The CMO Credo: What it Takes to Be (and Stay) Successful

During a recent Future CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, discussion leaders and CMO Club members Kate Bullis, Managing Partner, Go To Market Practice, SEBA International, and Heidi Melin, CMO, Plex Systems, shared valuable insights on managing a successful marketing career.

We had several dizzying years during the advent of digital tech – becoming technology obsessed was the status-quo and extra emphasis was placed on the science of marketing. But now the pendulum is swinging the other direction, ushering in a new trend that requires brands to get back to the core of what real marketing is all about. Today, boards and CEOs are looking to strike more balance, searching for leaders who bring to the table both an understanding of data analysis and the core marketing tenets of positioning, messaging and differentiation.

“A highly valued quality in today’s marketer is balance,” said Bullis. “It’s not about a battle between art or science, it’s both. You’ll also need to develop the emotional intelligence needed to be a change-agent leader, or it’s going to be a bumpy road.”

The operative word in her statement being ‘today,’ since this conversation about what brands are looking for in marketers would have been completely different several years ago (a prime example of that chameleon-like quality all marketers now need).

Strategy Goes Further than Marketing Campaigns

Brands are having more people and business leadership conversations now than ever before. Today’s marketers are able to clearly and quantifiably articulate their value (and the best ones should be adamant about doing so to their Board and C-Suite), but with this also comes astronomical tasks and deliverables.

According to Bullis, this all boils down to people: “Having that secret weapon – whether it’s a great network or search company – is key.”

“A big hurdle is understanding the TYPE of CMO [or marketer] you are, too," said Melin. "You need to know what you don’t know. Understand your weaknesses, know what they will look like when you find them and then hire for your gaps. If you need to, call on a friend or colleague who has a deep understanding in that area of expertise and can interview for you."

Being strategic now means leading ideas and business initiatives AND leading people in a way that gives them the control to execute and grow the business. Today’s marketers aren’t the ‘doers,’ but the ‘leaders’ in their departments.

Recognizing that your ability to strategize as a leader goes deeper than your marketing function will provide you with the stepping-stones to take your career to the next level.

Glean Insight from the Lessons Learned by Others

When asked what potential ‘gotchas’ new CMOs and marketing executives can look for in their careers, Bullis and Melin were forthcoming with three lessons they’ve learned throughout the years:

#1: The beginning of your success lies in finding a company that sees marketing as strategic to the business.

Ask your interviewer or Board where the CMO reports to and how success will be measured. Finding a company where marketing is valued as the bridge between art and business – not just a ‘nice to have’ or an arts and crafts function – will put you in a position to create the most value.

#2: Respect can be earned by being forthcoming with what you bring to the table.

“No one cared about my functional expertise. They wanted to understand how the business would be impacted. If someone would have told me that before walking into the executive team, that would have been a game changer,” said Bullis.

Don’t just say what you want to do, but give deadlines, projected outcomes and then deliver results. You’ll have the ability to not only rise as a leader, but also change the perception of marketing in your organization.

#3: The most successful leaders surround themselves with great marketing talent throughout their careers.

Never underestimate a strong network and your own personal brand. But know that, the better you get at your own expertise, the more you are branded in that area and will need to take bigger risks to move beyond it. The most successful leaders will see this not as a challenge, but an opportunity and catalyst for growth.