Digital TransformationRetailCMO Survival Guide

CMO Survival Guide

A look at the six key behaviors that will improve your chances of surviving beyond the average CMO tenure.

The good news: Spencer Stuart reports that CMO tenure now averages 42 months, up from less than 24 months a few years back. And there is growing appreciation for the CMO role, as more companies feel the need to bring on a central marketing authority with C-suite capabilities. Spencer Stuart also reports that 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have a CMO role. However, the CMO still remains the most “vulnerable” in the C-suite, due to a variety of factors. Here is my compilation of the key behaviors that will improve your chances of surviving beyond the average tenure.

Align with the bottom line. The most successful CMOs have success metrics that are directly tied to sales and revenue growth. Sure, you need to pay attention to longer-term metrics like Net Promoter Score and brand health, but these measures are a means to an end. Make sure your bonus is tied to the “hard” growth metrics that the board and Wall Street are going to measure. This will accomplish two things. First, it will give you added credibility with the other functional managers. Second, it will make sure you stay focused on the most important elements for delivering sales and share growth. Tie yourself to the bow of the ship.

Educate and communicate. Most of the other functional leads will not understand how marketing brings value to the bottom line. Many will view marketing simply as a cost center and lack the ability to link marketing efforts to the growth of the business. Part of your job is to educate others about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Then you need to show them the results and metrics with direct links to how the efforts are growing sales and revenues. Just as important, you need to discuss the failures and demonstrate that you are in control and adjusting as necessary. If you can involve the CFO or sales lead in helping to prepare and present the results, your support and credibility will increase significantly. Remember, it is not about dazzling them with cool new graphics or a great new logo. Your job is to demonstrate how the money and effort you invest is moving the business forward. Spend time marketing your marketing.

Know the business and the culture. Many CMOs are brought in as change agents. The temptation is to apply your past experiences and customer-centric tendencies to right the ship as fast as possible. This is a great way to crash into the reef. Hold back on your desire to have an immediate impact. Spend time with your functional colleagues. Ask a lot of questions. Spend 90 percent of your time listening. Understand why the business has been operating the way it has for so long. Find out what changes your colleagues would like to see implemented and why they have not made the changes to date. There are going to be a lot of good reasons for why things operate the way they do. It is critical that you understand the “whys” before you try to bring change. Most organizations are filled with a plethora of good ideas that need someone to help galvanize, consolidate, and champion them as broader strategies. Learn before you lead.

Hire the best. I have never failed when I have set out to hire folks who are smarter and more effective than I am. My goal is to have the smartest, most productive organization in the company. Nothing builds your credibility faster with your colleagues than repeated reassurance from their employees about how useful the marketing team is. Attitude is critical. I want my team to be functional experts with a service mentality. They should be looking for ways to help others deliver business results. Raise the bar with your marketing talent.

Partner with the functional leaders. Build the support of your functional peers. As discussed above, you want to make sure your peers feel like you understand what is important and that you are delivering on business growth. This is the most important form of partnership. However, you also want to dedicate some time to helping them and their departments become successful. This can come in the form of helping with recruiting awareness, securing a speaking slot or industry article, or simply coming to the rescue on an analysis they need to perform. Become indispensable to your peers.

Be reactive. While delivering long-term brand growth is a key function of the CMO, delivering against the short-term business goals is critical. If sales are trending off for the quarter, the last thing you want to do is dedicate all your efforts to the new repositioning work that you are trying to launch. Shift efforts to react to the immediate needs. There is clearly a balance here, as you are the keeper of long-term brand strategy and health. But as one of my CEOs used to comment, “No one asks about the health of your brand if the business is on life support.” Deliver on today’s most critical needs.

So there you have it. This is not a guarantee that you will have a job four years after your start date, but if you follow these guidelines, I think we can increase the odds that Spencer Stuart will publish more good news about CMO tenure in the future.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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