CMOs First on Firing Line When Companies Miss Growth Goals

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Credit: Accenture

Chief marketing officers are most likely among C-suite players to get fired when companies miss growth targets, but they often aren't given the time or authority to develop the most significant innovations, according to a new study by Accenture Strategy.

The study found 37% of the 535 global-company CEOs who responded to the survey said that their CMOs would be the first fired if corporate growth targets aren't met. The CMOs edged out chief sales officers (34%) and chief strategy officers (29%) on the firing line.

But the 847 CMOs who responded to the survey, which focused on companies with $1 billion or more in annual sales, said they spend on average 60% of their time managing traditional marketing approaches and only 37% of their time on innovation. Only 30% of the CMOs believe they are "cutting-edge marketing innovators" as a result.

Perhaps good news for CMOs is that they, more than other C-suite executives, are seen by CEOs as primary drivers of "disruptive growth," the most significant innovation. Accenture defines that as developing relationships with non-traditional players; launching platforms that expand current products into new areas or expanded service models; or increasing revenue through next-generation data approaches. Of CEOs in the survey, 50% said they see CMOs as primary drivers of such growth, followed closely by chief strategy officers (49%) and chief sales officers (38%).

CEOs often want all their top officers responsible for disruptive growth, said Robert Wollan, senior managing director, advanced customer strategy at Accenture, "but they're holding their CMO most responsible."

That can have the unfortunate result of the CMO being part of a committee in charge of spurring growth where "everyone is responsible," yet the CMO is most likely to take the fall if it doesn't happen, he said.

The good news is that 75% of CMOs feel they "have a great deal of control" over the disruptive growth "levers" in their companies, Mr. Wollan said. But other internals of the survey suggest CMOs may have less control than they'd like, or aren't taking control when they can.

More than half of CMOs – 54% -- felt a large portion of their marketing budgets are wasted and not delivering the results the business expects.

Besides trying to fix that, Mr. Wollan believes CMOs should position themselves as leading the growth agendas for companies and spend more of their time developing new business opportunities and approaches.

He suggests CMOs establish their own "Office of Disruptive Growth" to make marketing the epicenter of this approach within the company. And he believes that CMOs should, as part of that process, pay more attention to new and evolving competitors, something only 43% in the survey said they're doing now.

Even in cases where others, such as chief technology or analytics executives, are leading some of this work, Mr. Wollan said, "this is about bringing those initiatives together, and the CMO is at least positioned to step up. At least that's what the CEOs are telling us."

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