Unleashing the CMO in B2B insurance

Unlike their B2C counterparts, many B2B insurers do not consider marketing a vital function, relying instead on intermediaries, such as brokers and agents, to promote their products. Though this model has been effective for some time, carriers run the risk of commoditization when reliant solely on intermediaries, and customers have come to expect personalized offers. To address these issues, among others, B2B insurers need to bring on—or revise the role of—the marketing function in their organizations.

Common challenges for chief marketing officers in B2B insurance

Keeping pace with changing expectations. While leading B2C insurers are well down the path to customization, online and mobile self-service, and rapid response, many B2B carriers’ marketing functions are still in nascent stages. B2B chief marketing officers (CMOs) attempting to upgrade their customer-engagement tools face tight budgets, messy data, and antiquated technology. Siloed organizational structures can also slow B2B insurers’ ability to adapt to these changing expectations.

Managing stakeholders effectively. CMOs must contend with an increasingly complex web of stakeholders. Intermediaries can be brand and product evangelists if they receive helpful information and support—or devastatingly effective detractors if they do not.

Getting a seat at the strategy table. To garner other executives’ respect, CMOs must be able to demonstrate clearly their value, tying to sales, retention, and cross-sell metrics. At many B2B insurers, CMOs are left out of making major decisions yet expected to deliver results based on them. When marketing follows orders rather than taking part in the decision-making process, the business is less engaged in the end product and can fail to see the function’s value.

How to overcome these challenges and succeed

Leaders can take three specific actions to position CMOs for success.

1. Define the role

“Good” marketing can look very different from one organization to the next. For that reason, CMOs need answers to four questions to define their role:

  1. Which priorities does marketing own? Marketing tends to be a distributed function, and clarity around what the CMO owns (versus sales and business units) is required. Furthermore, reporting lines and decision-making power must be explicit.
  2. On what short- and long-term needs does marketing need to deliver? Some CMOs will be ready to take the business to the next level—for example, using marketing as an incubator for new customer-driven businesses. Others will need a complete overhaul to deliver on the basics, which may imply heavy investment in table stakes capabilities.
  3. How are cross-functional decisions made? Some influencing tactics are more successful than others given reporting lines, culture, personalities, and the level of cohesion across brands and geographies. The CMO must understand these dynamics to be effective.
  4. What level of control does marketing have? This question is particularly important. Some marketers own a P&L, while others serve as stewards for the business. Each CMO needs to be accountable for business outcomes.

2. Take a strategic approach to marketing

A McKinsey survey of 2,300 executives found that companies that develop advanced marketing and sales capabilities tend to increase revenue two to three times more than the average peer company. However, marketing cannot succeed unilaterally. A growing number of touchpoints, from sales-force interactions to customer-care calls, sit outside the traditional marketing organization.

First and foremost, measurement is essential to marketing’s success. For example, dashboards can demonstrate how the function drives business outcomes and how investments and initiatives contribute to strategic value. C-suite leaders should regularly review these metrics to recognize marketing’s impact on the organization and ensure that resources are allocated accordingly.

CMOs also need processes, governance, and cross-functional collaboration to influence and set priorities across all marketing touchpoints, even if they only own a subset. Activities that benefit from economies of scale or command a premium on capabilities should be centralized. Meanwhile, activities for which local knowledge is critical may be better housed within other functions or profit centers—so long as the roles and responsibilities are clear in each area of the organization and there are dotted lines back to marketing for consistency.

Agile marketing, characterized by a cyclical approach, quick decision making, and co-location, allows teams to react quickly to competitive pressures and opportunities—for example, rapidly adapting positioning to preempt competitors in collaboration with the business. Within six weeks, one US asset manager established four fully functional, self-sustaining teams that produced more than 20 marketing assets, trained marketing leaders and teams, and promoted a culture of customer centricity.

3. Build organizational support

CMOs looking to align marketing strategy with organizational vision, either as they enter the role or look to reinvigorate it, should take four key steps:

Rewire the company to put the customer at the center. CMOs need to own a detailed customer segmentation and advocate for putting a customer lens on everything the business does. Ensuring results are measured accordingly—using Net Promoter Scores, for example— and translated into economic value, such as increased “share of wallet,” will support this change.

Fully leverage data. Many B2B insurers suffer from a lack of usable data. CMOs should advocate for a data strategy that centralizes both internal and external knowledge of customers and intermediaries. Marketing can then develop the insights to inform strategy or appropriately steward the brand, depending on its role, as well as target customers and partner with business units and intermediaries.

Increase institutional marketing capabilities available to the organization. CMOs should identify gaps in marketing capabilities, determine which should be developed in-house (rather than outsourced), and translate the required investment into meaningful two- to three-year ROI, ensuring marketing is held accountable to the same financial standards as the business.

Develop a vision for intermediaries. As B2B insurers evolve so, too, will relationships with agents, brokers, and other intermediaries. Marketing should own the adviser segmentation and, potentially, the strategy that informs how the business cultivates and deepens these relationships.

The CMO, other leaders, and the broader organization will need to collaborate to take marketing to the next level, and those who do stand to gain a substantial competitive advantage.

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