So, you want to be a CMO.
And I’m not talking about chief marketing officer (CMO) of the family business you started with your brother, a first-time founder. I’m talking about getting promoted to CMO by experienced entrepreneurs who’ve built a successful business or two in their time and know what it takes.
How do you go about earning that promotion?
After serving as vice president of marketing at five tech companies and consulting more than 20 others on building and transforming their marketing organizations, I believe I’ve figured this out.
There are four key areas to really excel in to be considered for the CMO role at a serious company.
Become A Master Of Your Craft
You need to understand, beyond a basic level, what your team members are doing, why that email campaign succeeded, what to ask them if it didn’t and how to explain it to management, if needed.
This doesn’t mean you need to be the best email marketer or the top marketing automation person at the company, but you do need to know how to build the basic systems in the beginning, and you should be seen as a mentor and coach to your team members. To be respected as a professional source of information, you need to know what you’re talking about and ask the right questions to learn more when you need to.
You should be talking to other marketing leaders to stay abreast of the latest trends, technologies and methodologies that are working for similar companies. You don’t necessarily have to copy what others are doing, but you do owe it to your company to familiarize yourself with the modern tool set for your craft and know how to pick the right tools for the challenges at hand.
Build And Lead A Winning Team
To become an executive, you have to demonstrate that you can hire, motivate, retain and promote individuals who build a winning team. This means starting with and always keeping an eye on strategy while guiding the team through execution. There are hundreds of books on how to do this, but for the scope of this article, I’ll focus on the signs to look for that will tell you you’ve achieved this.
Other teams in the company will start asking you to find them a role on your team. Great practitioners from other companies will approach you at events and on social media, inquiring about roles on your team. You, your team members and your team as a whole will start winning industry awards, getting invited to speak at marketing conferences, and being interviewed for podcasts, webinars and blogs. This is when you know you’ve accomplished this.
Finally, almost needless to mention, you and your team members will get a constant flow of job offers at other companies from CEOs, venture capitalists and recruiters who mention the great work you and your team are known for.
Excel At Cross-Functional Work
In a previous article, I argued that the sales-marketing alignment is the single biggest success factor for any CMO. But it goes further than that. You need to be seen as a trusted partner to customer success, finance and sales operations, among other teams. Create raving fans of all your cross-functional business partners, and your next promotion will be a no-brainer, uncontested by anyone who works with you.
Individual contributors in junior roles on your team can afford to work in silos; managers and above cannot. If you aren’t partnering with other teams, providing them with what they really need to achieve their goals, you’re just a glorified individual contributor. Not someone who’ll be seriously considered for an officer role at the company.
Wear Two Hats
If you thought the first three were tricky, this one will really be challenging. To be considered for the CMO role, you need to act like one. What does that mean in practice? That you’re always wearing two hats.
The first belongs to your functional role as the leader of the marketing team. You need to make sure the entire team has the resources to achieve their targets and that they consistently hit those targets. Everyone has a bad quarter now and then, but you still need to create a clear pattern of success.
The second hat has nothing to do with marketing. It’s the hat of a company executive. That means when other departments are having challenges, you step in to see how you can help, even if that leaves you less time to worry about your own team’s challenges.
If you see a problem that doesn’t clearly fall into any department’s court — and this happens all the time — you remove your marketing hat, put on your executive hat and do what it takes to drive a solution to that problem. You might be able to solve it on your own, or you might need to rally a few others into a meeting to kick off a process that will result in solving that problem. This could be as strategic as figuring out which market your company should sell into next or as mundane as where to put the bike racks employees use.
That’s what great executives do. Demonstrate this behavior consistently and you’ll quickly get noticed.
Excelling in these four crucial domains might not guarantee that CMO promotion; it depends on many factors, like other candidates being considered, the company’s overall growth and your chemistry with the CEO. But doing so will give you the best of chances to earn that promotion and, if nothing else, the unshakable feeling that you’ve done your absolute best to earn it. If it won’t happen at your current company, it’ll probably happen at your next.