How to Find and Enable Your New CMO

June 13, 2018 Frank Grillo

With all of the new responsibilities CMOs are being asked to shoulder, the role can sometimes feel like we’re being asked to walk on water.

In fact, that’s exactly how Kim Whitler, Assistant Professor, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business and member of the Harte Hanks Marketing Advisory Board, calls it: a “water-walking” role. Finding the right CMO that can navigate these demanding waters is equally challenging for the CEO (evidenced by the fact the CMOs have by far the shortest tenure in the C-Suite).

Kim recently published a piece on Forbes CMO Network in which she interviews Kevin Akeroyd, the CEO of Cision, about this dilemma. Kevin explains:

“Now, the CMO role is so broad, they have to be intellectually ambidextrous, flipping between the science and art of marketing, have to manage the most diverse of employees (from scientists to artists to Gen X’ers to Millennials), have to quickly adapt to one of the most dynamic areas in business, and have to be a linguist to effectively lead different functions in the company.”

My advice for finding and enabling the right CMO is as follows.

The first step to finding and enabling a good CMO is to be honest about the type of CMO you’re looking for (Kevin agrees with me here). Kim’s research shows that there are still several versions of the CMO role. For example, there’s still a more marcom-oriented role that’s focused mostly on being the brand steward. Then there’s the more evolving CMO role that’s tasked with driving growth throughout the organization. If you need a brand steward, don’t hire a growth driver for the role and vice versa—you’ll find yourself contributing to the low CMO tenure.

Kevin explains: “In reality, most CEOs don’t fully understand marketing and so they aren’t really qualified to ask the right questions and find the right candidate. Part of this is finding the right executive recruiter.”

If you’ve decided you need a growth-driving or “heavyweight” CMO that’s going to have responsibility for the business, you need to find someone with a broader background than marketing communications. In fact, you probably won’t find everything you need in one individual. As Kevin states, “The requirements of the CMO are so broad that you can’t find everything in one person and so you need to find a well-rounded athlete who is capable of acknowledging their knowledge gaps, developing those areas, and reinforcing them with strong subordinates.

Because the skills required of a CMO are now so broad, the road to the CMO role may not always be through marketing. 

Because the skills required of a CMO are now so broad, the road to the CMO role may not always be through marketing. A growth-driving CMO needs to have experience in finance, sales, technology, data and analytics…you name it. We may therefore begin to see that the most qualified candidates are coming up to the executive level through non-traditional channels—give serious consideration to these candidates, but make sure they can identify their own weaknesses and support them appropriately.

Regardless of their background, you should entrust this individual to be the custodian of the customer’s voice. Whether the title is CMO, CRO, CCO, the important thing is that CEOs and boards have realized that somebody needs to own the voice of the customer and needs to have a mandate to drive that voice into the rest of organization.

To drive this customer voice throughout the organization, you also need to find a horsetrader. Owning the customer’s voice doesn’t mean the CMO has blanket authority over the business. This individual still has peer executives to work with, and they are still accountable for their own missions and budgets. You need to find a CMO that has the creativity and the negotiating skills to break the loggerhead between organizational functions. He or she has to be sensitive to organizational dynamics and figure out how to be a bit of a horsetrader at the table in order to make incremental progress toward customer centricity.

Every company needs someone on the CEO’s team—whether it’s the CMO or another title—focused on the customer and pushing for organizational change. Yes, this is a very demanding role, but it’s also a rewarding role, and there are qualified candidates out there ready to fill it. Brands that want to take a step ahead of their competition will go find these individuals and set them up for success.

About the Author

Frank Grillo

Frank Grillo, CMO, brings creativity and an emphasis on customer centricity to the Harte Hanks brand. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Frank has helped many brands expand and transition their marketing strategies through periods of significant change, innovation and disruption in the marketplace. He is laser-focused on two of our clients’ critical needs—defining solutions for digital and data, and raising the Harte Hanks profile with external audiences like media, analysts and investors.

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