Second in Command: The Emergence of the “Growth CMO”

Ronen Shetelboim

Exploring how a new generation of growth CMOs have potential to stay longer, drive exponential growth and become second in command

Who’s really second in command after the CEO? You’d think that designation would go to the Chief Operating Officer, but that’s no longer the case. Only 30 percent of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies today have a COO, according to the 2016 volatility report by Krist Kolder.

The decline in COOs has created an opportunity for other C-suite executives to gain increased power, to step in and take on operational duties after the COO role is eliminated. But who is the most likely candidate?

I nominate the Growth CMO.

In today’s market, we’re seeing three versions of CMOs:

  • The Old Fashioned CMO — who remains focused on traditional marketing and public relations tactics to help shape the brand’s perception.
  • The Modern CMO — who is called on to use both the right brain and left brain: not only the creative elements of brand and PR, but increasingly, analytic prowess to leverage data and measure how every marketing dollar tracks back to revenue.
  • The Next Generation CMO — who I call the Growth CMO. While this role also requires both creativity and analytical thinking, the Growth CMO must also demonstrate another critical characteristic: a growth mindset. The Growth CMO knows how to use both data and creativity to drive growth — and therefore, to step up and step in as second in command.

A Case for CMOs (or CMGOs) to Be Second in Command

Growth CMOs exhibit these five characteristics:

  1. Drive growth with data — CMOs need to drive growth. Period. With access to data, CMOs and CFOs have the ability to sit together and build accurate models to produce growth. The data that is available today allows CMOs to steer the direction of the company to find its “North.”
  2. Shape the “forever” customer experience — CMOs are ultimately accountable for not only prospects but the entire customer journey, from the first moment someone interacts with the brand through the entire prospect and customer lifecycle. CMOs need to generate a consistent experience across every interaction, including new business, upsell, cross-sell, retention, etc.
  3. Represent the brand — today, everything and everyone is marketing. It doesn’t matter if you have 25 people in your company or 10,000 employees. When prospects or customers are interacting with someone who represents the brand — whether directly or indirectly — they will leave with an impression, a feeling, an experience and an opinion. CMOs need to build culture and training around the brand that can be embodied by every single employee, inside and outside the office, 24/7.
  4. Reimagine hiring — unlike hiring for Sales and Customer Support departments, for example, where there are common skillsets required across all hires, CMOs are tasked with hiring for a myriad of different functions. Within marketing, almost every function carries a different skillset — from creative to events to operations to analytics and much more — meaning that CMOs need to be able to hire employees with different skill sets and different personalities.
  5. Align the whole organization and drive change — traditionally, CMOs have held responsibility for aligning sales and marketing. Today, they need to expand the lens, leveraging unique access to prospect/customer data and market trends to serve as the glue that ties together the entire organization.

There’s Work to be Done

The role of the CMO is increasingly important and this new generation of CMOs has a real opportunity to become second in command. But it’s not going to be easy.

Research shows that turnover rates for CMOs are the highest among their c-suite peers. However, the research doesn’t specify what type of CMOs are experiencing high turnover. Are they old school marketers within an increasingly complex, sophisticated and shifting CMO role? I believe the two main reasons for the high turnover are:

  1. Unclear CMO role, as understood by the CMO and other executives, including the CEO
  2. Lack of adjustment from a CMO standpoint in adopting the growth mindset.

When the CMO does focus on growth and there is alignment with the CEO, magical things can happen. There are CMOs out there who have already figured that out, especially Fortune 100 CMOs whose tenure is actually increasing.

To be successful, CMOs need to keep up with technology shifts and organizational changes, all with a strategic focus on growth. Also paramount to their success is working with a CEO who understands the critical role of the CMO.

This recent Harvard Business Review article offers a good summary of what CMOs need to consider before signing up for any new position, and what CEOs need to know about CMOs before hiring one. When there is a match between a CEO who understands the role of the new CMO, and a CMO who focuses on growth, the company is poised for a great future. And the CMO will take the second in command seat.

That’s how I see it. What do you think? Can the CMO become second in command?

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