5 Traits of the Successful CMO

by Contributor on Monday, April 26, 2010 in Marketing Efficiency

       “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. “

                                                -Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own

 I’ve got a great job.  I am CMO of a company that sells to CMOs.  Our cloud-based software powers the marketing of 750 organizations around the world – from American Express and Adobe to Dow Jones, Fidelity and Sony.  I spend a lot of time with CMOs.  Some are amazingly successful.  Some are not.  At any point in time, I am helping many of them “transition” to their next gig.  (I don’t especially like that part.) 

I am encouraged to see that the average tenure of CMOs actually rising a little, according to Spencer Stuart's annual survey of CMO tenure – from 26.4 months to 28.4 months.  Still – not a pretty stat.

 Let me share with you the 5 characteristics of the most successful CMOs I know:

 1.       Focus on “the business”- not just “marketing”

Good marketers really know the marketing side – database health, campaign effectiveness, open/CTRs, optimizing paid search, etc.  But the great ones are focused on “the business” and are strategic …


How to grow? 


Which vertical industries are most attractive? Why?


Which marketing programs drive the most revenue? Why?


How do you price?


What is the right mix of field/inside sales?


 2.       A leader, not a manager

The great CMOs are very effective communicators.  They know how to lead – not just the marketing team – but the whole company, and often, the industry.  They try out new messaging, they tweet, blog, participate in panels, and represent the company’s position in public forums.  They lead by their own actions and words. 


 3.       Curious and adventurous

They don’t play it safe.  They try new things – new technologies, channels, messaging, creative.   They are curious to see how these new activities perform.  They are OK with “fast” failures – they try, learn, re-do or kill things quickly.  They avoid “slow,” expensive failures.   


 4.       Embrace accountability

The era of the shoot-from-the-hip marketer is gone. The great CMOs are financially literate, command more respect in the C-suite and hold their jobs longer as a result.   They actually get along well with their CFO.


 5.       Have both left brain and right brain proficiency

 They are strong on the analytical side (left brain), but also possess the creativity needed to position their brands in distinctive ways.  Which is more important – left or right brain?  From my observations – the left-brain has won.  It’s easier to outsource the right brain.  And, with A/B testing, you can measure the impact of your creative.


 It’s not easy to be a successful CMO.  And time is not on your side.  Stick with the 5 characteristic above … and you will find more success and many more months ahead of you.

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