The Short Shelf Life of a CMO

CMOThe below graphic comes from a LinkedIn post from Mark Stouse, CEO at Proof Analytics. According to Stouse, “the average tenure for a CMO is now 18-22 months, less than half the norm for the rest of the C-suite. Most CMOs simply run out of time, particularly in longer-cycle businesses”. And when I talk about chief marketing officers (CMOs) I am also referring to VPs of Marketing (assuming there is not a CMO to whom they report). Having been a CMO for several fast-growing technology companies, and now supporting a few great CMOs as a marketing services provider, I know this territory well. In fact, CMOs are some of my favorite people. So of course it disturbs me if marketing leaders are not getting the right amount of recognition and job security.


CMOs are uniformly smart, capable and personable enough to navigate the corporate political waters. So why is the CMO position in jeopardy at a time when many of these people are getting good results for their organizations? Here are the top six reasons:

  1. Failure to measure marketing’s impact on the business. This reason is a biggie. If you can’t justify your value — in the eyes of the executive suite — you have no value. Sure, your marketing objectives are important, including items like website traffic, boosts in awareness, growth in inquiries, campaign metrics and so forth.  But tCMO Collapsehe critical measurements — which you should show on a separate executive dashboard — are the delivery of revenue-impacting items like sales qualified leads (SQLs), pipeline increases and shortened sales cycles.
  2. Failure to align with sales management. Let’s face it, when results are poor, your colleagues in the sales department may point the finger at you. And because they are the people who move the revenue needle, your failure to gain the support of your sales counterpart can be fatal.
  3. Failure to align with the executive team. The exec team that welcomed you with platitudes and open arms when you started can be your biggest detractors downstream. It’s best to spend a little time early on figuring out what their particular issues are. Then, work to keep the rivers of communication flowing.
  4. Lack of esprit de corps. This issue is related to the last two points. No matter how talented, each CMO — like every other member of the executive team — must be seen as a team player. Early in my career, I worked with a VP of marketing who was quite bright and full of great ideas, but he tended to act as if he was the only smart person in the room. Not a good idea when you are surrounded by other type A personalities who believe their views should be respected.
  5. Lousy timing. Marketing is supposed to not only support the short-term needs of the sales department in areas like field marketing and sales enablement, but also create a foundation for success several quarters and years out.
  6. Unrealistic expectations. I’ve seen CEOs hire a new CMO and within months become highly critical of the lack of results, quantitative and/or qualitative. This may be due to the CEO’s lack of understanding of the marketing function, or because of the natural tendency of the enthusiastic new CMO to over-promise — something I did a couple of times early in my career.

Good CMOs (like those at my client companies) have an unquestioned commitment to their company, loyalty to the executive team and their staff, and the ability to deal with short-term issues while taking care of longer-term strategic objectives. In other words, they are able to achieve that delicate balance: Doing the right thing for the company while getting along with those who may have different viewpoints about what the marketing department should be doing. To put it another way, a CMO must follow the advice of Isaac Newton: “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy”.

Christopher Ryan
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