January 18, 2024

Make CMO Life a Little Less Difficult in 2024

An “invisible” B2B recession, budget cuts, and short-termism… it’s not easy being CMO. 

In this special episode hosted by Julie Livingston on her show, PR Patter, as Drew tackles these timely challenges head on. This episode isn’t just about weathering the storm; it’s about charting a course to innovation and long-term triumph. We’ll explore how to invigorate your marketing strategy, reallocate budgets, and rethink how marketing and sales work together.

Let’s turn obstacles into opportunities and set the stage for a year where being a CMO doesn’t just mean leading marketing—it means leading the market! Here’s to a fantastic 2024.  

What You’ll Learn 

  • How B2B marketers can flourish in 2024 
  • How to avoid short-termism  
  • Which trends marketers should keep an eye on

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 380 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [4:21] Why is life so difficult for B2B CMOs? 
  • [8:04] From boring to innovative 
  • [11:04] The evolving role of Sales 
  • [13:29] Reallocating your budget  
  • [15:57] Short-termism vs. The 3-year plan  
  • [17:46] Be the Chief Market Officer 
  • [19:54] Pay special attention to: First-party data + Q&As  
  • [24:34] Invest in your people

Highlighted Quotes  

“There’s an epic battle and there always has been for mind space. That’s what we’re trying to do as marketers—get locked in, stand for something. You need some real estate in the brain.” —Drew Neisser, CEO & Founder of CMO Huddles 

“What if every salesperson was no longer a salesperson, but a product expert?” —Drew Neisser, CEO & Founder of CMO Huddles

“What do great marketers do? Great marketers create big brands that stick in the mind, and they often do it by creating markets.” —Drew Neisser, CEO & Founder of CMO Huddles 

Full Transcript: Julie Livingston in conversation with Drew Neisser


Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Well, it turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have more in common than you think. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle, over 352 B2B CMOs come together and support each other via CMO Huddles. If you’re a B2B marketer who could share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program and of course, our robust Leader Program, neither of which requires penguins hat. Thank goodness, join us. And before we get to this episode, let me do a quick shout out to the professionals that share your genius. We started working with them over a year ago to make this show even better and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing renegade Drew Neisser.  

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. Every 10th episode, I like to share some of the things I’ve learned over the previous two and a half months via CMO Huddles. In this case, we’re featuring an interview I just did with Julie Livingston on December 19, on her show PR Patter. In it, we discuss, among other things, why being a B2B CMO is particularly challenging right now, and a few strategies that should help you all cut through in 2024. I hope you enjoy it.

Julie: Good morning, everyone. I’m Julie Livingston of Want Leverage Communications. And today I have a bonus episode of PR Patter, my weekly show where I chat with the phenomenal marketing and communications people from across my network. Today I’m having a special guest. It’s because I think that B2B CMOs really need to think differently in 2024. So I’d like to welcome Drew Neisser to the broadcast of CMO Huddles. There are only two people in the whole world who have interviewed more CMOs than Drew. He’s published two books, over 370 podcast episodes, and more than 500 articles, which give him a vast reservoir of case histories he draws upon when coaching CMOs one on one, or via CMO Huddles, the B2B CMO community that he created. CMO Huddles also allowed Drew to close Renegade, the agency he founded and ran for 30 years, which you might be familiar with, and relaunched it as a media brand that supports the CMO community. He’s the author of 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, a finalist for the ANA’s Marketing Book of the Year. And the CMO’s Periodic Table. Drew is an Ad Age contributor and he’s written the CMO Spotlight column for a decade and is ranked one of LinkedIn’s top 15 voices in marketing, which is just so incredibly impressive. So welcome, Drew. 

Drew: Well, it’s great to be here, Julie, thank you so much for having me and doing your show.

Julie: So why is life so difficult for B2B CMOs? I hear this all the time. And to get started, I actually asked ChatGPT about it. And here are some of the reasons that they came back to me with: complex sales cycles, which tend to be cycles tend to be longer and more intricate; aligning sales and marketing efforts; ROI measurement, well, that’s with all marketing, it’s just very difficult; content creation, and we’re going to talk about that in a minute about how B2B CMOs can really get more innovative next year in their content. Technology integration, keeping up with trends, global market challenges, proving the value of marketing, well, that’s included in ROI, and managing their budget constraints. But I want to hear from you about innovation. Because first of all, I love your penguin. I love how you equate the CMO Huddle to the penguin. So I think you should put on your penguin hat.  

