You finally made it to the C-suite—chief marketing officer. All’s right with the world. But, wait, what’s that? Your CMO job isn’t exactly what you expected?
When CMOs encounter career problems, it’s often because there’s a lack of clarity about the job and what’s expected of them. That’s but one reason why the CMO role, arguably, has the highest turnover of any in the C-suite. It might be possible to avoid this state of affairs and, shall we say, “optimize” your marketing career by gleaning some lessons from our recent “CMO Impact Study,” authored by former CMO Kimberly Whitler, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, in conjunction with CMO.com.
The study reported that marketers drive value for their companies; their ability to do so rests on several key factors. They include:
- clarity of expectations about the CMO role
- the CMO’s relationships with the rest of the C-suite
- the company’s size
Not surprisingly, these elements also affect a CMO’s personal career success. Here’s how to get out in front of them from the job-seeking perspective, though these learnings also apply to improving the CMO position you might already have.
Clarity Drives Success
“Marketers need a clear understanding from their CEOs of what the job is meant to be and how they will be judged,” according to the CMO Study. That responsibility falls on you to ensure the position is unambiguously defined and objectives are agreed on, as are clear metrics to gauge your performance.
“Part of [the problem is] there is such variance in these [CMO] roles,” Whitler told CMO.com. “You have one CMO who might be totally focused on creative, while another is in charge of corporate strategy, product pricing, and placement. Both of these can—and do—exist under the same title.”
This variance points to a need for thoughtful discussion about what the CEO wants, what the job actually entails, and what the marketer expects.
Recruiters can exacerbate the problem, Whitler warned. “The challenge is that most CMOs don't have a lot of experience with this type of clarifying discussion, so they defer to the experts—executive recruiters. However, job placement is one job the CMO can't afford to delegate,” she said.
David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, a creative and technology agency, recommended a “frank conversation” among parties. “The incoming CMO or marketing leader can ask what the CEO’s expectations and KPIs [key performance indicators] are,” he told CMO.com.
For example, Nick Panayi, director of global brand and digital marketing at Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), made sure he and his new boss were on same page before he joined the mammoth IT services and solutions company. “When I accept a position or task,” he explained, “my question is always, ‘What does success look like?’ After the journey of one or two years, what will make both you and the company happy?”
The executive job seeker should investigate the marketing operation’s key “spheres of activity,” according to Panayi. Check out the digital ecosystem and make sure all of the necessary components are in place and funded for success, he suggested.
“The notion of ‘digital marketing’ is a misnomer,” Panayi explained. “It’s now just ‘marketing in the digital age.’ It’s marketing automation connected to a CRM platform, a global marketing database, and a next-gen Web site. The destination you send your visitors to must be worthy. That’s a sure way of knowing how serious a company is about marketing, in general.”
To judge a career opportunity, “Look at the digital marketing investment,” he suggested. Ask questions about the budget to clarify what you’re getting into.
The Influence Of The C-Suite
The CMO Impact Study also found that a CMO’s success is significantly influenced by what other C-level executives think about marketing. “They understand something is there that’s crucial for the business, but they don’t know enough to know what exactly it is,” Paul Hoffman, CEO of Calendars.com, told study author Whitler.
How do you uncover that? One important way is to ask to meet with the CFO, CIO, and COO, and delve into their experiences and attitudes. For example, MRY’s Berkowitz said he uses a “surprise challenge,” of sorts, to find out how well other C-level managers relate to marketing.
“The [marketing] exec should find out what the marketing team has done to directly benefit the particular C-level exec in his or her role and what more the C-team wishes the marketing team could do,” he said. “Then it’s easier to flip the tables and ask the C-level execs what they, in turn, have done to support and collaborate with the marketing team.”
In other words, open marketing to a frank, critical review—then discuss just as frankly how other business departments affect marketing. “CMOs need to really look at the industry and company to determine whether the environment is ‘marketing-friendly’ before accepting a job,” the study stated.
This puts the burden on the CMO candidate to examine a company and its management culture in detail. Having the gumption to ask tough questions can make or break a career because, as the study noted: “When a company is primarily inwardly focused, there is a greater chance that the importance of the consumer, and therefore the value of the marketer, is diminished.”
Whitler advised examining “how customer-centric the firm and the new boss is,” as well as the C-team’s history to “identify whether they’ve been accustomed to working in customer-centric firms.” If the C-suite isn’t clearly oriented toward the customer, then the CMO’s chance for success or future on the job is probably at risk.
Company Size Matters
While many CMOs want to work at a large enterprise with a commensurate marketing budget, the CMO Impact Study revealed a downside to that notion. While budgets at large firms might be bigger, CMOs there tend to have less breadth of responsibility.
