CMO vs CGO: Does Your Business Need a Chief Growth Officer?

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Over the last few years, the corporate world has seen new C level titles popping up as the business world is experiencing rapid change. A new Chief _________ Officer title seems to emerge every few months. Some of those executive trends have had staying power, while many more faded into obscurity and irrelevance.

The Chief Growth Officer seems to be one of the positions that has gathered and maintained momentum–a LinkedIn search alone for people with this title already yields 4,600 results. That understandably leaves business leaders wondering whether they should be considering a Chief Growth Officer executive search themselves.

What the Heck is a Chief Growth Officer?

Chief Growth Officer

The exact role of a Chief Growth Officer is amorphous; the position has only recently begun experiencing meaningful adoption across business, and its responsibilities vary broadly from organization to organization.

Even now, you’ll struggle to find a universally agreed-upon job description or definition for the CGO.

At its most basic level, the Chief Growth Officer is responsible for the establishment and acceleration of current business growth and paving the way for sustained future development.

But wait–isn’t there already someone with that job?

If the above definition sounds familiar, that’s because it probably is. This has been the job of the modern Chief Marketing Officer for years now.

Sure, the reach of the Chief Growth Officers typically extends beyond the Marketing department into R&D, Customer Service, Analytics, and more. Some are even put in charge of Sales, though asking someone to effectively oversee both Sales and Marketing will stretch even the most capable executives to their absolute limit. But ultimately, they will have the same core mission and purpose as most existing Chief Marketers.

Which of course begs the question: If the CMO is already in charge of driving business growth, why does a business need a CGO at all?



In March, Coca-Cola shook up the marketing world by announcing that it would be letting its current Global CMO go, removing the position, and “Combining Global Marketing, Customer and Commercial Leadership, and Strategy into one combined function under the leadership of a new Chief Growth Officer to drive growth across five strategic beverage categories.”

The move by Coke was a big one, but not the first of its kind. Many other big brands and businesses have been adding CGO positions instead of or in addition to existing Chief Marketers; especially big names in consumer packaged goods like Mondelēz, Tyson Foods, and Kellogg. But CGOs aren’t just for CPG: PayPal, Best Buy, DigitasLBi and many more employ one.

What gives? It’s not as if these companies didn’t have elaborate marketing infrastructure and leadership designed to drive growth already. Why add on a new role?

Whether or not the adoption of a CGO will help Coke sell more beverages remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the world’s most recognizable brand, along with many other organizations, was in some way unsatisfied with the amount of the growth being driven by their current team and organizational structure. And they’ve turned to a new leadership and organizational strategy to kickstart growth and get them back on track.

Should You Adopt a CGO Yourself?

So, is it time to ditch your Head of Marketing and engage a Chief Growth Officer executive search firm? Not so fast.

If you’re experiencing stagnation or decline in your organization, consider that it might not be with your senior leadership positions, but the talent that’s currently occupying them.

A lot is demanded of today’s marketing leaders. They’re expected to be customer conduits, innovation factories, digital geniuses, cultural prophets, technology masters, sales enablers, and more. And it’s not enough for CMOs to get the Marketing team running smoothly and up-to-date–they must also bring the entire organization along with them in order to drive success.

A Chief Growth Officer executive search may indeed be the missing piece needed to accelerate growth in your business. But before you consider replacing your CMO position, consider whether it’s the role, or the professional in it, that’s letting you down on your growth goals.

Instead of overhauling your entire org chart, you may find that you’re just a relatively straightforward CMO executive search away from getting back on the path to growth.

The Problem of Executive Authority

I mentioned above that CMO success (and by extension, business growth) can’t be achieved by optimizing Marketing alone–the rest of the organization has to be brought along.

Unfortunately, that’s extremely difficult–especially in a world where too many other business leaders still see Marketing as just the “make things pretty department.” Even when CMOs see the right path forward, they are often unable to act with the needed authority to implement new policies and make changes.

…before you consider replacing your CMO position, consider whether it’s the role, or the professional in it, that’s letting you down…

Sometimes this is an ingrained structural problem. Internal politics, territorial executive peers reluctant to cooperate, or a vast, entrenched bureaucracy can stand in the way of even the most clever and qualified marketing heads. In instances like this, a new Chief Growth Officer position created with authority over customer-facing aspects of the business can be effective in cutting through red tape and wrangling control of the mess.

Other times this is, again, a talent problem. The senior marketer is simply unable to display the leadership, relationship and planning skills needed to push, pull, entice the organization into the needed change. How does the CMO effectively manage change at a pace the organization can digest it and move the business forward at a pace that meets growth goals? When the problem is executive gravitas, rather than the job itself, you’ll likely be better off with a Chief Marketing Officer executive search instead of hiring a CGO.

Complements to the Chief

CGOs can be especially valuable to a business when the CEO lacks a background in customer experience, communication, and engagement.

Consider; about one third of Fortune 100 Chief Executives reached that point through a finance career; eventually moving from CFO to CEO.

Those individuals no doubt have many strengths and can make great CEO’s. But they likely lack direct experience truly interacting with customers, evaluating the marketplace, or innovating products. So it is critical for them to build a team around them that fills in with the best experience.

In cases like this, a Chief Growth Officer executive search may be the perfect way to bring a much-needed complimentary perspective to a CEO who is more familiar with balance sheets than customer experience.

Related Readings from the Top Chief Growth Officer Executive Search Firm

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