Drew: Oh, all right, we can do that. Okay. There we go. All right, I am here as penguin in chief. Where’s the thing? It’s not just silliness. And it is silly. It turns out that a group of penguins is called a Huddle. So that’s number one. It also turns out the penguins are amazing teamwork, problem-solving birds that are incredibly resilient. In fact, the newsletter for this month is about 10 things that B2B CMOs can learn from penguins. And it’s amazing parallel. So I put on this hat because I want to make the point that we’re going to get to, which is B2B doesn’t have to be boring. A little bit of weird goes a long way. And this might be a lot of weird, but I’m having a lot of fun with it and the community is too. And we even have these wonderful stress penguins that we give to our community when something special happens. Okay, but I want to go through those things that ChatGPT. And this is why it’s so important to understand ChatGPT. I would argue that was not artificial intelligence. That was average intelligence because those things were true five years ago. They’re true today, but they’re not why this moment is so challenging. The reason this moment is so challenging is rampant short-termism caused by what has been a B2B recession that has been invisible under the Consumer strength of the economy. But there’s a B2B recession that has been going on for probably a year in our community, probably 80% had budget cuts. And so it’s all the things that you mentioned, plus less money. And with the long sales cycle a year ago has become a longer sales cycle, because the CFO does what they always do in recessions, they become the CF-NO. And so it’s really hard. And it’s a particularly hard time. And then I want to add one other thing, regardless of whether you’re pro or against remote work. This has an impact on every leader, because retention goes down, employees that were hired post-pandemic, your chances of keeping them are so much thinner, because there’s no human bond, because those people haven’t come together. So you’ve got a bad economy, and you’ve got weaker connections with your employees, which are the key to your success. So that’s what makes this moment so special and why our community needs their stress penguins. But I think that’s a really good way of looking at ChatGPT too. That average answer was good, but didn’t tell you anything new.   

Julie: Not at all. So how can B2B CMOs start to really get from boring to innovative?  

Drew: So first, it’s a recognition that there’s an epic battle, and there always has been for mind space. That’s what we’re trying to do as marketers, get locked in stand for something, you need some real estate in the brain. And I mean, you can bludgeon someone, spend a billion dollars, and say, 15 minutes will save you 15%. That’s a very rational thing. But you need a billion dollars to get that message through to people and repeat it. B2B marketers notoriously underspend on a percentage basis relative to B2C brands. So for them, they actually, in my mind need to be more creative than less in order to own some real estate. And here’s some math from the B2B Marketing Institute. If you look at B2B Creative, and I think this runs on LinkedIn, 80% ranks a one out of five, though it’s a joke, but if you get to two, you’re in the top 20%, which is crazy. If you’re a really good targeter and you have a very good, concise, non-creative, rational message, you could be okay if you spend more. Creativity accounts for about 47% I think roughly of effectiveness. So again, a little creative in B2B goes a long way. And what I find is, every time someone says, “Hey, give me an example of a great B2B brand that is really killing it on a creative basis.” It’s hard, because CMOs turnover too quickly, they change campaigns all the time. They don’t stay with a single idea that is at its core that is not even necessarily product dependent. And so they just forget the basics. And you know, it’s funny I have a friend runs this company, Case Paper. We worked with him on this one when I still had an agency, and this is a brand that was all about customer service. So the big brand idea was on the case and that became a rallying cry for employees, they had to deliver on it, it was a proof point, we broke it down. And then they had a sense of humor. So the combination of on the case and a sense of humor, his brand continues to thrive, despite the recession, despite paper shortages, it’s really kind of incredible. Where it shows up. And that’s fine, because I was talking to the president the other day, and they put a little humor in their recruiting ads.   

Julie: Oh, my God, that changes the whole game, right? They want to be happier at work and life. So why wouldn’t they want to work for a company like that? 

