CMO tenure: Up, up and away!

CMO tenure: Up, up and away!

The pity party is over for CMOs. While it’s still popular sport for CMOs to gather and complain about the short tenure of a CMO (urban legend puts it at an exaggerated 18 months), silently more and more CMOs have been staying on board longer and longer.

The latest Spencer Stuart study shows that within 5 years, CMO tenure has jumped from the (actual) paltry low of 23 months in 2006 to a new high of 43 months in 2011. With the exception of the ever-tumultuous, make-the-number-or-you’re-out Head of Sales career, CMOs still do not last as long as other C-suite executives: CEOs have an average tenure of 8.4 years, and CFOs well over 10 years. Closest to the CMO tenure, but still higher (over 4 years), is the leader of another fast-changing function, the CIO.

The rise in CMO tenure begs the question: Is it because the CMO wants to stay, or because the CEO is letting him or her stay? My sense is it’s both – with the emphasis on the latter. CMOs are more inclined to stay put in a rocky economy, even if they aren’t thrilled where they are. And CMOs I know sincerely want to stay around to see the fruits of their labor pay off, and then create more great outcomes. But the optimist in me thinks the change in tenure is predominantly because CEOs are actually better understanding the value of a CMO, and are realizing marketing is not a short game like sales.

Here’s why I think CMOs are keeping their jobs (and choosing to stay):

  • CMOs have become more strategic, thinking like a leader and business person, not a service provider and (god forbid) artist. This means they are focused on what matters to the business: creating evangelical customers and growing the top line. Whether because they are being hired from other disciplines, or from their own professional development, CMOs realize that the tactics are means to an end, not the job itself.
  • Of all the executive, CMOs are the most holistically customer centric. Of course the head of services and support lives and dies by customer success, but CMOs engage with and analyze customers at every stage of a company’s relationship with them. Marketers determine what will draw prospects into the company’s “orbit” and what products will sell. They keep an open dialogue with them to nurture them along the sales cycle. They work with them to develop customer advocates who can evangelize the company. And perhaps most valuable of all to a company, the CMO sits on petabytes of customer insight data.
  • Marketing automation software, analytical tools, and the connectors to CRM systems now allow CMOs to better measure their impact – not just in impressions, clicks and other metrics to which a CEO says “So what?” – but in the metrics that matter to company livelihood: pipeline, revenue, Net Promoter Scores, and Customer Satisfaction. The CMO’s new tool chest also allows CMOs to test and evaluate what programs and activities work, so they can continuously deliver better results.
  • CMOs are expanding their influence within their organizations. First of all, some are actually taking on more functions, such as HR and IT, albeit with a bit of controversy. But regardless of their functional scope, CMOs are engaging more and more with their peers and colleagues across the company in other functions and business units. Social media, customer insight, and business analytics have created tentacles for marketing that reach deep and wide within an organization.
  • Our digital, mobile world is still an enigma to many, so CMOs are often the best digital gurus on it within an organization. They are leading company-wide initiatives that leverage new technologies and social constructs to grow the business, develop product, build relationships with prospects and customers, and more.
  • Lastly, the “nouveau CMO” skill set is hard to find. It’s a powerful combination of left brain analytical reasoning and right brain sentimentally and creativity. Because CMOs have market, customer, pipeline and revenue data at their fingertips, they can keep pace with the CEO and CFO on the hard stuff. Because they must understand how to get under the skin of their customers and prospects into their hearts and minds, CMOs can finesse visuals, verbiage, and value propositions like a mighty mashup of Abraham Maslow and Monet.

I think the longer CMO tenure is the new normal, and CMO careers will stay strong for the foreseeable future. Why? First of all, all of the reasons above will continue to hold true even more so, but there are several other reasons this isn’t a flash in the pan:

  1. As consumer buying behavior continues to shift to more of their research being done prior to even engaging directly with a company, marketing will be responsible for an ever-growing piece of the buying cycle. In B2B, that number is already at a staggering 67%, according to Sirius Decisions.
  2. CMOs will be able to point to better and better results as their long-term programs and strategies kick in positive impact and create a halo effect for the shorter-term tactical plays.
  3. It’s a well-known fact that consistency and continuity of a brand and customer experience are key to marketing effectiveness. When you don’t have new CMOs parachuting in on a regular basis, trying to make their own mark, market confusion and brand dilution won’t be such growth-slowing problems. Even better, the consistency will increase rates of return on marketing programs as costs of introducing a new message platform or design diminish and be re-allocated to higher value-add activity.
  4. Short and simple, more experience increases one’s chances of success and high impact. CMOs are getting that experience, and I predict we’ll start seeing more CMOs become CEOs!

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