What C-level executives really think about CMOs

Diana O’Brien, Jennifer Veenstra & Tim Murphy

Chief marketing officers (CMO) are under enormous pressure. They’re expected to deliver ever-improving results for marketing activities, manage the explosion of customer channels and own customer strategy — while still running legacy tactical initiatives like ad campaigns. It’s no wonder their average tenure is the shortest of all C-suite roles.

To understand how CMOs assess their abilities, and to see how their colleagues think they measure up, we surveyed 575 Fortune 500 C-suite executives (principally CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and CTOs) and conducted 19 in-depth interviews. Here’s what we found:

Cmos suffer from a crisis of confidence. Only 5 percent of CMOs are highly confident in their ability to affect strategic decision-making and the overall direction of the business, and to garner support for their initiatives among their peers. That’s the lowest self-ranking of anyone in the C-suite. But there’s good news:

Cmos’ lack of confidence is largely unwarranted. Most C-suite executives rate CMOs’ performance more highly than CMOs themselves do. In nearly all cases, most C-suite players respect— and lean on — the CMO’s expertise and feel that CMOs deliver effectively on many fronts.

Csos and COOs still need some convincing. CSOs are particularly doubtful of CMOs’ ability to demonstrate a financial impact and to persuade others to support their initiatives. COOs are looking to CMOs to step up their game across the board, especially in demonstrating a financial impact.

Cmos should lead with their strengths. If there’s one area the C-suite is telling us CMOs need to focus on, it’s collaboration. Only 17 percent of C-suite executives in our study reported having collaborated with CMOs over the previous 12 months. More broadly, CMOs should seek ways to use their understanding of customers to help C-suite colleagues reach their goals. Finally, CMOs should leverage the support of their biggest advocate, the CEO, by asking for an endorsement of their collaborative efforts.

Diana O’Brien is the global chief marketing officer for Deloitte. Jennifer Veenstra is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting Llp. and leads Deloitte’s CMO program. Tim Murphy is a researcher and analytical scientist at Deloitte Services LP.


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