The Keys to Being a Successful Chief Marketing Officer

The Keys to Being a Successful Chief Marketing Officer

More companies are finding the value in having a chief marketing officer (CMO). Roughly 62% of fortune 500 companies currently have a CMO. Back in 2004, the position CMO was typically short-lived with an average lifespan of less than two years. Today, things have changed and more companies understand the benefit of having a chief marketing officer. As a result, a CMO’s average tenure has increased to 42 months. Unfortunately, even today the role of CMO in some organizations is poorly defined, which leaves first time CMOs with the challenge of finding their place within company leadership.

How does a company know if it’s time to get a CMO? Steve Liguori, senior marketer at GE says, “If you’re not hitting your sales targets, or a new competitor is cleaning your clock in a particular segment or market, or your margin is getting compressed but you don’t know how to raise your prices, you might need a CMO.”

The role of CMO can be fun, amazing, challenging, and exhausting at the same time. The median salary for CMOs is currently $160,000 per year while some highly paid CMOs may make over $300,000, according to

Are you ready to take on the role of chief marketing officer?  If so, here are some traits of successful CMOs:

Have strong technical skills

According to Laura McLennan, Research VP at Gartner, by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. Now I know this may be hard to believe, but according to Lisa Author at Forbes, marketing has become a “fundamental driver of IT purchasing”. In fact, marketing is becoming more technology-based every year. Knowing how to get benefits from Big Data will soon be required to help companies gain the competitive advantage. In addition, marketing budgets are frequently growing more rapidly than their IT counterparts are.

While it’s important that chief marketing officers have strong technical skills, it’s also important that they work together with CIOs to form strategic partnerships. These partnerships will help CMOs and CIOs make better strategic technology decisions.

Apparently, some CIOs agree. According to an IDC analyst, one of the most important things IT can do is to “become buddies with the CMO”. “If you’re in a consumer-driven industry, you need to get very close to the CMO because that’s where the real innovation and strategic investment is going to happen.”

As a successful CMO you will need to understand the technologies that make up your product. You will also need to have the technical communication skills to be able to communicate with CIOs, developers, and other technical staff.

Understand data-driven marketing

A good CMO understands that one of the fundamental keys to their success is strong analytics. Being able to show your company the value of marketing will make it easier to grow your marketing department in the future. In addition to standard marketing data, CMOs also need to understand operations, budgets, and forecasting. These are all keys to helping companies grow.


Provide strong leadership

A strong CMO understands that leadership doesn’t end with their marketing department. Their leadership should encompass the entire company and certain parts of their industry. A strong CMO is constantly testing new messaging as they represent their company’s position in meetings, social media, public forums, and other venues.

While good CMOs will monitor what is going on in the present, great CMOs need to have the vision and strategy to stay ahead of their market. They need the ability to stay ahead of campaigns, market shifts, hiring, resource constraints, and more. Once you determine what is coming, you will focus on rallying the troops and helping them understand what is important for the future success of your company.

Here are some leadership tips:

  • determine your leadership style and learn your strengths and weaknesses
  • be a role model for others in your organization
  • encourage creativity in others
  • keep a positive attitude

Be a great communicator

Communication is another key factor for successful CMO. This communication is critical not only for your own team but also for every team throughout the company. Marketing must be a powerful voice that shares the story about your company, its products, the culture, and your customers.

Some tips for being a great communicator include:

  • being yourself regardless of whether you’re making a presentation or talking to a coworker
  • listen first to make sure you understand the concerns, issues, and needs of your audience
  • tell a story with a good beginning, middle, and end that will help you connect with your audience
  • practice your communication skills so you can improve in the future

Master the art of integration

Too frequently marketing and IT departments build silos between their resources. Whether it’s team members, software, or processes, a successful CMO will learn how to remove these silos. By providing cross-functional collaboration, the marketing team can work with other teams in the organization to improve functionality and efficiency between their departments.


Focus on improving the bottom line

Good marketers will have a firm grasp of their marketing side of the business including the effectiveness of their campaigns and a strong understanding of the analytics.

Great CMOs will always remember that they need to be focused on helping their business make money. They need to understand which marketing programs are going to increase profits, which verticals they need to expand into, as well as the right mix of inside and field sales.

A wise CMO will take the time to establish a strong relationship with the CFO. This will show that they are financially literate, and they will ultimately gain more respect amongst c-level executives (which is good for job security).

Understand your customer’s lifecycle

While all CMOs need to have a strong foundation in marketing, great CMOs will understand the full lifecycle of their customer. They know how to acquire, engage, and retain customers. They understand that marketing is a method they need to use to improve this lifecycle. The best CMOs will know the tools they need and how to use them. They will also know what to measure and how to use campaigns to achieve full customer lifecycle.

Become a champion of the customer

Keeping your customer front of mind is a trait of successful CMOs. CMOs that do this are better able to prioritize their projects based on the needs of the customer. They are able to unite teams for the common cause of providing more value to both existing and new customers.

Tips to becoming a champion of the customer:

  • remember that being a champion of your customer starts with listening
  • be an excellent communicator both internally and externally
  • use creative and innovative problem-solving techniques that include customer feedback
  • create corporate key performance indicators that align the customer’s needs with the company

Tips for starting out

Do you think chief marketing officer is the right role for you? If so, here are a few tips to help you get started:

Get commitment from the CEO

The role of CMO requires flexibility. However, it is critical that the CEO clearly define the role of CMO from the start. Having a clear mandate will help you succeed as a new CMO. It is also important that your position report directly to the CEO and that you be given an adequate budget. According to Katia Facchetti, former first CMO of Terex Corporation, “The company needs to give you a visible commitment. You don’t need to have everything starting day one, but you need something, or else you’re just a figurehead and an internal consultant.”

Take the time to learn the culture

While it may be tempting to jump into your role of CMO and take quick action, it’s important to understand the culture of the organization before defining strategy. According to John Wendler, senior vice president of marketing for Tractor Supply Company, “In addition to identifying opportunities to drive footsteps and top-line sales over the short term, my 100-day plan was to evaluate and think about how I could impact the business in a bigger way. You need to understand where marketing can have the most impact to know where to focus. I also found it important to build bridges with merchandising, the store operators and the management team to understand what they felt the opportunities were and build cross-functional partnerships.”

Take the time to build these key relationships with executives. Use your leadership and communication skills to get buy-in from different functional parts of the organization such as sales, HR, accounting, operations, and IT. By having the CEO support your position, you will have a better chance of succeeding in the organization.


As you can see, there are several things you need in order to be a successful CMO.  Of course you need impressive marketing skills, but don’t neglect your technical skills either. Prove your value to the other c-level executives and others within your organization.  Whenever possible, use data to show the increased revenue which results from your campaigns. Be a strong leader, and an excellent communicator.  Keep ahead of trends, and always keep the customer top of mind.  When you can do all of these, you’ll be well on your way to being a successful CMO.

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