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Modulr’s Edwin Abl discusses the changing role and new challenges facing the modern CMO

30-Second Summary 

  • Edwin Abl, the current CMO of Modulr, has a background in sales and six years of marketing leadership experience.
  • Modulr is a payment service API built for digital businesses. They help move money in a more secure, reliable, and fast way.
  • Around 2013, the role of CMO began changing to focus more on revenue generation and the sales cycle less on branding and awareness. Martech tools began rising in prominence at this time as well.
  • The CMO’s top challenge is ensuring there’s strong sales and marketing alignment. They must take a strong strategic and tactical approach to building a consistent pipeline. The CMO must also educate all stakeholders about the importance of creating a solid marketing strategy which takes time.
  • The modern CMO skillset must consider many more disciplines than branding or marketing. It includes demand gen, digital, inbound, public relations, leadership and more.
  • Building a strategy around marketing qualified leads (MQLs) is becoming less important, though the metric itself still has relevance as long as it’s tied to the lead flow process.
  • The leading marketing trends going into 2020 include more integrated martech offerings, the importance of channel interaction for B2B, and the loss of clarity when attributing sales to a specific tactic or channel.

The role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is evolving and has transformed faster than any other. 

Once the leader responsible for creativity and brand, today’s CMO has vast and complex responsibilities reaching far beyond traditional marketing — now spanning technology, analytics, growth and, above all, measurable impact.

In fact recently the role’s very existence is being challenged. Several big-name companies like—McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft and Beam Suntory—have altotherger done away with the position.

So what’s next for the CMO? ClickZ spoke to Modulr CMO, Edwin Abl to find out.

The benefits of a sales background in the role of CMO

Edwin Abl is the Chief Marketing Officer of Modulr. He is an experienced P&L leader in the EMEA and international SaaS software sector with deep expertise in revenue generation marketing, business development, enterprise sales, strategy and go-to-market partnerships. 

Previously, Edwin led and built marketing at Appirio, inc in Europe, helped scale Hive Learning’s marketing function, co-founded two companies in the SaaS tech space and worked as a new business / go-to-market advisor to scaling startups.

At Modulr, Edwin is responsible for educating other businesses on new ways to pay and get paid and transforming their B2B payments. 

We asked Edwin if his sales experience has helped him in his marketing leadership role at Modulr.

“I think in my own personal experience has been incredibly relevant and helpful,” says Edwin Abl. “There are a couple of key things you learn from a sales role. First, you understand the sales process which gives you a deep understanding of where the problems and challenges are in how leads convert through the funnel. The second is that you have an urgency mindset. You understand the urgency and pressure of closing the sale.”

While Edwin’s experience in the sales trenches helps him solve challenges around improving sales and marketing alignment, he caveat’s this by pointing out that you don’t need a sales background to be great at marketing leader. 

“My personal experiences helps me in how I do my job, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a right or wrong answer in that,” explains Edwin.

A bit about Modulr

Modulr is a payment as a service API platform built for digital businesses. The core value they provide is helping businesses move money in a more secure, reliable, and faster way.

Modulr integrates into any product or system. It’s built for businesses that need a faster, easier and more reliable way to move money. 

Once integrated, businesses can instantly set up as many accounts as they need. Getting paid, reconciling and making payments is fully automated and can be managed in real-time, 24/7 through their existing software applications

“We specifically focus on our B2B payments piece, which is a very underserved area,” explains Edwin. “The growth opportunities in B2B payments is huge in comparison to the B2C market.”

Modulr is trying to solve a challenge that many companies face with traditional and wholesale corporate transaction banking provided by banks. 

Modulr is an API-first solution that plugs directly into payment schemes and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Payment Services Regulations (PSR), meaning there is no difference between how a payment service at Modulr or a bank is regulated. 

“It’s the same level of security, if not better than what you find in the traditional market space,” says Edwin.

Modulr’s platform and API approach to technology helps businesses to move quicker, launch new services and platforms much faster and operate in what Modulr calls “the Instant Economy”—the desire for instantly consumable business services.

Says Edwin, “If you look at the way Amazon Web Services (AWS) has transformed the serverless market space, that’s what Modulr wants to do in terms of transforming the old outdated infrastructure of payments to the new idea API first world.”

Modulr firmly believes that the history of commerce is fundamentally a history of infrastructure.

The Instant Economy is the digital evolution of commerce, and it’s changed the way we interact with money.

It’s changing because consumers have premium expectations, meaning businesses must turn to technology to save operational costs and give them a competitive advantage.  

Forward-thinking companies choose to meet this challenge by integrating business services (such as payments) in new and flexible ways to deliver superior and immediate customer experiences. 

The changing role of the CMO: Evolution

In 2013, about the time that Edwin Abl started working in marketing leadership, the role of CMO began to change. Organizations started looking at marketing as a revenue generation function that took more control of the sales cycle.

Additionally, the rise and dominance of martech tools required the CMO and other business leaders to get the right tech infrastructure in place.

“2013 was the starting point of the revenue marketing function,” says Edwin. “There were Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) job titles, but they weren’t as prevalent as they are now.”

Over the years, as B2B buying has become more complex, marketing has taken more responsibility for managing the sales funnel all the way down, rather than just the top of the funnel.

This has placed increasing importance on the CMO to have a revenue marketing perspective in addition to focusing on brand marketing.

