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The CMO is one of the rockiest positions in the C-suite, according to the latest job-tenure figures.

Last year's average CMO tenure of 40 months was the lowest in a decade. Compare that number with the average CEO tenure of 85 months, and CMOs are often left wondering what to make of their jobs.

Much of the tenure problem stems from understanding how companies change as they scale.

Successful marketers recognize that their role should change just as quickly; CMOs get stuck thinking that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow. Those who beat the average tenure understand how to remake their role to fit their company's needs.

The CMO Role Is Evolving—Marketers Have to Evolve With It

Companies are asking CMOs to participate in more areas of the business than ever before, and it requires a complex set of skills and abilities to accomplish.

CMOs have to...

  • Consistently incorporate creativity into their work
  • Employ technology and data to capture and demonstrate success
  • Build and manage teams
  • Offer compelling insights at the C-suite level

When marketers join a new company as the CMO, they usually also come with their playbook—the ideas, processes, tips, and tricks that made them successful at previous companies. But an overreliance on their playbook does them a disservice. Their role's ever-evolving responsibilities quickly date their playbook, and a CMO who can't nimbly adapt to changing circumstances soon runs out of winning plays.

A playbook can help CMOs launch their new role, but they must understand how to use their varied skill set to meet responsibilities and expectations that evolve with the company.

A great way to examine that evolution is to sort companies by their growth stage, because each stage asks marketers to deploy different skills to drive growth.

The Series A/B CMO: Doing the Work

Early-stage CMOs get things done. Demand gen matters most; it's what leadership brought you on to solve. Assemble the demand gen engine and build pipeline early. Then you can tie your demand gen success to your call for more budget.

As your budget increases and your department grows, you'll become a manager instead of a doer. Less time will go toward building pipeline yourself; that's why you hire a team.

These are two great early hires to accelerate demand gen growth:

  1. A generalist marketing manager who increases demand gen through marketing technologies and automation
  2. A content marketer capable of feeding the demand-gen engine

The Series C-and-Up CMO: Building Brand Awareness

Although driving the demand-gen engine yourself is invigorating, CMOs at Series C-and-beyond-size companies have to step out of that role.

Hire a director and empower that person to optimize demand gen while you dedicate your time to building awareness of your company's brand in the marketplace.

How do you create brand awareness? The answer is unique to your company, and it will require you to dig deep into your skill set. You'll be simultaneously managing demand gen, branding, and communications, along with company-specific needs, such as product marketing or business development.

Spend your time standing up those new operational areas and tracking success metrics. Once you've built up those areas, you can hire talented marketers to take them over.

The $100M+ ARR CMO: Developing Strategy

As your company matures, a CMO can't turn every knob for every department. Hire the best people to run those departments: You must trust your department leaders to pick up where you left off, as you'll be expanding your focus and dedicating time elsewhere.

Late-stage companies are asking many strategic questions, including...

  • Where do we want to be in five years?
  • Are we preparing an exit path?

CMOs contribute significantly to strategic conversations, and they should invest their time in developing long-term strategies.

It's tempting to fall back into executing the marketing craft, but that's why you hired the right people. Let them execute. You should instead be...

  • Connecting with your executive team
  • Paying attention to marketplace trends and discussions
  • Gathering and analyzing data
  • Transforming all this information into strategic directions

Five Steps to Prepare for Any CMO Role

Those company growth stages show how adaptable marketers have to be to perform effectively as a CMO. Regardless of your company's current growth stage, you can prepare for any CMO role by following the following five steps.

1. Understand what you want

What's most important to you in a marketing role? Can you identify the strengths you'd bring? Know what your ideal marketing role looks like—and your deal-breakers, too.

2. Learn the company's expectations

A job description is a fine place to start understanding what a company wants from its first or next CMO. But even fully prepared marketers won't succeed if the CMO job is poorly designed.

If you want to beat the average CMO tenure, you're looking for a role designed for long-term success. During the interview stage, ask questions such as the following:

  • How do you define success for this role today? One year from now?
  • What metrics go into determining success?
  • Will this role simply drive an existing strategy, or will it help create a strategy?
  • What does collaboration with the leadership team look like? When and how often does it occur?

When you know your deal-breakers, you can listen for signs of them during your interviews. Listen carefully and get comfortable with walking away if it's not the right fit.

3. Be ruthless with your time

Once you find the right fit, you'll immediately be hit with plenty of tasks. Set your overall plan early on and gain leadership's buy-in. Every decision you make should tie back to demonstrating the returns your department generates on the company's investment. Time is a factor, so be picky about where it goes.

4. Track your wins and use them to advocate for more budget

Your plan should include small, winnable opportunities you can complete to show success quickly. Those wins help you tell your department's success story to leadership, and they unlock more budget to help your team grow. The CMO role will evolve as budget increases; get comfortable with adaptation.

5. Find a mentor or join a CMO community

No successful CMO has achieved success alone. You have colleagues who have been through all stages of company growth; ask them for guidance.

Great mentors have helped me so much on my CMO journey. I've also turned to CMO communities filled with brilliant marketers who have navigated small challenges and COVID-sized market shifts alike.

* * *

Increasing the length of CMO tenure starts with marketers' learning where their skills best fit their company's growth objectives, then deploying their resources to quickly demonstrate effectiveness and value.

If you understand yourself and the role's demands, build a plan for success, and foster a supportive community, you can thrive in even the most challenging CMO opportunities.

More Resources on the Average CMO Tenure

The Average CMO Tenure at Major Brands

For Whom the Bell Tolls: Not Necessarily the CMO—How to Survive and Thrive Instead

Five Lessons for All Marketers From the Departure of Coke's CMO

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image of Monica Ho

Monica Ho is CMO at SOCi, a marketing platform for multilocation brands, helping them to automate and scale their marketing efforts across all locations and digital channels.

LinkedIn: Monica Ho