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CMO tenure is at its shortest in more than a decade. What does it take to stay in the role?

The ability to be “financially conversant,” connecting marketing performance to the broader business, can separate “truly high-performing CMOs from everyone else,” said the executive lead of Deloitte's CMO Program.
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Grant Thomas

· 4 min read

From the outside, the CMO pipeline can look like a revolving door at hyper-speed. In just the past two months, we’ve seen the top marketers at Peloton, Lowe’s, and State Farm leave.

According to executive-search firm Spencer Stuart, the average CMO tenure in 2020 and 2021 was around 40 months—the lowest in more than a decade. Some companies are turning to fractional, aka temporary, CMOs as a result.

“Marketing is probably the most challenging role to recruit for on an executive team because there are a lot of layers to it,” Maryanne Martire, partner at executive recruiting firm Daversa Partners, told us. “You can be incredibly successful building a narrative for a business one day and then 12 months later, the company has shifted and they want someone who’s going to be very sales- or revenue-driven.”

As company goals and expectations shift, how can current and prospective CMOs remain competitive? While some factors may vary, experts and CMOs across various sectors told us there are a few things that can help them stand out (or stay in).

Let’s get technical

Martire said she looks for four main things when hiring a marketing executive: past positive marketing outcomes; signs of being willing to take risks; a quantitative understanding of why certain marketing tactics work; and strong leadership skills.

Stacy Kemp, executive lead of Deloitte’s CMO Program, said some of the most common terms found in job descriptions for CMOs today are “data and analytics” and “customer insights.”

Another skill that she said is important for CMOs? Understanding the economics of the business. Kemp said the ability to be “financially conversant,” connecting marketing performance to the broader business, can separate “truly high-performing CMOs from everyone else.”

Stefanie Grossman, CMO of Prezi, echoed this sentiment, saying that CMOs “need to understand the unit economics of your business” and be able to discuss things like returns and costs with the finance team.

Grossman joined Prezi after working in the CPG sector with brands like popchips, Revlon, and Dannon. She said the biggest takeaway from her time with those brands is the importance of customer-centricity.

While Revlon would seek to highlight new product formulas, Grossman said other customer needs—like not knowing which eyeshadow shade to pick—led the marketing team to advocate for palettes that used the new formulas but were packaged for different eye colors.

At Prezi, she said this mentality was applied when Covid hit and the company needed to shift focus from presentation to video offerings for its users—whether business leaders or teachers—who needed a new way to engage audiences virtually.

“I think it just shows, in a kind of an extreme way, being really mindful of the shoes that your customers are walking in and how you can help them,” Grossman said.

On a personal note

Kate Hammitt, CMO of event marketing platform Splash, told us that in addition to working well with other departments, good CMOs also have to work well within their own. “It’s so important from an individual perspective to be a part of an incredible team culture, and I think leaders have to understand that you’re only as good as your team,” she said.

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With CMO tenure as short as it is, Kemp noted that certain teams may weather leadership and strategy changes every few years. That’s why, she said, “the people in those organizations deserve really strong, emotive, empathetic, and inclusive leadership.”

Ashish Prashar, global CMO of marketing agency R/GA, told us he “never had a desire to be a CMO.” Prior to joining the agency world, he worked in politics for years after starting his career as a journalist—a job he said was “the best training” for potential CMOs.

“I think it’s really the foundation of why I’m here today because it’s about storytelling, it’s about connecting with real people,” he said, adding that “if you can explain if something’s stupid or not…in 300 words, you’re actually pretty good at what you do.”

Over the last year, Kemp said she’s seen an “overwhelming increase” in companies asking CMOs to use their narrative skills with more than just customers, extending the need to internal, investor, and partner communications.

“They’re realizing that these complex business problems require coalition-building, and coalition-building requires empathy, and empathy often lives in the creative areas of an organization,” she said.

Together with Chili Piper

Your next great decision: Signing up for The Sauce, of course! You get twice-monthly B2B-focused news, stats, and tips to help you make informed, revenue-minded marketing moves. Join one of the spiciest communities in B2B, powered by Chili Piper. Sign up today.

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