He clarified that it’s important to focus on both aspects of marketing. “You can do lots of outbound marketing that gives you short term, tactical wins, but if you don’t combine that with a strategic approach to branding, you don’t get all the leverage that you need.”

Building a great brand gives an organization significant leverage in the market and drives inbound leads, but also supports outbound efforts.

 “The marketing leader’s role has merged with sales,” explains Edwin. “The CMO now has a number on their head in the same way that sales leaders and CEOs have numbers on their heads. That’s a definite shift.”

Challenges faced by the modern CMO

Edwin notes that one of the top challenges of the modern CMO is solving the problem of ensuring that there’s strong sales and marketing alignment.

CMOs must take a strong strategic and tactical approach to building consistent pipeline opportunities that are relevant for the sales team.

“How you get all the channels to interact with each other and make sure they’re highly efficient to improve conversion ratios is a challenge,” he says.

“It requires putting trust into having a strategy and then running with it, but it takes time. There’s no magic bullet. And that’s always a challenge because sales needs leads. They need to close revenue.”

Edwin recommends that marketing leaders stay focused on delivering leads to sales while concurrently managing all company stakeholders.

CMOs must educate everyone in the organization that marketing takes time, especially when you’re building a brand and driving inbound leads. It’s not a quick fix.

“If you’re a first time CMO,” he says, “One of the big pieces to understand is that you’re responsible for everything.”

What a CMO skillset looks like today

Today’s CMO has a lot of moving parts to manage. They may come from a specific background such as demand gen, sales, or marketing before moving into the CMO position.

“What you’ll find is that you’ll have an area of specialization such as brand,” explains Edwin Abl, “You’ll be focused on everything about brand because that’s your core experience, but in reality the CMO has six to eight different channels. So, you’re not just thinking about brand anymore.”

Here’s a list of disciplines that fall within a typical CMO’s purview:

  • Demand generation
  • Digital marketing
  • Website 
  • Inbound marketing
  • Public relations
  • Brand
  • Sales enablement
  • Leadership
  • Channel Marketing 
  • Developer Marketing (if tech focused)

“If the CMO can’t come to grips with all of this, you’ll ultimately fail because you won’t deliver 80% of the role,” says Edwin. “Come to grips earlier with all the areas that you may not be 100% comfortable doing and upskill yourself quickly, rather than dealing with the stuff you know about.”

He suggests taking a phased approach to your marketing strategy. A new CMO can’t fix all the problems with demand generation, content, channel, digital, and inbound in the first few months. 

He recommends creating a phasing-in plan that is simple and ambitious.

It’s also very important to manage all the stakeholders by explaining what you’re phasing in, why you’re phasing it in, and what you expect the results will be at each phase.

A word about marketing qualified leads

Edwin has written in the past that the current marketing qualified lead (MQL) framework in need of an update. We asked him to elaborate on this a bit, since many organizations design their marketing approach around getting more MQLs.

“Headlines like, “The MQL is Irrelevant are meant to grab attention,” he explains. “I think the point behind this is a more serious one around business outcomes and not necessarily the process around lead lifecycle.”

Edwin feels there is still a place for MQLs, but only if they correlate to the lead flow lead process and how the customer prospect journey directly adds leads to sales pipeline.

“This is where MQLs are important,” he says. “If you get the design of your customer experience right, and understand how someone becomes an MQL, then the lead will develop into a sale.”

Edwin explains that MQLs are completely irrelevant for certain things, like creating Salesforce or HubSpot dashboards. In that case, you’re tracking vanity numbers like downloads and website views which don’t relate to much beyond providing something to report on.  

When using MQLs it’s important that the process is mapped out properly and thoroughly and that the CMO clearly defines what they mean in terms of impact to the business.

Looking ahead: marketing trends and predictions for 2020

When looking ahead at trends and new developments in the marketing space, Edwin points to martech as a key driving force. Here’s a short list of his trends and predictions.

More integrated martech offerings: Edwin believes martech vendors will begin to  transition to more integrated offerings.

Using HubSpot as an example, he says, “HubSpot has moved up market to CRM in recent years to become a more widely used, mid-market proposition. It’s capturing a lot of people in the marketing suite. Overall, there’s been a lot of consolidation.”

Channel interaction for B2B: More importance will be placed on getting different marketing channels to interact with each other so that marketing is more impactful overall.

Attribution for one channel or tactic will be harder to pinpoint: Edwin predicts that it will be more difficult to attribute specific tactics and initiatives to outcomes because of how integrated all the different touch points have become.

“You’ve got inbound events, content, and all the different channels working together, so the people who will win in 2020 will be the ones who figure out a way to integrate their marketing activities.”

There will be a shift away from gated content driven by digital campaigns: It’s becoming harder to get people’s attention from a lead gen perspective, so digital campaigns will need to become more sophisticated in identifying real opportunities that make people change behaviors or have an interest in consuming your content.

“It’s not linear anymore” explains Edwin Abl. “You’ll need to plan how to influence a lead across five or ten different channels.”

Parting words

“In 2020, my advice to you as a CMO is to get close to your CRO,” says Edwin.

“Figure out the important areas you need to focus on and where you need to plug the gaps. Once you form a better relationship with the CRO and CEO and can work with them as a team, you can focus on the right areas. I think that those who focus on working on the right areas with their CRO are going to be more successful.”

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