How to Become a CMO: A Guide to Becoming a Chief Marketing Officer

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Founder and CEO
CMOx, The Fractional CMO Company

To understand how to become a CMO or chief marketing officer, you must have years of experience managing marketing teams and campaigns with serious budgets. An effective CMO needs to be able to lead and manage a team while achieving results in line with marketing objectives.

The chief marketing officer is the highest ranking position in a marketing department. It is the c-suite level marketer. Therefore, in order to become a CMO, a person should possess the same skill sets expected from other c-suite level employees. In addition to marketing expertise.

This guide covers how to become a CMO including outlining the key responsibilities, necessary education, and the skills you need to develop.

If you’re looking to develop the skills needed to become a fractional CMO, sign up for the CMOx Accelerator to get started.

CMO Job Description: What is a CMO?

Given the ever-changing landscape, it can be easy to lose sight of what a CMO is and what their responsibilities are in an organization.

The CMO leads an organization’s marketing department, conducts high-level market research, establishes marketing strategies, and tracks successes and failings. 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, videographers, and other marketing professionals 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 on the company, industry, and marketing budget. Most of the work will relate to overseeing teams, creative work and strategy.

The typical duties a CMO fulfills include:

  1. Create and implement marketing strategy
  2. Guide content and ad creation
  3. Lead the marketing team
  4. Track metrics, analytics, and reporting

1. Create & Implement Marketing Strategy

The CMO may be in charge of creating or planning the marketing strategy or signing off on it. The marketing strategy plans for content marketing, advertising, email marketing, brand management 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 simplest 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 advertising campaigns. It should include the content calendar that projects when content should be published to organize the efforts of the marketing team.

2. Guide Content & 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.

3. Lead the Marketing Team

In most cases, the CMO is going to be managing and is responsible for a marketing department. As such, becoming a successful CMO means developing the necessary leadership skills to manage both the team and any consultants. The marketing team may include outsourcing groups that are doing certain aspects of the marketing work. Frequently outsourced marketing activities 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.

4. Track Metrics, Analytics, & Reporting

As CMO, you will need to be good at understanding math, reading charts, and data analysis. 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 and the effectiveness of any given campaign.

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 with knowledge on 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. This is in addition to things like budget and strategy inefficiencies that can be eliminated to increase efficiency.

How to become a CMO

Education & Experience needed to become a CMO

CMOs generally have a marketing, advertising, or other degree in a related field but this isn’t vital to becoming a successful marketing executive. They also tend to have a few years, usually between 3 and 10, of work experience.

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 chief marketing officers.

Soft Skills important for a CMO to have

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 CMOs should develop that are invaluable in the position of head marketer including:

  1. Logical sense
  2. Vision for growth
  3. Strategic approach
  4. Love for data
  5. People skills
  6. Leadership
  7. Innovative thinking
  8. Strong communication skills
  9. Ability to adapt

1. 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 get quality work out of creative teams and comprehend the data throughout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. It is 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.

2. Vision for Growth

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

3. Strategic Approach

If you are in charge of the company’s marketing direction and operations, 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 executives in the company. As CMO, you need to be comfortable with presentations and building personal connections.

6. Leadership

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.

7. 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. This grabs their target audience and helps them navigate the buyer journey.

8. 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.

9. 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

The Route to Become a CMO

To become a chief marketing officer, you will want to follow a marketing 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.

Generally, becoming a CMO involves building experience either through education or working in various marketing roles. A basic route to becoming a CMO involves:

  1. Developing key soft skills
  2. Getting an education
  3. Building work experience
  4. Finding the ideal CMO position

1. 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 and technical 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.

2. 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.

3. Build Work Experience

You are going to need a strong history of marketing 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.

4. 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.

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CMOx is a Fractional CMO company and consulting firm that provides marketing strategy services to businesses doing $2-20M per year.

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey S. Stanton is a marketing strategy expert and founder of 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.

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey S. Stanton is a marketing strategy expert and founder of 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.

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