CMO lessons in working with a CEO

By Tom French

Bert van Meurs, senior vice president and CMO for imaging systems at Philips Healthcare, tells McKinsey director Tom French how marketers lead the company’s planning, from product creation to consumer facing.

Video

(Note: Click play to watch a selected video from the series. You can also watch the complete chaptered interview on our YouTube channel).

Highlights from the interview:

What makes a “great” marketing plan? The entire organization

Before we embarked on our marketing transformation at Philips Healthcare, there was a belief that a marketing plan was owned by the marketing department and was basically about what marketing should be doing. In the great marketing plans we have now, it is much more about a marketing-led team effort to formulate an end-to-end highway from product creation to customer facing that brings the customer into the process.

On the team are people from product marketing, field marketing, and the sales-support center. It also includes people in the field—our sales organization, our clinical specialist—and, of course, R&D. All these units must be involved for the rollout of the product to be done in time and to be well managed. If you’ve promised the markets that by a certain time we will have X amount of products available and that we will ship them first to key opinion leaders, supply-chain operations have to enable that.

If you take this end-to-end approach and get all parts of the business working together as one team having one common objective, this fantastic launch will happen and will deliver the business results that we are challenged by our CEOs to produce.

What a good CEO-CMO relationship looks like

The key to a good CEO-CMO relationship is a common belief in and commitment to a common vision. If there’s not this synergy between the CEO and the CMO, then the relationship won’t work.

Our CEO, Deborah DiSanzo, has always communicated a very compelling vision:  We are creating the future of healthcare and saving lives, and the only way we can do that is if we become this excellent marketing company. She has a very strong commitment and belief that we can make this happen. That’s what drives me and makes me committed to making it happen. It has changed my working relationship not only with her but with everyone in the organization.

An essential element of a marketing-led transformation is empowerment of the CMO. I feel extremely empowered in the role I have today, and our CEO is responsible for that. On one hand, she sets clear guidelines and is on the ball. That’s very helpful for making sure that this really happens. But at the same time, she helps me with the transformation by endorsing the change and by putting marketing-led transformation of the company on the agenda of the executive team.

My role is twofold. First of all, I am a member of the transformation team—that’s a healthcare sectorwide role—and I’m very involved in how we create great marketing plans. My other role, as CMO of imaging systems, is to be an ambassador for the transformation. If I can become as excited as I am and be a source of inspiration to others, that’s really my major role.

Advice for CMOs: Change is better than doing nothing

Something I really do differently now because of my relationship with our CEO is to go forward with speed. Deborah is all about speed. I was a bit of a perfectionist; I always looked at making the plan really correct. But Deborah told me 80% right is good enough, as long as you go forward and there is change.  It is better to have change than wait.

This is my advice to new CMOs: For the first hundred days, engage and embrace the vision and make a very strong commitment on the direction. Then be an ambassador for the vision, not just to your team but to the whole organization.

Of course, if you’re a new CMO and you’re new to the business, what’s most important is your relationship with the customers. Go to the market, meet with the customers. Being in healthcare, I always try to spend as much time as possible in the hospitals. Every time I visit a hospital, even after 28 years, I see new things and learn things.

Advice for CEOs: Inspire CMOs to embrace your vision

My advice to a CEO would be communicate your vision in a very inspiring way and make your belief and commitment the belief and the commitment of the CMO, which has happened in the case of our CEO.  Then the next step is to empower—as we have seen within Philips Healthcare—the CMO to make change happen and provide a platform that enables that empowerment.

Marketing is about making factual, data-driven decisions to improve the business. Understanding the marketing must be based on data. So it’s all about data.

We have tons of data. What matters is just how we structure it and use it. That’s what Big Data is all about. We have more to learn, but the marketing transformation has taught us that we need to change the organization to focus more on the data.

Philips Healthcare is a medical products and services company with 37,000 employees in 100 countries worldwide. 

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