Want to be a Tech CMO?


6 Attributes Today’s Marketing Leaders Say You’ll Need

Some might say that getting to the C-suite as a marketer is harder to achieve and maintain as compared to other C-suite positions. According to a recent study, 57% of CMOs have been in their role less than 3 years and CMOs have the lowest average tenure of all C-suite titles at 4.1 years. And while CMOs may find it challenging to juggle the evolving needs and expectations of the position, leaders that are able to navigate the complexities can have a profound impact on the success and future of their company – perhaps more than any other role. But what does it take to thrive as a CMO? We talked with some of today’s most innovative marketing leaders and heard six core attributes needed to reach the C-suite and succeed.

Commit to Lifelong Learning

When you work in a field of ongoing evolution and disruption such as marketing, a commitment to continuous learning is required to stay on top of your game. If you want to sit in the CMO seat, your learning needs to go broad as well as deep. “Today’s CMOs have to understand everything from brand down to the very granular things like leveraging data to make decisions and how websites are built,” says Amy Protexter, VP Marketing at Insight.  “The broader your perspective, the better chance you have to lead an organization’s Marketing function.”

According to a recent Spiceworks study, soft skills, such as communication and people management, top the list as most important for B2B tech marketers with 82% of respondents saying they are very to extremely important. Writing ability isn’t far behind at 80%, followed by content marketing (78%), digital media (77%), data analysis (77%), and email marketing skills (65%). And while much of today’s learning should focus on digital trends that can have a profound impact on marketing performance, such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and programmatic media, it’s also important to understand how other areas in the business operate and the impact marketing can have on them.

A commitment to continued learning should extend beyond marketing and go into business acumen as well. Andy Sayare, Head of FlexPod Product Marketing at NetApp recommends, “Learn how businesses operate. Learn how companies protect themselves from risk, and purchase goods and services to spur their own innovation and market relevancy.” CMOs are business leaders, not just marketing leaders, and should have a holistic view of how the company operates to best understand the impact marketing can make.

Build Relationships to Learn More, Faster

It’s never been easier to connect with experts, authors and influencers with specific knowledge that can be a game-changer for you, your team or your company. Don’t hesitate to reach out and build these relationships. In my own efforts making connections with people I respect and admire, I’ve found the majority to be willing to engage and generous with their time. I also learn a lot simply from the insights and content they share.  While there are no shortage of excellent books, blogs, podcasts and other resources for information, as Charlie Liang, Director of Marketing at Engagio says, “Marketing as an industry is going through a makeover, so talking to people might be more important than reading books – the industry is moving fast.”

Master Many Roles

The CMO role is moving front and center in the organization, now informing business strategy through advanced data and analytics capabilities and also playing a big role in directing integrated technology decisions across the organization. In order to translate these capabilities into impactful value and actionable projects and initiatives, it’s helpful to understand a variety of different marketing roles and functions. Amy Protexter says, “Campaign development and execution, content strategy, the realm of digital, personalization and merchandizing, and an overall understanding of technology will be imperative to a successful future in marketing.” Lori Gabrielli, Senior Director, Engagement Marketing at VMware takes this idea even further, recommending that marketers look to understand business functions outside of marketing, such as operations and finance, to build relationships with these organizations, and to make sure that what marketing is doing is getting awareness within those business units. She says, “You can’t be isolated within the marketing department if you want to be CMO, you have to understand the whole business in order to make a difference.”

What Role is the Best Path to the CMO?

Become Financially Savvy

Moving up the ranks and taking on leadership roles in my own marketing career, I quickly learned the importance of becoming fluent in finance and accounting. From managing budgets, expenses and profitability – at a department, product, customer or project level – you are a much more effective marketing leader when you have a solid knowledge of the financial impact of your efforts and monitor them daily. When you’re on top of the numbers, you have the foresight and agility to change course when things aren’t going as planned. Looking at the financial impact of your revenue mix, customer churn, and recurring revenue can help you become aware of serious issues and adjust your marketing efforts to address them before they have significant negative impact. Lori Gabrielli echoes the importance of understanding finance. She says,  “When you know how to communicate your numbers up the chain, the more value you can bring to the business and articulate that value to leadership.” Being able to demonstrate to the c-suite how marketing is driving business success gets you one step closer to having a seat at the table.

Inform Decisions with Data

With the ability to collect and analyze data that we have today, there is no good reason not to lean on that data to guide informed decision-making. If you want to make it to CMO, says Andy Sayare, “Become data-driven and ROI focused. It’s all about the metrics and this is a trend that is not going away.”

With so much data available and the proliferation of more and more of it, the challenge lies in determining exactly what data insights are meaningful to what you’re trying to accomplish, and then putting a solid strategy in place to capture, track and manage those metrics. For most marketers, these data points include typical funnel activity, sales conversions, revenue mix, and customer retention insights, and may also include more granular monitoring at an account, individual or specific activity level. Once you are clear on exactly what data matters to your business, all of your most important decisions should be directed by that data intelligence. Regular monitoring and reporting is a fundamental part of the marketing role, and as you move up in ranks, your peers in the boardroom will look for you to bring data to the table. As Mark Yeager, career B2B technology marketer and President of our firm Yeager Marketing says often, “I think’ is no longer an acceptable rationale for any critical business decision without data to back it up.”

Focus on the Customer

The customer is evolving for every business and every industry. “Customer segmentation and understanding how to message to different personas will be a critical element of marketing in the next decade,” says Charlie Liang. As current buying decision-makers transition to the next generation, it’s important for marketers to be in tune with their preferences to engage and communicate with them most effectively and to give buyers options for how they can interact with you. Personalized brand experiences are quickly creating differentiation for companies that want to show the customer that they are the priority.

The role of the CMO is in a state of change and disruption. And although is It is evolving into a more difficult job, many people in the organization still don’t understand the role. As Andy Sayare says, “be aware that marketing looks easy to everyone who does not do it for a living. It gets much harder, as you work to have your voice heard amidst all of the other companies in the world competing for customers’ attention.” With marketing leaders becoming more and more savvy at creating brands that stand apart, tomorrow’s CMOs will need to have a deep insight into their ideal customers – relying on strategic data capture and persona building – as well as creating an adaptable brand that can meet the unique and sometimes complex needs of their buyers.