What can CMOs learn from Sir Alex Ferguson?

In my last article I used an analogy of football referees when writing about the rise in bad publicity of digital marketing in 2017. In today’s article, clearly limited by my one-dimensional writing style and unyielding love of football, I will once again use the beautiful game to explore our (sometimes) beautiful industry.

Sir Alex Ferguson created a footballing legacy. Over the course of 27 years he grew Manchester United from an average mid-table First Division team to the world’s biggest football club.

Manchester United’s success is synonymous with Ferguson. He was there from start to finish, leading the club through thick and thin to unprecedented success. He was the fearless manager who took total control of a football club that is now struggling to match his feats without him at the helm. He didn’t just buy players, pick players and sell players – he was more than that. He knew the first names of his player’s families, he helped them when they needed money and he even knew their pre-match toilet habits. He knew his organisation inside out.

But he couldn’t do his job just on his own.

At his disposal were a series of dedicated assistants who, over his 27 years, all contributed to United’s success. These assistants didn’t sign the players, pick the players or sell the players. Instead they had a different role in the organisation. They trained the players every day – they played with them, they ran them through their paces and they got as much out of them as physically possible. The assistants would feed back to Ferguson on the players’ performances in training and he would then take this into account when picking the team. The assistants would never pick the team – Ferguson would. He’d always consider this feedback from assistants, but ultimately he had the final decision on the line-up.

Why then in our industry do CMOs leave other people to pick their team? When building their suite of marketing tools, why would they not choose the tools themselves?

At Appraise Digital we are finding more and more that CMOs aren’t aware of the end-to-end tech stack when it comes to their digital marketing. Some of the decisions sit with their agencies, some of the decisions sit with another department in their organisation and some of the decisions haven’t even been decided at all. Sometimes they get away with it, but when something bad happens this convolution becomes apparent.

A CMO should use their third party agencies and vendors like Ferguson used his coaches. The third parties should be responsible for day-to-day operations of the tools and focus on the nitty gritty of what the tools are doing, while the CMO should make the decisions on what these tools are and how they fit together. The CMO should pick the team.

Final say on the marketing tools should sit with the CMO because the CMO is the one who will be asked the questions if something goes wrong, just as a footballer manager is the one who is asked the questions if their team loses.

Fortunately for Ferguson his team didn’t lose very much, but when they did he always had an answer.