Survival of the Fittest

October 15, 2007


What do CEOs want from marketers in the C-suite?

According to Spencer Stuart, the Chicago-based global executive search firm, the average CMO tenure is now 26 months. With that kind of churn, there must be some disconnect between what top brass expects and CMO performance.

When it comes to hiring CMOs, Greg Welch, global practice leader for the consumer goods and services group at Spencer Stuart, is one of the industry’s best-known search executives. Who would know better what CEOs want from their CMOs than Welch?

“When I sit with a CEO and ask them, ‘What does winning look like?’ [or] ‘In 12 months what will it take for you to say, ‘Spencer Stuart, great CMO hire,’ ’ typically, No. 1, 2 and 3 on the CEO’s list is ‘drive profitable revenue growth,’ ” Welch says.

Sure, CMOs need to be responsible for restoring brand equity and making sure the pipeline is filled with new products. Yes, ROI in marketing matters. But at the end of the day, when you really cut through it all, CEOs want one thing from their CMOs: “CEOs are looking for revenue growth. They're looking for the CMO to get them going in the right direction,” Welch says.

To drive home the point, Welch reminisces about a CEO client. “Before a search the CEO told me, ‘Greg, winning is really, really hard. I'm looking for a CMO that has put the ball in the hoop several times before. We're looking for people that have been successful in the past,’ ” Welch says.

Welch and Spencer Stuart are careful to point out that growing revenue profitably is the No. 1 concern, but that CEOs are not one-dimensional nor is the marketing function a static environment.

“Think about the ways the CFO keeps his books today versus 10 years ago. It’s pretty much the same,” Welch says. “Compared with other functional areas, marketing is evolving rapidly.” As examples of what drives change, Welch points to consumer audience fragmentation, new outlets, new channels and the new ways of talking with consumers.

“Consumers tell marketers they want us to speak to them differently. Yet, few CMOs understand new media. Our ability to measure new media effectiveness simply isn't there. Marketing requires a marriage of art and science and that compounds senior management’s frustration,” Welch says.

Spencer Stuart and Welch offers six points of focus for aspiring marketers who want to succeed at C-level:

  • Growth—Today’s CMOs must deliver marketing plans that drive positive revenue. Wall Street pressure is intense. CEOs want pros who can get the company growing.
  • Leadership—Be a beacon supporting the CEO's vision. Know your CEO’s key performance indicators and how your initiatives cascade from the boss’ goals and support them.
  • Impact—CMOs must drive real change across the organization. Simply having a great marketing mind is no longer enough. Marketing-oriented general managers will be welcomed to the C-suite by their peers because of their ability to add value across the enterprise.
  • Collaboration—Spend time understanding other C-level executive agendas. Get input from the CFO, CIO, operations, HR, supply chain and sales. Know how their agendas fit with marketing.
  • Innovation—CMOs must help position the company both internally and externally as pushing the innovation envelope. This can’t simply be new packaging or marketing veneer; CMOs must create environments for ideation, lead teams to big ideas in channel strategies, pricing options, partnerships, and product and process improvements.
  • Talent—Great CMOs are conscious of how the makeup of their team aligns with their target consumer base. The highest performing marketing teams are those with diverse composition. This extends beyond gender and ethnic diversity (both of which are critical) and considers age and functional experience.

Growth, leadership, impact, collaboration, innovation and adding talent to the organization--that’s a tall order for any corporate executive today. But, it’s simply the ante if you want to play at marketing’s C-level now. Start with boosting revenues—it is what CEOs want and expect from their CMOs.

If you can build a track record and succeed across this list, your tenure as a CMO should exceed 26 months. Of course, if you’re good at these six skills, you just might be getting a call from Greg Welch.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at or



 ©2007 Marion Consulting Partners