5 Traits You Need in a CMO

Hiring your company’s head of marketing is not a task to be taken lightly. An effective marketing leader will increase the value of your brand, drive revenue, innovate on product/service offerings, anticipate consumer needs and help you stay ahead of your competition. It’s a tall order, so we’ve put together a list of five traits you need in a CMO to help identify marketing talent that satisfies all this and more.

What are the key attributes your Chief Marketing Officer should possess?

Certainly, there are foundational marketing skills that every candidate must have as prerequisites—brand positioning, lead generation, digital tools, customer journey, product marketing, media, communications/public relations … the list goes on and on. Beyond simply possessing those marketing strengths, your CMO must be able to apply them in ways that make sense for your business. I’ve said it often, and it bears repeating—the fact that a candidate held a CMO position at one company does not guarantee they can accomplish the task at hand for another. It’s critical to ensure that the person you are considering for the job is able tailor their expertise to the specific needs and goals of your business.

What are some additional skills your CMO needs to successfully compete in today’s marketplace?

At MarketPro, we consult with companies of all shapes, sizes and ownership structures—large public companies, PE/VC-backed companies, privately held companies, Fortune 500 companies, family-owned companies and more. We are talking to businesses every day, helping them locate high-end executive marketing leaders who can transform a business.

After 26+ years at the pinnacle of marketing executive search, we’ve learned a few things about what to look for in a CMO. Some pillar attributes remain true year after year. Others evolve with the highly transformative nature of the industry itself. In 2022, there are five key attributes we look for when sourcing top executive marketing talent for our clients.

1. Lifelong Learner

Marketing continues to increase in complexity. While the overriding principles remain relatively consistent, the way to reach your customers is continuously evolving. So, our first tip is that good marketers MUST be lifelong learners. These individuals are not only intellectually curious, but also devote time each week to some form of personal business and marketing growth.

Frankly, with family and life demands outside of the business, carving out time for ongoing self education can be hard to do. Still, the most sought after executive marketers find a way. We estimate about five hours per week, outside of regular work hours, is essential to staying sharp and on top of your marketing game.

Many of the candidates we work with—those who are passionate about marketing—do this naturally through a combination of reading marketing books (check out this 100-year-old book that marketers still swear by), staying current on search engine algorithm changes, monitoring top industry blogs, listening to marketing podcasts, participating in local marketing associations, pursuing additional education or certifications, and/or working with a mentor.

What you need to see in a strong executive marketing candidate is someone who has broadened their marketing skill set, is up on the latest tools and trends, and can intelligently converse on all aspects of the business. These well-rounded individuals are more apt to innovate, successfully navigate ambiguous direction and find paths forward when there is no roadmap.

2. Performance Marketing Approach

Today’s CMO must be able to tie marketing efforts to measurable results. Long gone are the days when marketing leaders threw money at advertising and wondered if it worked. Today’s successful marketers are metrics driven and able to tie their efforts to concrete measurable results. That’s not to say that 100% of the budget should go toward transactional campaigns, as the customer journey involves basic marketing principles, as well as behavioral factors such as awareness and consideration. It takes a skilled marketer to understand where to allocate budget, how much should be spent on brand vs. transactional goals and how both of those will be measured.

So many digital steps along the customer journey can be measured, analyzed, optimized and adjusted in real-time to achieve the best CAC, CPL, CPC, CLV or whatever metric you are gauging. Even brand health can be measured. Savvy marketers are heavy into data, research, insights and analytics, and know how to anticipate, read and adjust to trends. They don’t necessarily need to know how to execute everything tactically, but must know the drivers of the business and be able to lead and guide your marketing team.

Additionally, establishing alliances with peers in IT and utilizing BI tools such as Tableau (and others) are essential to understanding the types of data that can be extracted. Many times, the data sources that a marketer uses to inform their media/digital expenditures are disparate, existing in multiple locations. Establishing a “single source of truth,” whether in one system or a combination of sources, will take heavy coordination with IT and data science teams—with support from the C-suite—to ensure proper business priority and budget allocations are made.

