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Why do so many CMOs fail?

Published 7 months ago • 3 min read

Hi Reader,

Why do so many CMOs fail? According to Harvard Business Review, 80% of CEOs don't trust or are unimpressed by their Chief Marketing Officers. Not surprisingly, therefore, CMOs have one of the briefest tenures in the C-suite.

So where does that tension between the CEO and CMO come from?

A successful CMO is integral to a great digital strategy or transformation, but it's not always down to a lack of ability that leads the CMO to fail.

I'm going to offer seven recommendations to companies and individuals alike to build a winning formula for CMO hiring.

1: Start with a great job design.

It often isn't a CMO's skills preventing them from meeting the company's goals. It's the mismatch between the CMO's authority and the CEO's expectations. In that sense, the Chief Executive can be part of the problem. And without a proper job design, it will be difficult for anyone to succeed as a CMO.

The Chief Executive should sponsor and sign off on direct reports and that should include the job specification. Any company can make bad hires. But if those responsibilities, expectations and performance measures aren't aligned and aren't realistic, the CMO has an uphill battle.

2: Determine what type of CMO you're after.

This is a very broad categorisation. Are you a strategic CMO who drives innovation, data insights, and product development, or are you looking for a commercial CMO focused on sales uplift through omnichannel marketing with P&L responsibility?

In smaller companies, it may be the all-arounder you're looking for. It's important to be clear about what orientation of CMO you're searching for. This is something that should be reflected in your job description.

3: Get alignment on the job spec.

I'm continually amazed at how many people feel job descriptions are either too much effort or even old-fashioned. There are some CEOs who think it's the HR function's responsibility to carve out a job spec as a bit of a box-ticking exercise. I'm certainly not a supporter of a 'War & Peace' style of job specs which are destined for the bottom draw and never to be read.

I counsel my clients against job specs of more than a couple of pages as I think it's important for a company to project professionalism and clarity of thinking, as well as ensuring consistent communication with candidates through the hiring process. Job specs of course aren't set in stone, they evolve and sometimes those changes need to be reflected in edits within the job spec itself.

4: Determine how the job will be measured.

Only around a fifth of job specs mention how a CMO will be measured or held accountable and less than 10% have specific sections that clearly articulate job expectations. Whilst most make mention of expectations, they're typically pretty vague. Ambiguity in job specs or in any situation in business is a recipe for failure - or at least a very difficult first six to 12 months onboarding a new hire. The extra time invested in arriving at quantifiable criteria to measure a candidate will pay dividends.

5: Agree on decision-making authority.

Something I hear regularly from CMOs who approach me to support their job searches is that they assume they will have the authority to drive a strategy. But they subsequently discover the role is in fact more tactical. Agreeing on decision-making authority is central to the CMO's success and it correlates directly to longer tenure. But worryingly, Harvard Business Review surveys indicate that three-quarters of CMOs don't believe their jobs allow them to maximise their impact on the business.

6: Avoid the blurring of functional boundaries

CMO responsibilities of course vary significantly, but in large organisations, it's perfectly common to have a Chief Data Officer, a Chief Technology Officer, as well as a CMO. Digital technology has blurred the lines between all three of these roles. These execs now need to collaborate on an unprecedented level and giving them shared performance goals is an absolute must.

7: Don't make your hiring process a popularity contest

Apart from setting out a clear hiring process for prospective CMO candidates, it's important that those involved in interviews move away from an often preconceived notion that all CMOs should be extroverts.

My experience tells me this simply isn't the case. Many of the very best CMOs I've met are more introverted, but that style does of course have to fit with a culture.

I recently wrote a Scaling Success article about this very topic 👉 Do introverts make better leaders?

CMO extraversion doesn't automatically equate to CMO effectiveness. Assessing CMOs is about understanding how they'll add value and deliver on that well-constructed and well-measured job spec. It's not about just how impressive and flamboyant a presenter they are.

Get these seven points right and of course partner with the right CMO executive search consultant and you're well on your way to increasing the success and associated tenure of your next CMO hire

What are your thoughts on this topic?

To your continued success

Guy Day



About BartonRock:​

Guy Day is the Founder of BartonRock, the executive search partner for digitally transforming companies in consumer and retail.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

For more information visit: or contact

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