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The Short Tenure CMO

CMOs have the lowest tenure of any role on the executive team. Spencer Stuart’s 2022 annual study of CMOs found that the average tenure was only 40 months. Median tenure was 28 months. CEOs typically remain in their roles for twice as long as CMOs – 85 months according to the study. The positive news from the study was that women outnumbered men in the CMO role for the first time in the study.

abstract illustration of Chief Marketing Officer

Why are there so many short-tenure CMOs? What is the root cause of the high turnover rate? The answer is the extremely diverse range of skills required for success. Over the past 15 years, the CMO role has evolved. The modern 21st-century CMO needs to be much more analytical and technical than her/his 20th-century predecessor. However, the creative and strategic skills that historically were the hallmarks of a great marketing leader continue to be critical as well. In other words, today’s CMO needs to have both a strong left brain and a right brain.

The 10 Skills Modern CMOs Need to Master

The Left Brain CMO

Consider what the scope of responsibility a CMO at a $100M SaaS provider might include.  A lot of the responsibility is quantitative and left-brained in nature:

  • Technology – Oversee a Martech stack with 10-20 apps capturing billions of data points about user activity on search engines, digital ads, website, and content.
  • Financial – Quantify the ROI from $20M+ budget spend across multiple regions and product lines, deciding how best to allocate funds to hit pipeline and sales targets.
  • Analytical – Present to investors at a quarterly board meeting on the metrics for recent marketing campaigns – leads, pipeline, bookings, and conversion rates through the funnel.
  • Product Marketing – Communicate the value proposition of technical products like DevOps, AI/ML, blockchain, or perhaps vertical SaaS apps focused on healthcare, logistics, or payments.
Also, need to be super-organized

  • Execution – Oversee team responsible for project managing dozens of campaigns across dozens of channels – tradeshows, webinars, email, social media, search engines, and digital ad platforms.

The Right Brain CMO

The CMO also needs to manage a lot of right-brained activities, which are strategic and creative in nature. Their scope of responsibilities include:

  • Storyteller – Develop a compelling narrative that gets the target audience to not only pay attention, but change their viewpoint on how to solve a problem.
  • Evangelist – Act as an evangelist for the company, pitching Gartner analysts, Wall Street Journal reporters, and social media influencers on why their firm is the best.
  • Strategic – Paint a vision for how the market will evolve over the comping years and the challenges customers will face. The goal is to establish their firm as the thought leader in the space
  • Creative – Find ways to stand out from the noise, with attention-getting videos, infographics, and live event experiences that create word-of-mouth buzz in real life and on social media.
By the way, the CMO also needs to have a high EQ

  • Leadership – Build a world-class team of marketers with an innovative culture that rewards high-performance and offers on-going career development opportunities to retain top talent.

An Impossible Task

Take a quick look through the list above and think about how many people you have met in your career that check all of those boxes. You can probably think of many that check all the left-brain boxes. There are many great execution-oriented leaders who can master the technical, analytical, and financial dimensions of the CMO role. But ask these “great executers” to xxxx and they will flounder. Conversely, you can find many gifted idea-generators who excel at creative, evangelism, and storytelling. But ask these “strategic thinkers” to start reporting on metrics and taking on lead quotas and they will run the other direction.

It’s virtually impossible to find someone who excels at the diverse range of skills. Nonetheless, most CMO search processes take only a few weeks to complete. The decision process usually goes like this – let’s select someone that is good at the skills that are most important to us and they can surround themselves with people that are smarter than them in the other areas. Two years later they realize that wasn’t the right approach and start a search for a new CMO.

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.