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Former Member

Your current CMO has probably come from a traditional marketing background, with a resume that includes leadership in brand, advertising, creative, and operations.  They may be firmly aligned to a lead gen camp or more creative minded with a focus on brand experiences.  If you are lucky, your CMO is a rich tapestry of disciplines.  If you are lucky!  The landscape is changing for the future CMO.  This is not new news, per se.  But as organizations have to accept new challenges in the marketplace, they are drawing talent from some unexpected areas - 5 key areas to be precise.

Sea Change

In the good old days, CMOs could be measured by simple yardsticks, like number of leads or by brand rankings. It may have even been more subjective like the quality of an event experience or the messaging.  However, that very subjective approval was the reason that 10 years ago the CMO's tenure was just shy of 24 months (It is now trending toward twice that).  CMOs were only as good as their last experience and the Board's memory was very short.

As organizations trend toward a mix of qualitative and quantitative yardsticks, the CMO has had to rapidly adapt.  Their skill set requires a deep understanding of analytics, audience-centric mindsets, addressing needs of Millennials changing buying behavior, etc.  The technology alone has been a dramatic shift. The organizations focusing on solutions for the CMO has grown from ~100 companies just 3 years ago to almost 1,000 today.

To address the changing market, Boards and CEOs are looking for a consummately new archetype, leading to 5 hot new proving grounds for the future CMO.

1. Corporate Social Responsibility

Once seen as just an effort to whitewash corporate greed, CSR has gained incredible traction in recent years as a place to create shared value for the organization. As companies look to embrace Triple Bottom Line ideals (People, Planet, Profit), the role of CSR is no longer just "philanthropy," but a way for the brand to invest money, resources, and their products around the globe and create value beyond just the capitalistic ideas of profit.  This notion of shared value means aligning the business to societal needs, not just throwing money at a problem.

What becomes interesting about CSR is the response Millennials have had to these principles. 86% have stated that they would leave an organization if they felt their societal views no longer aligned with their companies. This is no passive statistic; this shows a strong desire to weave societal needs into the company.

As marketing moves to understand the ever changing needs of the audience and of Millennials, a leader who has a focus on the changing society role of the brand will be a desired skill set.  Marketing is no longer just about profit, but about how the company creates value - shareholder, societal, workforce, community, etc.  A marketing leader who gets this will be  . . .  valued!

2. Customer Service

Until recently, few organizations truly put the customer first.  Until recently.  Now "audience centricity" is no longer a buzzword for organizations as the consumer has great power and authority than ever before.  With an innate ability to control their buying cycle and engagement with a brand, the individual is in the proverbial driver's seat.  As such, the idea of customer experience is not just relegated to the customer service organization.

Leaders from these service and support organizations know how to tap into the psychology of the buyer. PwC states that 83% of buyers go online to research products before buying them.  As the shift moves from product-centric to "audience centric, connected experiences," the focus will not only be on the audience, but reaching them across multiple channels in a seamless, connected fashion.

Often seen as toothless tigers in past years, leaders in these service organizations have been intimately connected to the customer and know their experiences across the vast span of channels.  Who better to serve their needs than their greatest defender?

3. Sales

There are plenty of head of marketing and sales leaders out there today.  There may be exceptions, but most are sales professionals who occasionally market - tradeshows, emails, etc.  However, the future CMO may well be a tried and true sales professional who brings their connected field experience into this central role and redirects marketing to audience centricity. Similar to the #2 example, these sales leaders have been directly engaged with the customer and bring a unique perspective to how we market our brands.   In prior years, this idea was unthinkable as the marketing and sales organizations were just shy of the long beards, mangled hats, and backward drawls to be the Hayfields and McCoys.

Time and desperation heal all wounds and these two rich organizations need to work along side each other for their mutual survival.  Great overture by the Board to bring in a seasoned sales leader to help bridge that gap.

4. Office of the CFO

In prior years, the relationship the CMO most relied upon was the CIO.  As we change the structure of IT in the organization, the CMO now relies heavily on the CFO to help make data-based decisions on everything from technology to campaigns/programs.  The dynamic shift in reliance on financial decisions is an excellent reason to change the tactics and draw from this untapped pool of talent.  The office of the CFO is ripe for analytics and data-driven expertise. It is not the meek who will inherit the earth, it is the geek.  These folks are now rock stars (e.g. Nate Silver) and we are in awe of their ability to accurately predict future behavior.

As marketing organizations require a laser-focused approach into the marketplace, leaders who have that driven mindset will be coveted assets.

5. Office of the CEO

Former CEOs make great future CMOs. What was once unthinkable and seen as "downward trajectory," will be seen as the proving ground for marketing leadership. This will usually mean poaching from a competitor or smaller market cap organization, but the skills required to be a great CEO overlay nicely in this marketing role. CMOs have to think like CEOs - a big picture strategy, with local execution.  Their vantage point is no longer just 30,000 ft. or just 3 ft.; they reacquire the full range of insights.  Great CEOs align the business along a focused path.  Marketing needs this focus - more than ever - as it is easy to fragment and "chase" the customer.

A chief executive will bring much needed discipline into the marketing ranks.  Big picture; refined execution.

Advice For Future CMOs

Hansel and Gretel could not have laid out a better path of breadcrumbs for the future CMO to follow.  That was "before;” before social media, before cloud, before the rise of marketing technology, before . . . Now the path way is not so clear.  A deep understanding of data and a focus on audience behavior to make smart decisions and guide the organization are required.  But where to get those skills and where the leadership will go to find them is not.  These areas will certainly come into consideration as we evolve this role.

At eBay, Meg Whitman used to musical chairs her leadership - you were in finance one day, product the next.  It was a great way to build bench-strength, but always seemed a little random.   Marketing will be the destination of many of these leaders in the future, but it wont be random.  It will be to help the organization focus and execute in a changing market.

Future marketers need a host of traditional skills, but will need experience in areas like these 5 to set themselves apart.  See you all in the call center over a spreadsheet!


Todd is a data-centric, audience-focused, socially driven marketer in the body of a salesperson - or something like that.  You can follow him on Twitter @toddmwilms and on his LinkedIn profile.