What’s the most important thing for a CEO to know? It’s not what Jack Welch told you.Today, with customer experience the defining element of corporate failure or success, the most important domain for a CEO to master is knowing your customer.

CMO_CEOThe sales organization used to be closest to the customer — for example, all nine CEOs in the history of IBM came up through the sales organization — but today, we are in the Golden Age of Customer Data. And no one knows the customer, and the customer journey, better than the CMO.

Linking marketing to revenues

Revenue is the lifeblood of any company. Again, sales used to have the market cornered on revenue generation, with signed deals its black-and-white proof. Marketing was considered a cost center, not a profit center.

Data-driven marketing has changed all that. CMOs can now pinpoint exactly which activities generate revenue, presenting a full complement of data. This is increasingly important in this period of digital transformation where much of a customer’s interaction with the brand is indirect.

How CMOs get to the corner office

Leading companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Audi, and Gilt Groupe have appointed former CMOs as their CEOs in the past couple of years. So have Mercedes-Benz andMcDonald’s. These leaders have been lauded for being comfortable with both storytelling and their deftness with applying data to drive revenues. For example, AdWeek explains the rise of Optimizely CEO Dan Siroker, a “new kind of marketer”:

As the Obama campaign’s director of analytics in 2008, one of Siroker’s key responsibilities was optimizing the campaign’s website, a critical fundraising tool. Using sophisticated A/B testing, which involved comparing the results of 24 combinations of visuals, copy and calls-to-action, Siroker and his team identified the most effective combination for raising campaign funds from Obama supporters. Not only did this winning combination raise an extra $60 million for the campaign, as Siroker explained in this blog post, but the A/B testing also generated the data to prove it.

Clearly, as CMO of a business intelligence and analytics company, I believe in the power of data to propel CMOs into the Office of the CEO. Marketing analytics software enables CMOs to solve some of today’s biggest mysteries — how to grow revenue more effectively and more profitably:

It’s one thing to say a lot of people “engaged” with a campaign, but how much more inclined to buy were the people who visited your website? Did they make a purchase? And how much time, above an average visit, did they spend due to the campaign that brought them to the site? In the longer term, have you increased share of wallet, and did these people come back and spend money with you instead of a rival?

All of these questions directly tie to the KPIs that CEOs deeply care about. If you want to find the answers, visit us at Birst.

The preceding is a blog post originally published in CIO on September 8, 2015.