Drew: So companies think about, okay, well, we shouldn’t be boring in our employee ads. But how could you even think about being boring in anything that you do? If something’s boring and doesn’t get our attention, we just, we move on. And so if you want to own something, you need to be simple, clever, and consistent.  

Julie: Absolutely. Talk more about the changing role of salespeople because I think this is also really interesting.

Drew: Yeah. So this is something that I’ve been really watching very carefully because the good news is that marketing, the folks in our community at least work really closely with their sales counterparts, they present together, they don’t allow the separation, their decks are the same decks, there’s that interconnectivity, when it’s really working well, someone from marketing is sitting in the sales meeting, someone from sales is sitting in on the marketing meeting. And they’re in lockstep because the old notion of a handoff where it goes from a lead to sales to qualify, that’s done because everybody at the end of the day gets rewarded for revenue. And so that’s the good news, in terms of where this is going. The bad news is, in some sales journeys, I was talking to one, there were 130 touchpoints between first coming onto the website and closing the deal. 100 of those were marketing. I think less than 10 of those were actually the lead salesperson talking and negotiating the deal. And so my question is, really, can we rethink about sales so that, you know, you and I have an issue, or we’re going to buy a thing, we want to talk to a product expert.

Julie: We don’t want to feel like we’re being sold.

Drew: Right. We want to talk to a product expert. What I would love to see and there are a few companies experimenting with this is, what if every salesperson was no longer a salesperson, but was really a product expert? And to some extent, really, you see this in SAS organizations where they have customer success managers, those people are both product experts, and they get incentivized to, but their job is to make sure that the customer is using the service as effectively as they can because if they can, they’ll spend more money. And that’s a mentality that I would love to see happen in the sales world. My friend, Andy Paul, who’s very big in sales will disagree with a lot of what I said. And he’s right, in a lot of cases. My perspective is, everybody does it this way. So somebody who does it a different way may find a real competitive advantage.

Julie: Yeah, why not experiment a little bit, talk a little bit about budgeting, and reallocating budgeting towards program spend?  

Drew: So this is something that I noticed about a year and a half ago, we had a series of Huddles on just this concept of budgeting. And one of the questions that I would ask is talk about your overall allocation in three buckets, people programs, and technology. And there was a lot of ranges but it would average out that people would be about 50%, programs would be about 40%, and technology was creeping from 10, sometimes all the way up to 20%. And to me, the minute It’s over 10% It’s really a problem. But I would love to see some of that technology money back. And the problem with spending say 60% on people, all that money you’re spending on people does not equal reach, and reach is everything. Well, frequency matters too. But reach means that you’re not just reaching the 5% of the people that are in the market today you are reaching the 95% that may be in the market six months from now or a year from now or two years from now. So I think the opportunity is to say you know what, we can be a little more efficient with our people, generative AI will help that, let’s put 40% of our dollars on people, 55% of our dollars in programs. So now look at we just took program dollars from 40 to 55%. And we reduced tech to 5%. The rationale for that, most of the technology in the tech stack is underused, because they don’t have enough people to use it.

Julie: And so I think that’s 22.  

Drew: And also, it’s heavily weighted, if we just differentiate between demand creation, which is the whole market, and demand capture, which is the 5% that are in the market at any given time. The tech stack is all about demand capture. So you’re focusing on just a tiny bit of your business opportunity. It makes sense. There’s just so much great technology out there and the minute we start talking about, “Oh, that’s cool. And it’s shiny. Oh, we could get that.” But it’s incremental ism. It’s like, “Oh, we could get a .001% improvement on click-throughs here.”

Julie: Yeah, it may not be worth it. I think it’s definitely worth reevaluating the kind of technology you’re spending money on for sure. What about this idea of a three-year plan? I mean, that’s something you really don’t hear about a lot.  

