Many CMOs are becoming victims of their own success. As they become more involved in shaping the global corporate strategy, they are less able to manage the day-to-day marketing execution.

The CMOs and senior marketing leaders we work with have been navigating a dramatic shift in how the C-suite understands marketing’s contribution to revenue.  By and large, the changing perspectives of fellow executives about how to partner with the marketing department have been positive.  But many CMOs are becoming victims of their own success:  as they become more involved in shaping the global corporate strategy, they are less able to manage the day-to-day marketing execution required to realize revenue contribution targets and their strategic vision.  If you find yourself increasingly focused on the “10,000-foot view of marketing,” read on to learn how you can ensure you have the right team in place to support you.


CMOs & C-Suites: From “Let Me in” to “Let Me Catch My Breath”


It’s interesting to note that several years ago the biggest problem facing the CMO members of our Customer Advisory Board was getting access to the CEO (“the title doesn’t matter; if you aren’t reporting to the CEO you aren’t the chief marketing officer” was how one member put it). But today the consensus within our CMO network is that ongoing difficulties building a quality roster of marketing talent now looms largest in the minds of senior marketing leadership.  This is because effective CMOs have established credibility as a key player in the executive team. They have become increasingly removed from daily marketing functions to bring marketing insights to bear across multiple key areas, including sales, product, and customer success.


It’s a Capacity and a Capabilities Problem


Gaps in the marketing bench are not just the typical capacity issues that arise in any tight labor market.  It’s a symptom of the data-intensive, and complex position marketing now occupies.  As more b2b interactions shift towards a self-serve and automated messaging cadence, the technologies to deliver this type of customer experience often lie within marketing, and the end result is the CMO is being tasked with providing visibility and actionable insights about the entire customer lifecycle from prospect through renewal.


Revenue-minded CMOs face two distinct challenges with staffing a marketing department.  The first is finding well-rounded marketers that possess a broad aptitude across marketing functions and deep domain expertise in one or two areas (think of a “T-Shaped” Marketer). Second, CMOs want a chief of staff or marketing leadership team that can manage the daily execution so that it is aligned with the CMO’s strategic vision while providing key performance insights to help shape and refine that vision.


Making changes to your team, developing leaders, and building scalable, repeatable processes is painful and slow, but the long-term impact on the organization can be profound.  Obviously, the best time to start this sort of transformation is “yesterday,” but don’t let the acute problems of today keep you from taking steps to get the support you need for tomorrow.


Hire Talent with the Right Mindset


CMOs are increasingly looking for compensation plans that look a lot more like their peers in Sales, but they have been more resistant to build a KPI-driven, performance-based compensation plan for their team.  This is probably a mistake.  Take incremental steps to adjust your compensation strategy so that you begin to attract talent that wants a big upside for top-level performance.


While it was written for Sales Leaders, SBI’s “Talent Wake Up Call” provides a step-by-step guide to hiring and retaining top talent.  It talks about:


  1. Implementing job challenges for candidates to validate their skillset and appropriateness for a particular role.
  2. How to onboard new talent so they can begin contributing as quickly as possible to both the work and the team culture.
  3. The elements of a successful coaching and development program.
  4. How to develop new leadership and implement a succession plan.


Leadership development and succession planning are particularly relevant because, most likely, your next second-in-command will probably emerge from your internal team.


You’ll Probably Find Your Chief of Staff Internally


While hiring well-rounded marketing talent is a primary frustration of the CMOs we work with, most felt that the biggest obstacle was finding the time to invest in their team’s development.  But nearly all agreed that they are at a complete loss when it comes to finding their next chief of staff.  Why is that?


To be effective, a chief of staff needs to intimately understand your organization, your department, marketing’s role within the global corporate strategy and how the marketing-specific strategy supports that.  In other words, they need enough experience to help make you better in your role directly.  At the same time, a chief of staff needs incredibly strong people and project management skills to drive the desired outcomes.


There’s no harm in building a job requisition that articulates exactly what you need in your chief of staff and seeing what types of responses you get, but the truth is that well-designed hiring, onboarding, and coaching regime will, over time, attract and develop the talent you need. 


Your Next Steps


First, if the idea of the CEO, CRO, and COO banging down the door to the CMO’s office doesn’t describe your current relationship with the executive team, you need to start by reviewing our Revenue Marketing CMO Checklist.  The C-Suite cares about revenue, not lead metrics. If you don’t speak the language, you won’t be there for long.


Next, evaluate the gulfs, gaps, and areas of alignment within your current marketing team.  This is an imperative step to defining your talent strategy and attracting the right “T-shaped” marketers. You should also evaluate your organization’s overall talent development strategy and how it impacts you and your colleague’s ability to execute.  Our “Talent Strategy and Execution” questionnaire will provide some helpful organization-wide insights to attract, develop, and retain top talent, even in a tight labor market.


As you devote more time to driving business outcomes from an executive level, you can’t afford to micromanage or second-guess your marketing department.  Using these three resources can move you significantly closer to building your ideal team, so you won’t stumble from the 10,000-foot vantage point you’ve worked so hard to get to.


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