Six Questions That Can Improve CMO Job Security

By Pete Krainik Founder of The CMO Club Everywhere I go, as head of The CMO CLUB, I get asked about the latest report on CMO tenure and that CMOs only last 18 months, or 22 months, etc.

In reflecting on the past three months hosting CMO Club dinners and my career these past eight years as GM at Siebel, CMO at DoubleClick, and EVP Marketing at Avaya, I concluded that one of the most important things to ensure success at the CMO level, in addition to the standard questions on roles/responsibilities, market share, competitive strategy, why the last CMO left, etc., is to be able to get answers to what I am calling: “The six most important questions to assess the probability of your success in the CMO role.” These questions not only provide CMOs the ability to predict success, but help shape the overall success of companies.

Question 1: Is there clarity of strategic direction and approach with the board and the CEO. For a CMO to be successful, the CEO and Board must be in sync on what is working, not working and the strategies to improve. I was involved in an interview process a number of months back for a CMO position with a large computer company and the CEO kept talking about the company’s biggest problem: “Having more exciting branding and messaging.” One of the board members told me the biggest problem was improving sales and demand generation in Asia. Another board member told me the biggest issue is pricing. If that group is not in sync and crystal clear on the key strategic problems they want to solve, how are you as a CMO going to make the right decisions on priorities, resources, brand leadership, and defining success?

Question 2: How much real authority do I have to drive change? To be successful you must have authority and support of the CEO to drive marketing investment decisions, media decisions, in-region plans and resource deployment, user group management, etc. Whenever I hear about corporate staff CMO positions with each region having their own marketing groups reporting to region heads, I question how much authority and ability there is to drive needed change.

Question 3: What is the degree of customer centricity in the company? If your company is product focused (despite all the lip service given to customer focus) or focused only on the short term bottom line, how much influence will the CMO really have within the company? When I worked at M&M/Mars back in the late 90’s, the focus on the consumer and consumer driven product development, drove the value and importance of the CMO role within that business. A number of product focused, high tech companies would not be the right fit for high impact CMO success. Customer centricity must start with the CEO and Board. If they don’t truly believe it and see the value in starting with the customer, your ability to influence change at the CMO level will be difficult. Everyone talks customer centric, few really demonstrate it.

Question 4: Does the CEO and/or Board think they are marketing experts (without any real marketing experience)? In discussion for CMO opportunities I always dig into how well the CEO and the board understand marketing. If they feel they understand without the experience you will constantly get unproductive and frustrating “help” in messaging, packaging, TV/Print, and even more problematic newer social media. When the CEO asks “Why aren’t we tweeting this, or doing this on Facebook?” or “I really like the color red, we should use that in our campaigns,” your probability of success just went down.

Question 5: How much influence will I really have over transforming my marketing organization? If you are told that given a current headcount freeze, you need to make due with what you have for the next 6-9 months, I would start worrying. You get the right mix of stars and your success rate goes up. Not having the ability to achieve this will hurt your success as CMO.

Question 6: What is my marketing budget and how was it determined? I am contacted numerous times every week on searches for CMOs and I am shocked at the number of times I hear the following on this topic, “There is not a formalized budget when the CMO starts, but based on his/her success, additional dollars will be on the table for discussion.” I would immediately rethink my interest in this CMO position. If the CEO and Board know what they want to accomplish and are interested in you driving the needed strategic and tactical changes, you should not have to prove yourself for the resources needed to succeed in the role.

In speaking with a number of leading CMOs , one thing is clear. We really are in a tough business climate with no room for CMO level hiring mistakes or CEO/Board alignment issues. Success will be driven by asking these questions and more importantly understanding the answers. CMOs need to ask and CEOs and Boards need to make sure their business strategies and leadership styles support the right answers to these questions.

Pete Krainik is founder of The CMO Club and a guest blogger for Brand New Day

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