Business Management

From CMO to CEO: Notes on how career paths in tech are changing

Daniel Weisbeck joined mobile analytics and device detection firm Netbiscuits in 2012, and was appointed CEO in September 2014. Customers include eBay, Coca-Cola, Axel Springer, T-Online, Kempinski and BMW. He previously worked at companies including Corel and Polycom. In a contributed piece, Daniel reflects on his rise for chief marketing officer to chief executive officer.

It’s become something of a cliché, a buzz fact and the subject of a million Twitter posts, but Gartner’s claim that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017 is a vision that is being realised. If you think this is just pie in the sky, you just have to look at the refocus from vendors who traditionally court the CIO, and the huge acquisitions brands such as Oracle and SAP have made in the marketing, dare I say it, ‘martech’ space. ‘If in doubt, get the cheque book out’ seems to be the mantra.

We hear a lot about the CMO versus CIO and the rising power of marketing at the business leadership table. We’re asked, can marketers morph into business IT leaders, and can the conservative CIO learn some new tricks to keep up with the new breed. As well as amusing me, this conversation has been hugely interesting as I look at my own recent career trajectory.

Over the years I have worked across a variety of marketing and sales leadership roles, before moving into the position of CEO here at Netbiscuits in 2014. Having been very much hands-on in terms building a brand-new flagship product and changing the company’s direction, my progression from CMO into CEO was quite a natural one. Of course, ultimately being CEO means the buck stops with you, but the skills and qualities required between the two are, of course, very much transferable. As CEO, I have an increased accountability to my investors and to my employees, but this isn’t something I lacked as CMO and suddenly found. The question of whether I have developed into a CEO or am I CMO leading my business is an interesting one and I’m not sure I know the answer.

What I do know is that the customer is now at the centre of everything a business does. From attribution, to social engagement and knowing where marketing dollars should be spent to drive revenue, understanding the customer has become a fundamental goal for every organisation. To do that takes data and an ability to gain insights from that information. That is something that comes to marketers naturally and is why we are being given a warmer seat at the leadership table than ever before.

Moving from one leadership ring to the other requires more than just knowledge, however. A CEO never stands alone and I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep a consistent bench with me as I moved across roles at Corel and Polycom through to Netbiscuits. It’s not because of the need for ‘yes’ people around me, in fact in my case it’s quite the opposite, but loyalty and keeping a winning formula has been absolutely crucial for me. Surrounding yourself with a team that has the right strengths is of paramount importance, especially in a startup where limited resources benefit significantly from commitment and a good jump-start on understanding how to work together. And back to the ‘marketing - technologist’ discussion above, keeping a consistent leadership team has given our vision a sense of credibility and experience of those who have not only lived through the transformation but indeed helped drive it.

In the Marketing and Technology sectors, trends come and go, job titles and responsibilities can change, and budgets will be anything but fixed. However, finding the right personalities and skills, moulding that team and keeping them together is worth throughout all these challenges is worth its weight in gold.


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