CMO tenure decreasing

Why is the CMO the most fired C-level executive across verticals?

Nassim Loukil
Oct 30, 2020

Part of the B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks companion series, this article is taking interest in a question I didn’t even know existed. CMOs everywhere are spending “roughly less than the amount of time it takes to get a college degree” at a company before moving on to the next one. I hadn’t heard about this trend until BSMS episode 4 and as a junior marketer whose career trajectory is implicitly pointed towards the CMO track, I took a keen interest in the matter.

Background 

To skip the history lesson, we can go straight to talking about how modern marketing is intimately connected to technology. It wasn’t until the 1990s that marketing was adopted by the majority of companies as the business function we know it today. The 1990s also saw the rise of the software gold rush that culminated in the dotcom bubble. Marketing and software grew up together and continue to do so today.

This background exposition is worth mentioning because, as Mike and Stijn highlight in the podcast, marketing can be hard to define nowadays. From PR and customer relations to demand generation and product marketing, CMOs have to know a lot about everything in good T-shaped fashion.

For example, the stepping down of Macdonald’s CMO in 2015 created two new positions instead of a replacement: 

  • Senior vice president of global marketing who reports to the CEO and
  • Senior vice president of technology who reports to the CIO

Finding a candidate that can combine the creative and analytical sides of marketing while keeping up and staying ahead of technology disruptions is not easy. That’s especially true for tech companies, and even more so for younger B2B SaaS ventures. That’s why there’s been a recent surge in interest for fractional CMOs who can come in at the right time without the fear of being unable to grow with the company. 

Whether you’re a CEO who’s been wearing the CMO hat more often lately or a young marketer on their way to CMO-ship, learning more about this trend could teach you more about marketing, what goes into it, and how to excel at it.

What’s the trend and why is it happening?

For added context, CMO tenure was shorter at the beginning of the century and while it peaked a few years ago, it’s now on the decline. When zooming in, we notice that more and more CMOs are moving to CEO and board positions while leaving behind vacancies that are often split into multiple specialized roles. 

There are also more first-time and internally promoted CMOs than before! And while the female proportion of CMOs is increasing as well, that of minorities is not.

In other news, marketing tech stacks have been inflating across the board. In 2011 the martech landscape counted around 150 tools. Fast forward to 2017 and that number jumped to over 5,000. That was 3 years ago. 

For example, Uber’s CMO was let go after only 9 months in an effort to consolidate Uber’s marketing function, unify its narrative, and focus on -you guessed it- martech. Uber and many others are committing to shifting their martech in-house with a renewed focus on measurements and analytics. Interestingly, this shift towards analytics and subsequently AI is said to potentially increase CMO tenure.

To understand why all this is happening, it’s important to define the role appropriately. That alone is a challenge. So when you think about it, how are non-marketers supposed to hire the right CMO? Marketing is so unique, broad, and ever-evolving yet we have non-marketers hiring for marketing positions the same way they would for CFO, CIO, or COO positions. Differentiating between the strategic and tactical aspects of marketing is paramount for proper hiring.

What’s a CMO & what’s marketing?

A Chief Marketing Officer leads the marketing operations of an organization. Simple. Except marketing is the umbrella term for a lot of what happens in revenue operations. Between inflated expectations and higher role visibility, CMOs face a lot of scrutiny. Their position is a challenge to acquire and to maintain. Everyone wants the CMO that can manage all the disciplines, marry the art and science of marketing, all while getting all the quick wins without ignoring long-term growth. The CMO will also have to contend with new technologies and keep up with the latest martech infrastructure and digital trends, which often include privacy and data protection legislation. On top of that, unlike other roles, marketing-related mistakes tend to be customer facing. PR disasters, privacy missteps, and even outcomes more directly tied to revenue such as increasing churn, increasing MRC (months to recover CAC (customer acquisition cost)), or a shrinking funnel are all highly noticeable and more easily attributable to lacking marketing leadership.

So what goes into marketing leadership? More specifically, what are the areas of marketing a CMO ought to look at?

We recently talked about marketing audits, which are a good way to make the rounds of a company’s marketing function. Especially for growing B2B SaaS ventures, marketing starts with a strong Go-to-market strategy and spans across several areas:

  • Segmentation
  • Positioning
  • Messaging
  • Branding
  • Brand & design
  • Infrastructure & tech stack
  • Demand generation
  • SEO & online presence
  • Website performance
  • Product marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Revenue operations alignment
  • Metrics and analytics
  • Customer success
  • Public relations
  • Etc.

As mentioned in the podcast, it can look a little different for younger startups as well, involving quick iteration and A/B testing to identify the optimal segments, channels, messaging, etc. Building processes from scratch is often harder than optimizing pre-existing mechanisms.

At the core of it all, the 5Ps are a mainstay that keep it all grounded. Product, Price, Promotion, Place, People (and most recently Permission) are at the core of marketing and all of the above can be traced to one of them one way or another.

In another podcast we talk about marketing priorities. Analysis paralysis is a very real threat to all of us and so my advice to you is to not overthink “marketing” as an entity with multiple subsets and instead focus on the most impactful changes you can make right now.

Conclusion 

The CMO position is evolving and often splitting into more specialized roles within a company. The individuals that make up the CMO population are changing and growing into other roles such as COO, CEO, and board positions. The position itself is accruing more and more expectations as the times change, pushing CMOs to not only be good at their job but also at meta skills such as expectation setting, proper communication for leadership buy-in, balancing impactful results with visible results, and recognizing whether they’re a good fit at a company before joining in the first place. Tying marketing outcomes to revenue is sure to get you the buy-in you need while ensuring your first undertakings will be impactful.

Overall, it’s not like CMOs will go extinct anytime soon. But the recent trend should inform marketers everywhere about their growth trajectory and how marketing technology features prominently along it.

Ultimately, marketing is about problem-solving; a good CMO knows to find and band together the right people for the task. Marketing is not a one-person job.

 

This article is the companion reading for episode 4 of the B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks podcast.

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