The average CMO tenure in 2020 was a mere 40 months, according to a Stuart Spencer study. That’s only half of what it was a year ago at some firms, and down from 41.1 months across the entire 2019 survey. The research firm noted that the pandemic likely caused much of the shortening in the average CMO tenure, as executives dealt with unprecedented market changes.

Additionally, the 2020 median term for CMOs was only 25.5 months, which the research firm noted likely skewed lower than it might have otherwise been due to some long-tenured CMOs leaving their positions.

With such a high turnover rate for CMOs as well as turnover in other marketing positions, companies need to have a CMO succession plan, but most organizations don’t, according to a Deloitte blog post. This underscores the need for succession planning within an organization. Turnover is costly and the longer it takes to hire a new CMO the longer projects and initiatives get delayed.

Help Internal Candidates Develop Leadership Skills

“First consider looking for a candidate with the innate disposition and leadership skills to follow through on the vision you have already set in place,” said Jennifer Veenstra, managing director of Deloitte’s global CMO program. “As you identify CMO candidates, help them gain experience beyond their current role and expertise, especially if they currently hold a “siloed specialist” role.”

While CMOs are time-constrained enough with other responsibilities, Veenstra admitted, “as CMO you owe it to yourself, your direct reports, and your organization to prepare individuals for their next move up the ladder, so they are well equipped to continue and build on the successes of your team. A strong CMO succession plan may very well be the most lasting aspect of the legacy you leave.”

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Always Be Hiring

Like the sales adage, always be selling, always be hiring is the same type of mindset. A company may not immediately have a qualified internal candidate, and even if it does, there will be a hole to be filled as someone moves up to the CMO role. “Finding and securing quality marketing professionals is not an overnight process,” said Chris Tompkins, CEO and founder of the Go! Agency. “You don’t start looking for sales when you are out. You consistently filling your sales funnel with quantity prospects that you push down through a qualification process that leads to conversion. Hiring should be no different.”

Tompkins recommended using hiring platforms such as LinkedIn or ZipRecruiter, with a few key positions always open and dates as to when they are likely to start, but add that an earlier starting date is also possible.

"Typical resume items such as length of tenure, experience, job types, and skills are important but vet on the style of the resume and cover letter,” Tompkins added. "Do a phone interview or a video call interview with a key member from your team (or the team that they will be working in).” Decide from there if further action is warranted.

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Learning Opportunities

Document Everything

Even if you have what you feel is a very good pipeline, anyone new stepping in will be unfamiliar with certain company procedures. While new perspectives can be good, it’s also important to understand how things have run previously.

“One critical way companies can ensure a strong marketing team remains in-tact in the event of a high-level personnel change is to develop and maintain a solid documentation of the marketing team’s processes and methodologies,” said Giulia Porter, Teltech vice president of marketing. “Companies can achieve this by encouraging divisional leaders to prioritize the creation of clearly defined 'playbooks,’ step-by-step guides that outline how to tactically execute the company’s core marketing methodologies.

Porter added that this documentation is especially useful for advertising and growth teams that rely heavily on data analysis and specialized marketing skills to achieve business results. CMOs and other members of marketing leadership who prioritize documentation of marketing and advertising playbooks, brand and creative guidelines, and career progression requirements (among other things) for their team and organization will ensure that a business' marketing operations remain intact regardless of who is leading the team. For example, if one member of the marketing team is an expert in Facebook Ads and leaves for another organization, but did not log any of their processes, the remaining members of the marketing team would be left scrambling to learn or reinvent the wheel to continue implementing this specific strategy. However, if the marketing team placed emphasis on team members cataloging processes prior to the employee resigning, then the marketing team would be left with a record of its Facebook advertising approach for another team member to easily implement.

“When strong, clear marketing processes are documented by team members, CMOs can more effectively develop talent within their teams to ensure proper succession in the event of their departure,” Porter added. “When the 'who,’ ‘what,’ 'where' and 'how' are clearly outlined and visible throughout your marketing team, all team members can understand the framework, the vision, and the tactics that they can work within to successfully accomplish goals.”

Establish Company Culture

By establishing a corporate culture, an organization will help ensure that new CMOs and others for the marketing team will be good fits, according to Barbara Yolles, CEO of Ludwig+.

“Every business is a collection of people, and your people are the strongest representation of your brand,” Ludwig said. “When done right, you create a culture that permeates throughout the organization. Each employee becomes an integral part of the mission, and they keep the business on track even during moments of transition.”

If the company culture is instilled from the very start or employment, at every level, you will continue to build a company with like-minded individuals all with the same goals in mind, Ludwig added. “If you work the other way around — from the outside in — imposing a rigid set of structures because you think it will 'sell,' you will come off as inauthentic and turn off your most important stakeholders as well as the people within your organization itself.