climbing-ladder

For some, the most coveted job in the marketing org chart is the CMO position. However, the path to actually get there is a tad unclear.

While many marketers may be good at acquiring specific skills that make the better at their jobs -- creating content, designing campaigns, evaluating and working with new software -- those who want to rise to the C-suite often need to expand their skill set to things that are a little less concrete than all that.

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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. Here are some good places to get started on achieving your CMO career aspirations.

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 far beyond that. The effective CMO excels in personnel development and coaching, quantitative analysis, and strategic thinking. 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 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.

Aspiring CMOs 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 -- SEO, content, PPC, social media, site management, etc. To do this, you'll need to work on: 

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

Start by taking leadership development classes, attending seminars, and self-educating through content. These “soft-skills” will definitely need to be honed and groomed before you can step into an executive management role.

2) Quantitative Analysis

CMOs are tasked with looking at the financial health of their marketing departments. This means assessing things like cost per lead, cost per follower, channel ROI metrics, and funnel performance.

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

Being able to analyze and interpret financial and marketing metrics is essential for any personnel looking to move into the CMO role. Developing the capabilities to decipher balance sheets and income statements and establishing 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 CMOs will be able to quickly make recommendations about how to fix these problem areas. So look to develop your analytics skills in conjunction with your marketing know-how.

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 and your team 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.

Start by dedicating a little bit of time every day 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? These questions will help extract you from the minutiae of tactics and campaigns.

As busy marketers we often can get caught in the monotony of executing campaigns, but don't take the time to develop other skill sets that can elevate our careers. Marketers that want to get to the next level must make time for professional development to differentiate themselves from the “pack."

The Next Five

Originally published May 21, 2014 7:00:00 PM, updated February 01 2017

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Management Advice