February 22, 2019

Here’s What Makes a Great CMO

by Renegade


It might not yet be the king of the marketing realm, yet some in the industry already treat it as an established monarch. Well, not according to Greg Welch, the highly respected search consultant at Spencer Stuart. Welch believes that CMOs may have swung too far to the data/performance side of their jobs at the risk of forgetting their role as organizational leaders, a characteristic that separates the average from the great. Encouraging CMOs to build a peer network and to create their own board of advisors, Welch also warns of constant self-promotion.

How has the training and leadership for CMOs has changed in recent years?

Today, everything revolves around modern, digital, social, mobile and performance marketing. The fact of the matter is that performance marketing wasn’t around in the ’80’s at P&G. The performance marketing in Silicon Valley and in New York City right now is dramatically different. Some of these more senior CMO candidates are rapidly learning the new skills like SEO. These disruptive new technologies are great, but when I deep dive into new executives’ knowledge of classical marketing principles, they’re often light. They are also often very light on leadership. It’s important that “young up and comers” can translate building a fabulous brand into a larger, more complex enterprise.

What should professionals who want to be hired as a first time CMO in the next decade have in their professional toolbox?

The young, smart, incredibly impressive executives that will be tomorrow’s CMOs are intensely curious. They’ve got to be great learners, but they’ve got to be even better listeners. I always recommend an aspiring CMO to think about their personal “board of directors.” It is so important to have three or four people that you can pull close to ask for help and advice throughout your career. These individuals can give you feedback that you may not want to hear. You need to be able to hear that truth and learn about all different aspects of the enterprise. If you don’t have that support, going at it alone is going to give you trouble.

Why is building relationships with peers, mentors, and co-workers is so essential, specifically, to the role of CMO?

The old idea of managing the marketing team with the door closed is gone. When I sit down with CMOs and ask how their weeks are going, the great ones seem to say something like, “Well every Tuesday morning, I have breakfast with the CFO. I do a check-in with my boss at a staff meeting on Monday, and then I typically try to spend time in retail with one of our salespeople on Friday afternoons.” It’s not a coincidence that the great ones continually build great relationships with the rest of the organization and act as that unifying glue.

Is there a tenet that you believe all CMOs should live by?

Being authentic and transparent with data. Having a point of view and a backbone is important, but it’s equally imperative to be the person that other executives in the C-Suite trust because you are balanced and trustworthy. The days of convincing somebody that some strategy or pitch is going to be great is over. You need to actually build real relationships and a genuine reputation with your peers. The best CMOs I know are great leaders at their core, who happen to be gifted marketers, who can inspire people to do what they do best.

Tenure for CMOs is notoriously short versus the average seven years for a CEO. Why do you think this is?

CMOs and the companies hiring them really need to be more transparent about the skills and expectations surrounding those executive roles. Sitting down with a CEO and clearly seeing what they expect a CMO to do in the first year can be a game-changer, just by knowing that information up front. Part of my job is to then find candidates that match that expectation. However, potential CMO candidates can also open up that dialogue themselves and be truly honest if they think they align with the company’s expectations. The CMO is in a perfect seat to have a deep relationship with the CIO about relationship management or with the CFO about the PNL and pricing elasticity. The great CMOs are taking that chair in an authentic way and driving growth for the company.

With this expectation that CMOs will radically change everything in the first three to six months, do you think CMOs are accepting challenges that they just can’t succeed in?

If a CMO loves what they’re doing and has the passion, then the notion of creating demand for the product, delivering it, and having the operational hands-on interaction makes the CMO job more exciting. I’ve seen many CMOs move into other parts of the business in innovative ways, but they do need to be smart about what they realistically can and cannot accomplish. CMOs are beginning to take over areas like customer service and customer experience. Many CMOs are beginning to take over e-commerce, which particularly in the B2B world is growing. The CMO is well positioned to do that.

What steps should an upcoming CMO take if they want to learn how to balance taking on more?

Many CMOs who move into other executive roles just don’t have the foundation in financials or whatever the role requires. I would encourage aspiring marketers to make sure they’ve got the fundamentals. Finance would be at the top of that list for me. An understanding of technology is also up there, since it’s helpful to be able to converse about the product technology. This doesn’t all happen overnight. It goes back to being curious, being a learner, and getting people in your circle that can get you up to speed on that.

From a recruiting standpoint, do you see a big difference between someone who is prepared to be a great B2B CMO versus a great B2C CMO?

The B2B CMOs have always been more commercially-minded than CMOs in consumer companies. CMOs in B2C have sometimes gotten a bad rap because of their emphasis on big ad budgets. I feel like the great B2B CMOs were commercial, business development, or sales individuals earlier on and took on marketing, so they really have a good perspective on the enterprise as a whole.

If you looked ten years into the future, do you think the CMOs will still need the “art” side of the business or will it only be about the science and data?

In the last couple years, perhaps we’ve gone too far on the performance side of marketing and over-needing analytical savviness. CMOs will find a balance. After all, the ante to get in the game is knowing the basic principles of building quality, sustainable brands and the creative that goes into that. I’m still going to err on the performance side for the analytical rigor. People want to know what’s going on with media buying and getting the right message to the right person. The reality is that it’s going to continue to change, but performance and analytics are probably going to continue to reign over the next handful of years.

What are your don’ts for aspiring CMOs in the next couple years?

The thing you shouldn’t do is be a CMO that puts yourself in the spotlight constantly. It may be good for your own brand, but your peers will internally roll their eyes at that, and it creates a less-than-stellar reputation for you.