The CMO’s Survival Toolkit

Whatever you think about where marketing is headed next, it’s hard to deny that things haven’t gotten any easier for CMO’s in the past 5 years. And yet the role is critical to the health of our discipline. So how can a modern CMO weather the storm, overcome all of the obstacles in their way and make great things happen for their brand—and for marketing as a whole? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

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  • It also loves headlines about how drastically this particular c-suite role has changed.
  • No question, it’s a high pressure gig. And all of this hype and hand-wringing don’t make it any easier. So what does? The first item in our survival toolkit is a pragmatic one that has nothing to do with the specifics of the role: get really, really good at presenting to boards.
  • The second item is also highly pragmatic. It comes from Thomas Barta, drawn from his interviews with over 300 marketing leaders: “Marketing is too complicated to succeed without full alignment of product, service, customer experience, human resources, IT. Great CMOs have a knack for getting to know their peers, especially the ones who could impede success.”
  • The third item in our toolkit also comes from Barta’s research. It may be obvious, but it has to be said: “Successful CMOs know how to speak the CEO’s language (revenue, acquisition, retention, ROI) and are good at translating traditional marketing metrics into business factors”.
  • What about this whole “rapid change” angle? Our take: the fourth item in the survival kit is about forming an equally clear understanding of what’s changed and what hasn’t—and tailoring your overall approach with this balanced view in mind.
  • Speaking of rapid change and keeping up, our fifth item comes in the form of this simple tip from Kevin Chesters: “Give yourself the permission to feel a bit clueless occasionally. It’s fine to ‘not know’ or to have to ‘phone a friend’. It’s amazing how clever you can look when you admit you’re a bit stupid.”

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  • If none of this is enough to help you survive as a CMO at your current company, consider sharing this quote from Seth Godinin your exit interview: “If you want a marketing head, you need to give them the freedom to actually do marketing. The reason that the tenure of a CMO averages about 18 months is that it takes a year and a half for the boss to realize that pain-free, risk-free, easy miracles aren’t arriving on schedule.”
  • If it’s time to think about the next step your journey, here’s an interesting (and related) thought from Adam Grant: “When considering your next job, you don’t have to choose between joining a big pond and being a big fish. You want to join a growing pond, because that’s where you’ll become the biggest fish.”


Try this

Great CMO’s make great decisions. Decision journals are an easy way to improve your ability to make decisions over time.

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Issue #73
Jul 14, 2019

Further Reading