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The role of Chief Growth Officer (CGO) is disrupting the way companies approach their brand’s vision and apply customer centricity across departments. After many tech start-ups gained instant successes, thanks to the profile, this data- and tech-focused C-suite role is poised to challenge the supremacy of the CMO position in FMCG companies – and other industries, too.
Executive search experts will have to train their search for CGO professionals on a breadth of wide-ranging experience and skills needed for long-term growth.
As businesses aim for continued growth in a volatile economic climate, they are finding value in appointing a Chief Growth Officer to persist with their efforts. This emerging C-suite role is an expansive version, a 2.0 if you like, of the CMO, in some cases replacing the chief marketer.
Focused on growing the business, the CGO blurs the traditional separation of sales, marketing and IT functions in a company, keeping a holistic view of these departments while strategising for the future. The CGO has the customer-centric focus that breaks departmental silos and aligns teams to work towards a common future. The CGO’s direct line to the CEO and the rest of the C-suite provides easy, high-level cross-department insights with an eye on growth.
The need for such a role has come about as businesses are finding it difficult to sustain growth in highly competitive markets merely on incremental expansion. The CGO is tasked with the job of keeping a company’s customer-centric strategy and vision front and centre, improving competitiveness by making clients happy.
What should you look for in the profile of this holistic, cross-functional leader?
The hybrid nature of the CGO’s position presents several challenges to executive recruiters in leadership searches. Since the role is understood as an evolution of the CMO’s position, it could seem as though a CMO with a strong digital focus could fit the bill. But this may not always work best. Executive search consultants will have to use innovative hiring approaches, searching within and outside the laundry list of requirements, to meet a company’s need for a growth officer.
CGOs are tech- and data-driven, making decisions based on hard facts through which they understand their customers. They are digital disruptors. A multi-country survey of 700 senior marketing executives in 2019 by Singular, titled ‘Chief Growth Officer 2019: The State of the CGO’, found that 65% of CGO-led companies are more likely to be investing in new marketing tech, and 48% are more likely to be building AI and machine learning driven tools for marketing.
Their digital and tech focus earns CGOs the title of Chief Digital Officer in some companies.
Several big names in the fashion industry have recently taken on board a CGO. Fashion’s departure from traditional retail and its positive strides towards a multichannel approach have made a tech-focused growth officer’s role significant. The increase in recruitment for this newfound C-suite role has ignited the debate about the real value of such a role, and indeed, which industries it would impact positively.
It’s quite a familiar role in FMCG, where you would oversee marketing, sales, business development and even product development. But in fashion it’s a newer role. I think it’s partially because we are moving away from the traditional retail structure. Now, you are on all channels. The question is how you can get growth out of all those channels.
FMCG companies like Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz have been investing in CGOs to either replace the CMO, or as an expanded C-suite role. Nicola Wensley, Partner UK, explains, “It’s quite a familiar role in FMCG, where you would oversee marketing, sales, business development and even product development. But in fashion it’s a newer role. I think it’s partially because we are moving away from the traditional retail structure. Now, you are on all channels. The question is how you can get growth out of all those channels.”
The growth officer’s role has emerged as an evolution of the CMO’s position in response to the huge demand for digital transformation and customer centricity in the business environment. The blurring of lines between the two roles, therefore, is in the areas of customer experience and marketing through a strong digital lens. “We have seen the evolution of the chief marketing position, where traditional marketing started to combine with digital, and became highly analytically driven,” explains Steve Parkes, Global Head of the Consumer & Retail Practice.
The CGO uses data to understand customers and create a data-backed marketing strategy “I think that the role is almost a hybrid of a chief customer officer and a CMO,” says Wensley. The CGO must be focused on dismantling departmental silos with the aim of creating synergy between a company’s various functions to optimise resources.
The challenge is to convince the company that driving business on instinct is no longer the way forward. The new question that arises in the executive search market is who becomes this new Chief Growth Officer? Is it the digital head or is it the traditional marketing head? That hasn’t been decided yet, but everyone needs to be ready to evolve and think more analytically, and more based on numbers and data.
The CGO fulfills the CEO’s growth priority for the company. In a CMO Council and Deloitte study, most CMOs who took over the role of CGO said that their strategies were already in alignment with their CEO’s vision for growth. Also, 53% of CEOs cited growth as the top business priority, even over profitability. Long-term strategy and sustained growth are increasingly seen as important to successfully run a business today.
With the CGO’s role at the intersection of marketing, customer experience, digital transformation and data-led insights, executive search consultants, C-suite and potential growth officers alike need to prepare for a shift in thinking. As Parkes says, “The challenge is to convince the company that driving business on instinct is no longer the way forward. The new question that arises in the executive search market is who becomes this new Chief Growth Officer? Is it the digital head or is it the traditional marketing head? That hasn’t been decided yet, but everyone needs to be ready to evolve and think more analytically, and more based on numbers and data.”
Although the CGO’s role is nuanced with a bouquet of skill sets to enhance business growth, including a digital lean-in, marketing prowess and customer insights, the CGO is a leader who is outwardly focused, managing the company’s reputation with customers and all external parties. This impacts the CEO, who previously fully controlled external reputation for the company. The CEO is freed from certain responsibilities of ‘reputation management’ to focus on expanding customer centricity, allowing them to drive high-level engagement and to become the ‘face’ of the company.
In searching for and recruiting the future CGOs, executive search experts will seek out leaders who are passionate about understanding customers. Wensley explains, “Customers are quite brandagnostic at the moment. They are searching for the best deal. Knowing how to acquire those customers and drive them to channels is very important. It’s all about the customer acquisition, particularly in a global market where customers are global, globally, as well.”
Steve ParkesSenior PartnerGlobal Head of the Consumer & Retail Practice
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