Drew: Well, and again, this goes back to your first question about trends and why it’s so difficult. I don’t ever remember a period of short-termism. I think it’s the new epidemic. And part of it is the cost of money. So VCs, PE firms really pulled back and said, “Okay, marketing, you used to get X percent, or you get X percent minus 50%. So, you got to do more with less, and you’re just going to focus on demand capture.” And here’s the interesting part. And this is great when you talk to a CMO who’s been in their position for four years because they have this data and they know how to use it. So the pandemic began in March 2020, right? By April 2020. A lot of companies in B2B had cut their budgets in half, just because half of it was going to events, they couldn’t do events anyway. So they just gave it all back. And what they can look at now is they can look at the data six months to 12 months out, and they can look at their pipeline and their closes and they can see there was a huge dip because we stopped investing, people stop learning about us, our reach went way down, we weren’t doing these events, and events are really good both for demand capture and demand creation. There’s data that shows what happens when you cut your budget, when you think short term, it’s there in almost every company. And I was talking to a CMO who was there and did it. And recently they were in a budget meeting and the CFO said, “Okay, I want you to get back 15%.” And the CEO said, “Don’t you remember what happened, I stopped it.” And so this CMO got to keep it. That’s the rare situation.  

Julie: I think, also, as you said, when you’ve talked to CMOs, who have been lucky to be in their jobs for more than three years, they really have that historical perspective, which is valuable, I think, that the CMO has the opportunity to be innovative and try new things. They can take more than a year to prove themselves. It depends on what they’re trying to innovate.  

Drew: I mean, in an ideal scenario, a new CMO goes in and finds the quick fixes in the first three months. And there’s always quick fixes. There’s little things that just were not thought about and fresh eyes could do it. The problem is the new CMO comes in and throws everything else out. Other CMO must have been an idiot because they left, right. So they throw all that stuff and they try to rejigger, I mean, look, the problems that businesses solve, don’t change with the CMO. The problems that the customers have don’t change with the CMO. So that causes the short-termism. Anyway, forget that one for a moment, and let’s just think about what do great marketers do? Great marketers create big brands that stick in the mind and they often do it by creating markets. That’s why you see this trend of Chief Market Officer to sort of emphasize the fact that they are thinking longer term and they have a strategic seat at the table. And this is the problem. If you are a Chief Marketing Officer, in theory, that Chief means you are an executive who is responsible for the business not marketing. You’re an executive who was responsible for the overall health of the business. That gives you permission to lay out a three-year plan, drive the strategy with the organization, work on embedding a marketing idea within the product. Lots of good things. I mean, think about at GE, health, imagination, and eco-imagination. Those were marketing concepts that became billion-dollar businesses. That’s what I mean by marketing, creating markets.

Julie: I love that. How can data capture help to drive personalization in marketing?

Drew: So first of all, it’s not an easy answer. And second, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. So we had a recent bonus Huddle with a couple of media directors. And what they both talked about, almost was a Google-pocalypse in that search as SEO results in SEO, as we know it has changed in the last three months and nobody seems to be talking about it, except for the folks in SEO. But if you look at a landing page on Google, you Google something, the half of the page now is like snippets and trying to answer it and their ads, you only see maybe three company websites listed on the homepage used to see five to seven. That’s crazy. Google has also said that they are going to stop providing or tracking third-party data. So when I say deploy data-driven personalization, I recognize that this just got a lot harder, because you don’t have third-party data. But what it means is that every marketer really needs to be thinking about their first-party data. They have lists, they have people who come to the website, they have people who demonstrate certain behaviors and characteristics that make them opportunities, right? They watch a demo, they go to the pricing calculator, they do certain behaviors. So now we can eventually figure out who that person is. And so “Hey, Julie, thanks for visiting our website, I noticed that you’ve got a demo, would you like to go deeper with a product expert?” Because most of the people who watch a demo like this information, or “Hey, Julie, you did this and I noticed, because you told us you work for this company, and you’re in this industry, here’s an industry report that people in your world may find really interesting.” Now you’re suddenly taking what could have been creepy and making it really helpful. And that kind of thoughtful? One-on-one responses is enabled today by generative AI. 

Julie: Yeah. It really develops that relationship that you want with your customer and I think that keeps me coming back to brands that do that.

Drew: Yeah. And that’s part one of this thing. Part two of it is not really about data personalization, but it is sort of addressing this apocalypse. And this is something I haven’t written about or explored thoroughly. But I don’t know why any marketer right now wouldn’t be approaching all of their content as Q and A’s because that’s what Google is doing. And by the way, you can have generative AI do this – go through your website and create Q&As based on all the information that are on your websites, and then reformat that as blog posts or whatever. 

Julie: That’s really interesting. 

