Becoming chief marketing officer requires years of experience, a nuanced understanding of marketing strategy and how to manage a marketing department. 

Casey Stanton - Fractional CMO

Casey Stanton
Fractional CMO & CMOx Founder

Casey S. Stanton is a marketing strategy expert and founder of CMO Exponential (CMOx), the Fractional CMO company. For over 10 years Casey has been leading marketing strategy for 7 and 8 figure businesses in both digital and brick-and-mortar markets. 

See Casey’s Bio

If you enjoy statistics, branding and advertising, then marketing might be the perfect career. If you want to rise to the top, you need to become a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). How do you rise to the top marketing position in a company? In order to work your way up, you need to know more about the path to CMO.

CMO Job Description: What is a CMO?

The CMO guides the marketing strategy and creation within a company. As a CMO, it is your job to understand the customer and oversee the implementation of the marketing strategy. Marketers, content creators, writers, photographers, web developers, and videographers may all answer to the CMO.

A CMO may also be titled Marketing Director or Global Marketing Officer, depending on the company. On average, chief executives make $184,460, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Marketing managers make an average of $149,000 in the US. According to Payscale, the Chief Marketing Officer makes an average of $174,360 per year.

What are the Key Responsibilities of the CMO?

The actual duties for a CMO depend quite a bit on the size of the company, industry, marketing budget and other aspects of the company you work for. Most of the work will relate to overseeing teams, creative work and strategy.

Creating and Implementing the Marketing Strategy

The CMO may be in charge of creating the marketing strategy or signing off on it. The marketing strategy lays out the plan for content marketing, advertising, email marketing and other marketing initiatives used throughout the determined time. This will require specific goals that align with sales and the overall company goals. 

These specific areas will most likely include SEO, social media, Linkedin, and any other digital marketing channel required. The best CMO knows that the most effective way to improve the bottom line is by maximizing business development. One of the simples ways to do this is through having a grip on the business’s CRM and overall customer experience.  

The marketing strategy should include specific key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the success or failure of the campaigns. It should include the content calendar that projects when content should be published to organize the efforts of the marketing team.

Guiding Content and Ad Creation

The CMO may have direct control over the content creation and campaigns, though the marketing leader is more likely to oversee the teams creating the content. Ultimately, the CMO is in charge of ensuring the content is in-line with the brand and marketing strategy. 

The CMO should also be tracking ads and overseeing the messaging that promotes the brand across multiple channels and marketing campaigns.

Leading the Marketing Team

In most cases, the CMO is going to be managing a marketing department. The marketing team may include outsourcing groups that are doing certain aspects of the marketing work. Frequently outsourced marketing work can include anything from the overarching strategy to specific aspects of implementation or reporting.

Often, companies will hire freelancers or creatives to provide photography, copywriting or videography for marketing purposes. These contracted employees usually report to the CMO, but do not work as salaried employees.

It’s the job of the CMO to ensure all the various moving parts are working seamlessly together and cohesive with branding. The CMO has to be able to create a clear picture for all involved so they understand the need for any specific piece of marketing content they create. This includes a brief for the project that covers everything from project scope to a branding guide.

Tracking Metrics, Analytics and Reporting

As CMO, you will need to be good at understanding math and reading charts. It’s important to be able to calculate things like how much it costs you to get new leads or the lifetime value of a converted lead. This helps you prove return on investment (ROI) to the company. Knowing the key metrics will also help you set realistic goals for growth and measure success rates. 

In recent years the most effective marketing executives have done this via using their CRM software to improve their average lifetime customer value and improve customer or user experience. 

The job of the CMO is very rooted in provable processes. This position requires an expert that knows how to help a brand get more efficient at bringing in new leads and turning them into loyal customers through automated cultivation. But, it also requires being able to show exactly what kind of growth has been achieved, current spending, projected budget and strategy inefficiencies that can be eliminated for a highly efficient marketing plan.

Education & Experience Needed to Become CMO

Many successful CMOs start at entry-level marketing jobs before taking on a role as marketing director or chief marketing officer.

A marketing degree can be useful in the role of Chief of Marketing or CMO, but is in no way vital. Typically, a master’s degree in business administration with a focus in marketing is desired for a CMO. Some schools offer master’s in marketing. The degree should teach you how to understand business growth and budgeting. You should have a firm grasp of target audiences and the psychology of buyers. It should also cover advertising and branding elements.

Some marketers may have an in-depth specialization, like paid advertising, public relations, e-commerce, SEO, or copywriting. This can give them the edge, especially dependent on the industry and market. The CMO for a smaller company or a startup may find that their expertise is more required for the implementation of strategy, not just the formulation of it. 

In most cases, the experience will be needed to get a job as CMO. A company might require anywhere from 3 years to 10 years of experience. Seasoned CMOs with 15-20 years under their belt are likely to earn more than new CMOs. 

Soft Skills Important for a CMO to Have

In order to become a CMO, you need to be the kind of leader who can wear a lot of hats. There are a number of key personal traits and leadership skills that are invaluable in the position of head marketer.

