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How to Become Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Rising to the top tier of your organization’s marketing department need not be a distant dream. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, achieving C-suite status is a matter of thorough knowledge of the field, commitment, hard work, strategy, skills, and a bit of good luck.

The way businesses are evolving, there’s a paradigm shift from previous models. Earlier, their operations were finance-driven, but today, whatever their size, nature, and extent, they’re becoming increasingly customer-centric.

The year 2021 has been dubbed The Year of The Customer.

Companies all over the world are asking themselves whether they’re focusing on their product and bottom-line or focusing on their customer.

Today’s consumer is spoiled for choice. They live in a highly evolved buyer landscape and are equipped with multiple devices and digital avenues through which to comparison shop, get better deals, conduct quick research, and offer real-time feedback on a variety of social media platforms.

Studies show that 80% of customers prefer a great customer experience (CX) to the products or services they purchase, and they’re willing to spend more if they can get the right kind of CX.

What marketers today seek is not just the what, where, and how of customer data, but crucially, they need the “Why?” Data is available in unprecedented volumes today, but the Open Sesame is to know how to leverage its power and reveal its hidden treasures.

That is why one of the additional skills that top marketers need is tech-savviness. 

What Skill-Sets Does A CMO Need?

In recent years, the position of CMO has gained immense traction across industries and the globe. 

While many companies have a designated full-time position, an increasing number of firms choose to have a fractional CMO. Here, the position is outsourced to an outside expert who comes in speed-ready, equipped with the knowledge, niche expertise, and experience that you specifically need. This CMO As A Service feature is adopted by smaller and medium-sized firms to take their companies to the next level. 

Whether the CMO is full-time or fractional, the scenario needs to be evaluated. Technology advances have fueled huge changes in the field of marketing and led to marketers having to dig deeper rather than wider. The rise of concepts such as personalization, behavioral and digital marketing, multi and omnichannel marketing, SEO, and Big Data have dramatically altered the landscape. 

In this scenario, the CMO is responsible for the creation, communication, and delivery of messaging and offerings that provide value to customers, business partners, vendors, and others associated with the company. 

She/He must facilitate growth in sales and develop appropriate, viable marketing plans. 

They represent the customer’s voice across all departments of the organization and must assume leadership in branding, customer loyalty, and edging out the competition. 

The CMO typically reports to the CEO or COO, and holds the senior-most position in marketing across all departments and geographies. In certain instances, they may even head sales or work in close collaboration with the sales department. 

They must have a keen understanding of the company’s products, services, and position in the market. This helps them to guide the strategy for the company’s trajectory and develop strategies for future market positions. 

In terms of education, the CMO must have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, and preferably a post-graduate management qualification. For this position, it’s important for the candidate to have at least 10-15 years’ experience in marketing, advertising, and/or sales and several years’ experience in senior-level positions. 

In this Year of The Customer, a CMO must be comfortable and knowledgeable with technology, social media and must keep in touch with the latest tools and information in this sector. They must have expertise and experience in brand management, marketing communications, research and training, sales and pricing, distribution channel management, and product development. 

In terms of traits, they must be proactive rather than reactive, innovative, willing to explore, able to quickly identify emerging and disruptive technologies, and able to swiftly alter course or adapt. 

As team players, they would have to develop strong and collaborative working relationships with their C-suite contemporaries and have sturdy networks in the industry. 

Other areas that they need to perform include public relations and KPI (key performance indicators) budgeting and pricing strategy management, product performance analysis, and CX analysis. 

How To Become A CMO

It’s important to chart your career pathway strategically when you plan to reach the top. Gone are the days when a series of random events, lucky breaks, one or two great projects, and lots of goodwill were enough to help you scale the heights. Today, you have to plan your every move carefully and acquire the skills and attributes as you go along. 

There are obviously several routes to the goal. Some persons rise through the ranks, and their experience, skills, and knowledge are valued more than education. You also get hands-on experience in the areas that you will be leading. However, it’s also important to know that you can make swifter and surer progress via the education route. Getting management qualifications helps you to bypass some of the junior roles. 

In general, the path can be mapped from entry-level junior marketing role to marketing manager, director, VP, and then CMO, with several steps in between, depending on the hierarchy in each organization. 

You can also make strategic moves into and out of different companies, keeping your final goal in mind. Some CMO’s have recommended that strategic lateral moves can also be beneficial when you want to gain experience in certain niche areas. 

1. Educational Qualifications: Whatever the route you choose, basic educational qualifications are a must. You need a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as marketing, business administration, economics, or communications. It’s a smart move to double-major in some of these subjects and takes others as additionals. Further, you can specialize with an MBA in Marketing.

2. Work Experience: To be a successful front-runner for the post, you need at least a decade’s worth of solid work experience in marketing and/or business development. This decade can be spent in gaining increasing levels of experience through higher positions on the corporate ladder. You also need at least three or four years in a leadership role. Your work experience should include working with state-of-the-art digital and marketing tools that enable market research, website design and development, data analytics, visual and written communication tools, and product branding. 

3. Specialization: Marketing gurus recommend that you build your core expertise in niche areas. This becomes your signature USP and creates your own personal brand. You can choose a particular area to become an industry-acknowledged expert.

4. General Skills: As with all C-suite candidates, it’s important to build certain general skills. These would include strong communication skills both verbal and written. You should also look at publishing in reputed journals and build a name for authoritative, original content and research. Being digitally savvy with a keen ability to stay in sync with the latest tools, apps, data analytics, and market research is crucial. It’s also vital to have the ability to evolve and adapt as the scene unfolds.

Once you have mastered these aspects, you’re equipped to meet the requirements of the position. It’s time to market yourself and project your skills so that you are more visible. 

You may be head-hunted by executive search firms that have been retained to fill positions. On the other hand, your own company may launch an in-house search. If this role exists in your organization, it’s relatively easier to make the grade. If it doesn’t you’ll have extra work on selling both the concept and yourself. There could be internal politics that you’ll need to navigate and steer through. Take a 360° view of the playing field, keeping the big picture in mind as you plan your take-off to the top. 

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