Drew: It can’t be that hard. I mean, have we done that yet for CMOHuddles.com or Renegade.com, or MediaBrand? No, but we will.  

Julie: That’s very cool. So, Drew, I’ve heard that you have a new teammate named Becca that you’ve brought in and it seems like she’s doing a phenomenal job. So tell us about her.

Drew: One of the things that we tried to do with CMO Huddles, and we talked about inspiring B2B greatness. We wanted folks to see that generative AI is not just about content. And it’s going to be about using these tools to create new tools. A good friend of mine, Noah Brier, who is the founder of Percolate and is just a brilliant guy, came to me and said, “Hey, I know you have a lot of data because of all the interviews you’ve done. How about creating a little bot together?” So we did and we created this thing called Becca. And Becca sits on top if you will of ChatGPT as a B2B CMO, and she has over 900, maybe no, it’s a lot more than that now…pages and pages of the notes and the recaps that we have from CMO Huddles – a producer recaps every single week. And we’ve been doing this for three years. So that’s 300 pages right there. Then hundreds of interviews. All of those were sort of uploaded into Becca. So now if you ask Becca a question about B2B marketing, she’s much more likely to give you a very specific real-time answer with quotes from CMOs with a lot more granularity and specificity. So it was really just a way of demonstrating – for helping CMOs – because we don’t have it on the website. You can find it, we talk about it occasionally. And I use it all the time.  

Julie: It’s so fun! So just to close things out today, we talked about your new teammate Becca, but the human people on your team – why should you invest in them? This is sort of like ‘duh’.

Drew: Yeah, it is kind of a ‘duh’ thing. But many of us have remote teams. CMO Huddles is 100% remote, but we started that way and it’s all good. But if you had employees who were in the office and then remote, there’s a disconnect that is much stronger than you think. And so employees are your best advocates. We know how they can do social amplification, we know what it means when an employee wants to wear the brand – it’s just a whole different thing. So just as a hard time mentally for a lot of people has been very stressful in the globe and in everything else. So really thinking about employee purpose, we did a recording yesterday with Jen Lim who wrote the book “Beyond Happiness” and also co-wrote “Delivering Happiness” and really talked about helping employees find their own purpose and then aligning it with the organization as a way of engaging them. And then there are all sorts of other things that you can do to bond with employees. But probably the most and simplest thing is to get together with them like every quarter.  

Julie: Yeah, and even if you are a fully remote company you can schedule virtual coffees and engaging in events and things where people can get to know each other more so that you create this sense of belonging and a sense of community. I’ve just found that it really powers people up and they just want to give more. They want to be there.

Drew: Yeah! I agree. I mean, employees want to connect with the company. I mean they’re spending a lot of time, they want to feel like their life has meaning, and they want to contribute. And it’s funny because Julie, we’ve been doing the coffee thing and I feel like now the conversations are too superficial. And you need to find a way to make them more meaningful – that same way you would if you got into a bar and say “What’s really happening in your life? What are you doing? What are you thinking about?” And so I think some of these exercises that you can do in the purpose area would go a lot farther. And they can be fun, they don’t have to be really heavy, but just help people bond because you tend to work at companies and stay at companies because you like the people.  

Julie: And also if you allow people to keep learning and growing they’re gonna want to hang out. They’re gonna want to stay. That’s a great thing!  

Drew: It’s true! Yeah, we’re in the adaptive age and it’s all about curiosity. And this is where I think CMOs can really take the lead. And I know that in our community several of them do some really fun things about the way they share “Hey, I just learned this yesterday.” They’re not know-it-alls. They’re learning every day and they’re learning from all sorts of people. So yeah, I would say that curiosity is sometimes in short supply but it can’t be with the CMO.  

Julie: Well, Drew, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for making the time today to come on and even wear your penguin hat! I appreciate it!  

Drew: I’ll put it back on. Maybe a couple of these flaps! And Julie, thank you! I know how much work it is to produce a podcast and I really appreciate your efforts in this area.  

Julie: Okay, thank you! And I’ll see you all next time on PR Patter. Have a great day!

Show Credits

For more interviews with innovative marketers, visit Renegade.com/podcasts and hit that subscribe button! Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!