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a customer satisfaction survey in place. I know a lot of—I’m blanking on the term… Oh, executive sponsors! That’s another thing that you should think about doing as the CMO. How about having four or five customers that you are responsible for. You’re the neck that they can choke so you have a direct line with customers. You can pick the phone and you’re checking in on a regular basis, on a quarterly basis.

We’re talking about customers; we’re going to get a 25 percent increase from them. That’s a big number, right? That’s going to be 25 percent of your total growth. That’s a big number, but if you really focus on them, another good thing could happen—you could increase referrals.

Okay, Drew, so we’re going to take customers as the number one growth lever. What’s another one?

Well, the next one is to expand your market by either going to new geographies or, say, new verticals. Both of those are viable. We’ve been talking a lot about those in CMO Huddles.

Let’s break those down. From a geography standpoint, US-based companies are thinking, “Well, let’s go to Europe or let’s go to Asia. Let’s even go to China,” which was a conversation that came up in a huddle yesterday.

I want to make sure that if we talk about this, we recognize that if you’re going to try to grow in geographies outside of the US, it’s not an “Oh, you can just get there and grow it.” There’s an investment that you’re going to need to make.

One of the growth strategies for this that came up in a huddle yesterday, which I thought was really smart is—your customers who you have in the US who are multinational are likely to take your product to their other divisions if you happen to be a software or sometimes even a different kind of service organization.

They’ll take you with them, so if you already have users—your domestic, US ones are using you in Europe—that’s a good place to build from. If you don’t, you really want to think about that and see if you can go back to step one, which was your current customers, and seeing if you can get them to use you in different markets.

Another shortcut to getting into new geographies is partnerships. We’re going to talk about that as a specific growth strategy, but partners is often a way to leapfrog into geographies without having to set up the infrastructure. If you put geographic growth on your growth plan, you’re going to look at a longer-term payout. It’s just going to happen.

I would say that if you’re looking at geographies as a growth strategy and not doing it through partnerships, you’re going to have a tougher time making that one quarter of your total growth goal.

You mentioned geographies, but you also talked about new markets. What’s the story with that?

This is a case for vertical marketers who, let’s say they’ve been targeting manufacturing and pharma, and now they want to get into a parallel category. That’s a really smart growth strategy.

There, again, you can use ABM, you can get into some new markets, assuming that your product—maybe you have to make an adjustment to your product or service to prove that you can do it, maybe you have to pilot it with an eager customer to get a beachhead in that market.

And you know how to get into new markets, you’ve been doing that pretty much your whole career. That is a viable growth strategy, just keep in mind that you’re going to have fewer customers to refer, so you’re going to be relying on saying, “Hey, it’s relevant to pharma and manufacturing, so it’s going to be relevant to your category too.” You’re just gonna have to find that bridge.

Alright, so we’ve got customers as a growth strategy. We’ve got new markets/geographies. What else?

Well, obviously, new products. We’re going to expand our portfolio and that will allow us to go back to existing customers and sell them more, which is great. And also, maybe that’ll allow us to go into new verticals.

Marketing increasingly has the ability through their product marketing team—and if you have a customer advisory board—you have an opportunity to drive product like never before. Again, if you don’t have a CAB, a customer advisory board, get one. If you don’t have a community of users, get one. Those things will set up this ability to get to new products.

New products are obviously an opportunity to do it. If you can pilot those things this year, so you can build them into your plan next year…

You got any more growth strategies?

You betcha. Partnering—I’ve already mentioned that. This notion of better together—and this has come up a lot lately in huddles—is doubling down on partnerships. You may have already had that on your list, you have an email analytics tool and you want to partner with a large email service provider…great, that makes a lot of sense.

But maybe there are ways that you can do more with that partner. Maybe you can pitch together, maybe you can go to new geographies, maybe you can launch a better integrated product. All the things that we’ve already talked about before. Maybe you can have a special customer advisory board for those partners.

Anyway, revisit your partnerships. Don’t take those for granted. There are oftentimes when huge companies can get in the door faster than you can and are credible and your solution works better together.

What else you got?

Well, one strategy is acquisitions. That certainly is a growth strategy. I’m not going to spend any time on that because most of the time CMOs only get involved with acquisitions after the fact, in terms of how they are going to brand this, and it becomes a challenge later. But we’ve dealt with that in other episodes.

There’s one last thing I want you to think about.

What is that one last thing, Drew?

Well, the one last thing I want you to think about—actually, there are two. New efficiencies and new economies. While we’re going to try to double our volume, double our pipeline, if you will, we’re also going to be able to try to improve efficiencies. This may also solve your personnel challenges.

If you can find certain technologies that make you more efficient—it’s hard, but they’re out there. I don’t have any magic of recommendations at this moment, but there are some that will make your marketing more efficient, make your team more efficient.

I think it is worth saying 10 percent of our growth is going to come because we were able to reduce costs, or at least we were going to move money off of personnel and put it back into working media.

[32:54] Final Thoughts: Setting Up a Spending Model with Your CFO

“If for every dollar you spend you can get $3 in pipeline or $10 in pipeline, why would a CFO say no?’ —@DrewNeisser #RTU Share on X

It feels like there’s something missing in this that hasn’t come up in your CMO Huddles conversations. Is there?

I’m so glad that you asked that. One of the things that hasn’t come up, and I think this is a really big one that I want to throw out there. Now is the time, if you haven’t done this already, to sit down with your CFO and say, “Let’s build a spending model, such that”—and I’m really thinking mainly about working media more than other things. But we could expand it and say, “We want to create a model such that, if we spend $1, we get 3x return in pipeline, then we can keep spending.”

You’re going to need the board approval of this, or your CEO’s approval and you need the CFO. But let’s put it this way. If for every dollar you spend you can get $3 in pipeline or $10 in pipeline, why would a CFO say no? They wouldn’t.

If you don’t have this spending model in place, how are you defending your budget? Yes, you’re saying, “Well I’m delivering 30 percent or 70 percent or 90 percent of pipeline.” And that’s really good, but why are we still fighting for budget in those circumstances?

Let’s figure out and put on the plan—this could be something that could be 25 to 50 percent growth—you’re going to look for the accelerator. And that accelerator, when you add gas, the car goes forward. You know that’s going to happen. You know what happens in a car. Why can’t we do that with our marketing? If we increase the spending, the business grows faster.

That’s the thought that I wanted to leave with you today.

That’s pretty interesting, Drew, thanks for sharing that.

Well, you’re welcome. That brings us to the end of this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, as always, I would love it if you went to your favorite podcast channel and gave us five stars, wrote a review, shared it with a friend.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius.

To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing boutique in New York City, visit renegade.com. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Note: For more insights on what digital marketing companies are up thinking about for 2022, visit DesignRush.com.