cmoThe most coveted job in the marketing organization chart is the chief marketing officer (CMO) position. However, the path to actually get there is unclear at best.

As young and aspiring marketing specialists, coordinators, and project managers it can be difficult to know what skills to learn to achieve that rank.

In this blog post I would like to point out some of the must-haves to become an effective CMO in today’s ever changing marketing landscape. So let's get started!

Developing the Right Skill Set

Becoming a chief marketing officer takes a unique set of skills and talents. This skill set is rooted in good marketing fundamentals, however it expands much beyond that. The effective CMO excels in personnel development and coaching, financial analysis, and strategic thinking. These are typically not the first items that come to mind when thinking about moving into your boss’s role!

However, without developing these skills it will be difficult for you climb to the highest rung on the marketing ladder. So let’s take a deeper look at some of these skills that will help to propel your career forward.

1) Personnel Development

For marketers on the front-line, our day is consumed with developing websites, building landing pages, writing blogs and working to improve our search rank. While these tactics are all essential to the health of our organization, they are not the skills that are going to help you elevate your career status.

Aspiring CMO’s must be working on their leadership and personnel development skills. As a chief marketing officer your job is to direct teams that execute the day-to-day tactics. This includes things like pay-per-click campaigns, seo tactics, content development, website projects, and social media promotion. So to effectively guide teams and projects you need develop the following skills: 

  • Effective communication 
  • The ability to motivate a team to action
  • The aptitude to evaluate and critique completed work
  • The capacity to develop and career track direct reports

By developing these capabilities you acquire management skills, which are at the heart of every chief marketing officer’s job description. So start by taking leadership development classes, attend seminars, and self-educate through books and other online content. These “soft-skills” will definitely need to be honed and groomed before you can step into an executive management role.

2) Financial Analysis

Executive management is about the numbers, this is true regardless of whether you’re the CEO, CMO or CFO. As the chief marketing officer, you are going to be tasked with looking at looking at the financial health of your marketing department. These are things like cost per lead, cost per follower, channel ROI metrics, and purchase-funnel performance.

Additionally, you will need to make difficult decisions on whether to hire internally or outsource different parts of your marketing functions. These decision must be made within the context of the companies financial health, internal marketing capabilities, and industry position. So developing your financial “chops” is definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Being able to analyze and interpret financial and marketing metrics is essential for lower level personnel looking to move into the CMO role. Developing the capabilities to decipher balance sheets, and income statements and their connection to marketing performance is an invaluable skill set.

In addition to being able to accurately diagnose financial misalignments within the marketing department, future CMO’s will be able to quickly make recommendations about how to fix these problem areas. So look to develop your financial understanding-- this skill set in conjunction with your marketing know-how will help elevate your career status.

3) Strategic Thinking

Finally, those gunning for the CMO role need to develop their strategic thinking skills. This skill is probably the most amorphous yet important skill that the CMO possesses. Developing strategic thinking is about elevating you thought processes from just marketing to looking at the business as a whole.

Strategic thinking is about the bigger picture of where your company, your industry and your customers are headed. It’s the capability to see 1, 3, and 5 years down the road. Then having the foresight to make adjustments to your organization, your team, and your personal skill set to align with the coming change.

The difficult part of developing strategic thinking skills is there is not a clear road map to get there. Rather, strategic thinkers discipline themselves to think about the future, the problems, and the opportunities that will be coming in the near and more distant future.

So start by dedicating a little bit of time everyday to thinking critically about your industry, your customers and your market position. Where are the shifts going to be, and where will your company’s “value add” be in 10 years? It’s these questions that will help extract you from the minutia of tactics and campaigns that weigh all of us down.


In conclusion attaining the chief marketing officer position is definitely possible. However, it takes dedication, work and a commitment to developing the right skills. As busy marketing managers we often can get caught in the monotony of executing campaigns, building websites and writing e-books.

While this is completely understandable, marketers that want to get to the next level must make time for personal development specifically in the area of financial analysis, leadership development, and strategic thinking. By developing these skills you will effectively differentiate yourself from the “pack”. So start by taking time for personal development and watch what it will do for your career trajectory.

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Originally published May 20, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated February 01 2017


Marketing Strategy