Logical Sense

A CMO should have a good head for numbers and logic. Technical competency is a huge part of the role. Marketing leaders have to know how to get quality work out of the creative teams and comprehend the data at every point along the way. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing because it’s so dependent on the company size, industry, branding and audience. So, a CMO has to be able to connect the dots and see the larger picture.

Vision for Growth

With massive digital migration, the role of CMO is more crucial than ever and brands need to have a solid digital presence. The CMO should be able to see the path ahead and have creative solutions to help get the company into stronger positioning. A great CMO will be able to recognize industry patterns and trends before they fully play out.

Strategic Approach

If you are in charge of the company’s marketing direction, you have to understand strategy. Even if you outsource the marketing strategy to a firm, you should have a good idea of how to make and hit goals for company growth. The CMO’s primary concern is strategy relating to marketing, so you should have a strategic approach to solving problems and hitting goals in your life.

Love for Data

The data is going to be key for building a strong strategy and making changes as needed. You should have a deep love for looking over charts and seeking out patterns. Data should feel interesting and like a challenge you want to solve. Historically, marketing managers were required to be creative above all else. But now, companies are largely data-driven in their marketing approaches.

People Skills

You need to understand your audience in order to market to them effectively. Without strong people skills, it may be hard to build key relationships for getting great company reviews, case studies and recommendations. People skills also help with building relationships within your marketing department and with other c-suite leaders in the company. As CMO, you need to be comfortable with presentations and building personal connections.


A CMO should be a strong leader who knows how to manage other marketers in the department, creatives and outsourced teams. As a leader, the CMO should be able to navigate the department direction and report back to the high-level stakeholders, like the CEO, business owner or board. As CMO, you should have a natural ability to get others on board with your vision. It’s crucial that the whole company is able to buy-in to your vision for branding in order to create a cohesive approach that extends to every aspect of the business.

Innovative Thinking

CMOs still need to be creative, especially as they review the data. While marketing is data-driven, the top company’s are thinking outside the box when it comes to their strategies. The CMO has to be able to come up with new approaches and strong messaging that grabs their target audience and helps them navigate the buyer journey.

Strong Communication Skills

Because you will be working with a team and other top company leaders, you should have incredible communication skills. You need to be able to explain your vision and clearly communicate marketing content needs. You have to be able to prove value and explain what the analytics mean for future strategies.

Not only should you be able to communicate with your team, but the CMO should also be able to have the kind of communication skills needed for strong marketing. Your ability to write and craft branded messaging is a crucial part of the job. You need to know if the content being produced is going to be effective—even if you aren’t the one writing it.

Ability to Adapt

The marketing strategy will never be set and finished—it is a constant working effort. You need to be the kind of person who is able to roll with the punches and doesn’t get tired of analyzing and changing direction. Industry norms will change and so will the expectation of your customers.

Not only do you need to adapt to the industry and audience, you have to be able to adapt to the environment of the company you work for. It’s crucial to know what kind of a company you are working for, since the atmosphere will dictate your approach in some ways. Scrappy or agile companies will probably give you more freedom to make fast executive decisions. Larger and more complex companies may require a slower approval process that takes other stakeholder’s views into account.

Video: 3 Paths to becoming CMO

There are many different paths to becoming chief marketing officer (CMO). Check out this video by Drift to see how Heather Zynczak became CMO of Domo and Pluralsight.

The Route to Become a CMO

In order to become a CMO, you will want to follow a career path most likely to provide the needed education and skills. You may be wondering what the path to CMO looks like. Here are the basic steps you should follow.

Develop Key Soft Skills

Before you even enter college (and all throughout your post-secondary education and early career), you will have many opportunities to develop the soft skills needed to become a CMO. Take extra communications classes when possible. Look for ways to do projects that require leadership and analytics. Practice projecting industry trends and watch what other companies are doing (large and small) for their own marketing.

Get Your Education

You may want to get your bachelor’s degree in marketing, advertising or business. This will lay a solid foundation for a strong marketing background. You may want to also minor in one of those areas. Communications and English classes can also be useful. 

Take advantage of your educational time to really sharpen your skills and become proficient with key software used by the marketing department. Look for chances to get into internships that will allow you to participate in real-world marketing projects and leave you with a resume-worthy experience.

Build Work Experience

You are going to need a strong history of working experience to become CMO. This is especially crucial if you don’t get your master’s degree. Look for entry-level marketing jobs that have upward mobility and a chance to really develop your skills. A great marketing job is going to allow you to grow as a leader while developing both soft and hard skills needed to become CMO.

Find Your Ideal CMO Role

As you work in marketing, start to identify what industry or kind of company you want to end up in. You could become an in-house CMO for a very specific industry, or you could join a marketing firm that provided outsourced work. A Fractional CMO works as the marketing director for multiple companies that need leadership but don’t need a full-time CMO.

The field of marketing is a fast-paced and exciting place to pursue a career. As a Chief Marketing Officer, you can reach high levels of leadership and sway within a company. Becoming a CMO is challenging, but the role is more relevant now than ever before.

If your company is looking to outsource a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer or would like to learn more, Contact Us today to arrange your strategy call.