“If you are aiming for a more direct, hands-on role, you should be looking at a company where marketing is more centralized and/or the organization is smaller,” said David Edelman, principal at McKinsey & Company, and co-leader of its Digital Marketing Strategy group, in an interview with CMO.com.
Whitler said marketers sometimes get into hot water because their career appetites are bigger than their ability to process work the CEO actually needs to have done. During her interviews with marketers for the study, Whitler found that “there were many CMOs who had very narrow responsibilities. Sometimes the actual function was nothing more than managing agency relationships.”
Conversely, big-company CMOs who “downsize” to small or midsize companies, where they have hands-on responsibility for all aspects of marketing, might actually stumble.
“It’s hard to hold CMOs accountable for driving firm growth if they don’t have significant responsibility for pricing, distribution, product development, corporate strategy, and/or sales,” Whitler said. “It’s simply unrealistic.”
McKinsey’s Edelman agreed that company size matters when fitting a candidate to the CMO position. “The bigger the company, the more likely the role is more about the overall enterprise brand, setting standards, sharing best practices, and building capabilities--instead of outright execution,” he said.
Should a mismatch occur, “part of the fault could be the CEOs’ because they don’t always know what they want,” said Whitler, a former CMO, who advocated taking ownership. “It’s our job to get that information out of [the CEO] in an interview.”
The takeaway about choosing between a big and small company is to make an informed choice. Berkowitz, for instance, has found his sweet spot: “I’m partial to smaller, fast-growing companies,” he said. “On paper, a CMO at a multibillion-dollar company can create massive value and affect a large number of people and clients. But at a smaller company, especially one that is growing aggressively, there’s the potential to put one’s indelible stamp on how it is run and impact every single employee, customer, and shareholder.”
Metrics A Must
Metrics surfaced in the study as a key factor in marketing success. Whitler spoke with Jan-Patrick Schmitz, CEO of Montblanc North America, who emphasized that metrics are “mission-critical” for marketing. “If you don’t measure and you don’t open yourself up to being accountable, then it’s not clear what you contribute,” he told her.
The sophisticated marketing executive expects to be measured and should scrutinize the metrics a CEO uses to judge marketing prowess.
“Usually, success does wind up being focused on sales,” Berkowitz said, sounding a familiar refrain. “If a new CMO comes in and then revenue, profit, and margins slide, it’s hard for the CMO to say, ‘Well, they’d have done so much worse without me.’”
Metrics, however, are about more than sales. “There are other metrics that can be important,” Berkowitz added. “First come brand metrics, such as ‘favorability.’ A lot of CMOs, meanwhile, are also focused on internal communications, so key metrics can include employee satisfaction and turnover rate. Would an employee recommend that a friend work at the company or that a potential customer buys the firm’s products?”
According to McKinsey’s Edelman, “The best metrics are above-market growth rate and improvement in perception of brand.” But he emphasized that growth in “key products or customer segments that matter” is also extremely important. Edelman said he looks at a company’s operational elements, including “percent of customers you can directly access, or the percent of customer interactions that are personalized.”
A CMO might take comfort in knowing that such objective measures can create an opportunity to succeed. But as Whitler has pointed out, a CMO candidate could walk into a company where the metrics are not established. What then?
When Panayi arrived at CSC in 2011, he, himself, laid groundwork for concrete metrics that would help ensure his success. “The relationship between marketing and sales is one of the most awkward in a company,” he told CMO.com. “And, of course, people think that should be the closest [relationship]. My first task when I got this job was to sit down with sales and work out what I would call a service-level agreement with marketing to define a common understanding about what success would look like.”
Reinforcing the idea that marketing must ultimately help drive sales, Panayi pointed out that a mismatch of expectations is often the case. “In a lot of companies, there’s a lot of finger-pointing that goes on. Marketing says, ‘I’m sending you leads, and you’re not doing anything with them.’ Sales says, ‘You’re sending me crappy leads.’”
Panayi’s service-level agreement enables objective measurement of marketing and of the CMO. Proposing it from the outset helps a marketing candidate or new CMO determine whether she can be successful in the position.
“It really isn’t brain surgery,” Panayi concluded. “It’s as simple as sitting down with sales and saying, ‘Let’s get our taxonomy straight first. Let’s define things the same way—what a marketing lead is, what a qualified lead is, and what you will accept as a qualified lead.’ That needs to be clearly understood. That’s the foundation for success.”
A CMO or digital executive can choose the size of a company to work for and might be confronted with a challenge if the C-team isn’t very sophisticated about marketing. But by taking the initiative to ensure clarity of expectations and objectives—and by defining success metrics early—a CMO can make the most of factors that the CMO Impact Study suggests are instrumental in driving business value and a successful C-level career.
“This requires that CMOs develop new skills relating to career management. They must be much more inquisitive about the job,” Whitler said. “Make sure the expectations are something that can be delivered on, and that the job responsibility actually enables that delivery.”