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What Does Great Look Like in a CMO?

November 9, 2022

Post 2 of 4 in the Startup Series for CMO’s.

You’re hiring a Chief Marketing Officer. Whether someone in your company is ready to level up to greatness or you need to bring in a new leader, we’ve already discussed knowing when it’s time to hire a CMO. But what are you looking for?

Great marketing leaders have some common characteristics and skills. Your CMO should aspire to embody some of the following qualities in order to stand out.

A great CMO understands the marketing budget. It starts with drivers and business results and works backwards in a modular way to spend, not the other way around. Yes, they will be allotted resources, but rather than spend that money to fill the gaps on their team to make the Marketing function strong or powerful, they’ll look at the business needs and drivers. They understand what the business needs to achieve—the sales plan—and what the funnel looks like.

With that information, a great CMO will know what marketing levers they can pull to both optimize the funnel and make sure it’s full. So, they build the plan in a modular way. If the budget needs to be trimmed, they can ask the right questions and easily trim. If you start the other way—if you start by looking at the budget and filling gaps and needs—you can get into a situation where you’re looking for ways to keep people busy, shifting them to where they’re needed but where they might not have skills to make an immediate impact, or you’re always scrambling to keep up with developments in sales and the funnel that you didn’t see coming. A great CMO will always start with the drivers and business needs and be conservative with resources. A modular approach helps to do that.

A great CMO makes spend decisions based on a deep understanding of data. They don’t rely on a hunch or fall back on “that’s what’s always worked.” Even in traditional B2C businesses that make heavy use of traditional non-addressable media (like print, outdoor, radio, and TV), everything can be tested and measured to some degree. A strong CMO is one who starts every answer with “let’s look at the data.” If the data doesn’t exist, they’ll create metrics and measures to approximate an answer.

A great CMO will behave like a CEO in terms of being able to orchestrate the different pieces of their organization. Just as a CEO has to manage a litany of disparate functions, so too CMOs manage a litany of disparate channels. They have to manage up and down the organization, and sideways, too.

Gone are the days when CMOs were either “brand or direct” or “online or offline.” Today, the average CMO has to be able to manage 20+ different channels. The level of complexity and number of points of failure for the job has exploded. A great CMO handles this with the fluidity of a CEO moving from a Sales Pipeline meeting to a Product Roadmapping exercise.

The final characteristic of a great CMO is that they get away from their ivory tower. They spend time in-market and in-product, not just looking at data, budgets, and reports. Given all the responsibilities around multi-channel orchestration, systems, budgeting, and execution in general, it can be very easy for a CMO to operate 100% from behind the desk. The great ones want—need—to be out in the field, attending sales calls, partner meetings, events, serving as executive sponsor on some key accounts; in general, collecting primary data on the company’s products and brand.

A great CMO can be cultivated from within your company. It’s not always necessary to look outside. Regardless of how you source your CMO, be sure to consider the characteristics and traits listed here to ensure you find a great one.

-Matt Blumberg, November 10, 2022.