Are You the Right CMO for the Job, And Is It Right for You?

Knowing the Four Types of CMO Roles Can Help Employer and Potential Employee Get the Best Fit

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The CMO is arguably the most difficult job to fill in corporate America, with the highest turnover rate of any executive position. Finding and retaining the right CMO is a challenge.

The problem -- and opportunity -- lies in matching the expectations of the organization with the capabilities of the CMO. Not all CMO jobs, or CMOs, are the same. Reducing turnover is predicated on making better matches that synchronize the CMO's role with his or her capabilities.

Through research and discussions with dozens of CMOs, we've uncovered distinct CMO positions and skills. Below is a framework that CMOs can use to vet potential roles and that recruiters can use to engage a CEO in a candid dialogue about the needs of the organization. CEOs and recruiters can also use this framework to better identify the type of marketing leadership that the company needs and then strengthen the fit between the CMO's defined role and the type of CMO they recruit.

To increase your chances of finding a good fit, start by understanding the type of CMO you are and the role that best suits you. There are four types of CMO roles: strategist, business developer, general manager and marketing specialist. Each calls for specific skills.


  • Strategy setting
  • Integration of market, customer, and firm information
  • Analytical , strategic, and conceptual thinking

Business Developer

  • Lead generation program development
  • Effective partnership with sales
  • Ability to customize products and services to meet customer needs
  • Closing deals

General Manager

  • P&L management experience
  • Multi-lingual competency
  • Demonstrated ability to work with and/or manage multiple functions (finance, operations, sales, etc.)

Marketing Specialist

  • Marketing program development
  • External partnership development and management
  • Ability to function as a service provider
  • Strong influence skills

This framework is a loose guide; jobs can be created that blend two or more of these functions. Let's examine each of the four CMO types.

Strategist. This role is important during the pre-revenue phase of a company or in a highly matrixed, complex organization competing in a dynamic industry. This is the person who leads innovation and is looking out well beyond the current quarter. Those who do well here may have backgrounds in strategic consulting or general management, as strategist CMOs need strong analytical skills and macro-thinking capabilities to set the proper course for the company.

Business developer. Well known in professional-services companies, B2B companies and in companies where marketing has traditionally managed sales, this CMO is responsible for generating leads to drive firm revenue. Successful business developer CMOs work effectively with sales to use marketing tools (online and offline) to drive customer acquisition and satisfaction.

General manager. GM roles are common at CPG companies like P&G and Colgate and are emerging in other industries too. Variety-seeking and growth-oriented marketers like these roles because they have influence over many aspects of the business. Beware that CEOs may try to sell you a GM role that curiously morphs into a smaller one. To ensure that it's truly a GM job, ask about the P&L that you will manage and the degree of control over the levers that drive P&L.

Marketing Specialist. This role often has a more concentrated focus on specific marketing activities, from advertising to digital strategies to CRM. A marketing specialist CMO often runs a centralized function and as such is rewarded for building a deep and superior marketing capability across the organization. This can include driving efficiencies as well as investing in strengthening organizational skills and capability, all with the objective of using marketing to create a competitive advantage.

By understanding the skills of individual CMOs and applying the framework to evaluate the potential CMO-firm fit, CMOs and companies alike can increase the likelihood of a strong match. CEOs and job specs aren't always clear on the role that CMOs are interviewing for, so it's critical that CMOs ask questions about whom they report to, who they'll manage, the budgets they'll control and the changes they'll have the latitude to make. CMO candidates can engage the CEO in a candid dialogue about what kind of CMO role the company is recruiting for, and even educate the CEO on CMO types. This can help CMOs adapt the role to better fit their skills. Knowing what type of role you excel at and what type of role the company is really offering will better enable you to maximize your success.

Kimberly A. Whitler is a former CMO now studying for a doctorate. Erica Seidel is former manager of Forrester Research's CMO group.
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