It often is the CMO, in conjunction with the CIO, who must be able to provide the vision, and tell the story, and paint the picture of the positive impacts such tools will have on the customer experience and company revenue.

3. Omnichannel Marketing Skills

The proliferation of titles like Chief Brand Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Growth Officer, Chief Customer Officer, Chief Digital Officer and the like all speak to the real, broad functions of today’s Chief Marketing Officer. Many times, a title is created to add emphasis to a function or to distinguish its responsibilities from those of the CMO.

Simply put, knowing how to engage the customer from first point of awareness, through the sales funnel, to purchase and finally to loyal lifetime consumer—across all touchpoints—is no longer a luxury but a required skill set. A thoughtful customer journey that delivers a consistent brand experience is paramount to standing out in a crowded marketplace.

Keep in mind that customers don’t judge you on the size of your company but on the experience you provide. It’s not only a brand experience across touchpoints that is expected, but a seamless interaction from device to device, no matter where they may be in the sales funnel. Moving from mobile device to laptop to desktop over the course of a single purchase is not unusual, and your customers expect you to keep up. Successful marketing leaders must be adept at creating pleasant, cohesive customer journeys along the digital highway.

4. Executive Presence/Emotional Intelligence

Two key attributes of leadership are emotional intelligence and executive presence, and each is critically important in today’s marketing executives. You can have the best marketing plan in the world, but if your CMO doesn’t instill confidence, their credibility with superiors, peers and the marketing team is sunk.

Data is at the heart of aligning marketing efforts with business goals, but your CMO must be an accomplished storyteller to connect the dots for others. Clearly communicating complex marketing concepts to non-marketers across all levels of the organization is an art. The best marketing executives can educate and inspire listeners with authenticity, authority and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, this talent is not shared by every brilliant marketer. I’ve observed CMOs subvert their credibility by throwing out numbers that didn’t tie back to the business or that they didn’t even fully understand. A particularly painful memory involves a senior marketing executive who repeated “impression numbers” he had received from an outside marketing agency. When asked to explain what the numbers meant and how they impacted the sales cycle, he failed miserably.

Emotional intelligence is a trait we look for in CMOs that includes being able to read the room and think ahead about the types of questions that might be asked, so they can formulate a reasoned answer.

When the team at MarketPro vets executive marketing candidates, we spend a lot of time digging deep into their marketing experience and an equal amount of time assessing culture fit, leadership traits and the ability to influence key constituents.

There’s a fine balance between hubris and confidence. Authenticity, transparency and humility win the day.

5. Business Acumen

Finally, your CMO must have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of your business. You need a leader who understands sources of revenue, the elements that contribute most margin to your bottom line, potential growth opportunities and your competitive marketplace. An effective CMO must be well equipped to understand your corporate P&L and the financial health of the company. That leader must then be able to connect marketing elements—brand story, customer journey, media and messaging decisions, partnership investments, product initiatives and more—to the revenue drivers of the company.

A business SWOT analysis is certainly par for the course but, beyond that, the Chief Marketing Officer should help drive strategic business decisions by effectively analyzing the competition and identifying opportunities for expansion and/or acquisition.

Your CMO must know the business, fully grasp the health of the business and understand how to tie together marketing efforts to drive long-term value while building short-term sales. It’s far too often we see CMOs who are brilliant marketers but subpar businesspeople.

Like I said, hiring a CMO is a complicated process, one that will have significant impact across your organization. Keeping in mind these five traits to look for in your next CMO can go a long way toward making sure that impact is not only positive, but game-changing to your business.

Written by Rob Collins, Principal

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MarketPro Inc. is the leading high-end marketing executive search firm delivering top-performing innovative marketers. As a team of former marketing professionals, we are uniquely qualified to separate A players from everyone else. Celebrating our 26th year, we are a certified woman-owned business with headquarters in Atlanta and clients nationwide. Visit us on LinkedIn.