CMO presenting a business plan with red chalkboard background
PHOTO: Shutterstock

The chief marketing officer role has transformed over the years. Technology, product development, data management, staffing and actual marketing all fall into the CMO's arena and with artificial intelligence, VR and AR becoming more mainstream there is more change on the way. It requires a diverse set of skills to be drive the business and lead successfully. Someone who understands the technology and how to use it to gain a competitive advantage.

We spoke with CMOs and leaders across industries to find out what skills and traits best encapsulate today's CMO.

Technology Skills

While there are a host of other skills necessary, recent data from WiPro reports that 81 percent of respondents thought it was important for CMOs to have MarTech qualifications and/or skills.

“The recent proliferation of marketing technology for engaging prospects and customers, the increasing need for marketing accountability and the recognition that the customer experience is the new competitive battleground are redefining the qualifications and skills needed of a CMO,” said Kevin Joyce, CMO and VP of strategy services for The Pedowitz Group.

Related Article: CMO Advice: Keep Your Focus on the Customer

Continuous Learning

A CMO's job is always evolving alongside the technology that supports it. That means regular training and education to stay current. The CMO of the future must also be deeply customer-centric and incredibly curious, continually observing the world around them and making connections with data and trends, according to Darren Goode, CMO of Elvie. “CMOs will need to take on greater ownership for driving overall growth, morphing into more of a Chief Commercial Officer. The age of simply doing creative advertising is over, " he added.

Big Picture Thinking

Diane Perlman, CMO of Blis, shared that not only must CMOs be adaptable, they also need to be able to step back and see the larger picture. “To find success in the role,” Perlman said, “CMOs must be able to see the larger strategic picture and operate at a 30,000-foot view as well as dive down into the detail with the team, rolling up their sleeves and getting things done.”

Related Article: Who Should Take the Lead In Digital Experience Technology Selection?

Vision

A CMO much like the CEO has to be able to have a vision of where the company needs to be from a business, personnel and technology perspective. A successful CMO needs to be able to distill market trends, research, business data and product attributes into messaging and programming (the story and how to tell it) that drives demand by connecting with customers. "It’s crucial that your team has participated in the process, understands their roles and has bought in, said Paige O'Neill, Sitecore chief marketing officer.

Problem Solving Skills

Christy Raedeke, executive vice president of 37.5, said the most important skill for a CMO is problem solving. “There’s no danger to creative problem-solving like getting into ruts — in beliefs, thoughts or patterns of any kind,” Raedeke said. 

CMOs must come to each problem with an open mind because it helps in developing new and novel solutions. This is where, Raedeke added, the importance of cognitive flexibility lies. “The ability to adjust your thinking from old situations to new situations, to overcome habits and to see things in a fresh way is key.” Perlman agreed adding, "Being able to traverse a broad spectrum from strategic to tactical is key."

Related Article: Chief Marketing Officers Share Strategies for 2018

Communication and Collaboration Skills

CMOs work across the organization. One day they are explaining the financials to a CFO, the next they are sharing the technology needs to developer and project leads. This is why it’s critical for CMOs to master cross-department communication and collaboration. It’s vital to their productivity level and overall impact on the company, according to Monica Ho, CMO of SOCi. “Marketing touches every department in an organization and CMOs will struggle without having the ability to collaborate across the executive, product development and customer relation teams. It's essential for the CMO to be able link everyone together to achieve business goals,” she said.

According to Claire Alexander, general manager at Gartner owned software review site Capterra, “They do need to work with engineers and product so that they can translate insight into what the product should be doing. They have to work with financing for forecasting and planning.” 

Data Management Skills

If you aren't measuring it you can't improve it, they say. And so is marketing. If you're like many companies, disparate siloed systems need to be accessed and monitored and culled for data that can make it actionable. “Today’s CMO needs to be data-driven, digitally-savvy and focused on revenue growth,” said Dawn Colossi, CMO of FocusVision.

Related Article: How to Simplify the MarTech Stack

Empathy 

Empathy is an important skill for every leader but in the business world, none more so than the CMO. “Understanding the unique personalities, challenges and needs of both employees and customers alike help a CMO define strategic objective, chart a course of innovation, make sense and gain insight from mountains of data, and focus on driving sales and customer success,” Kevin Cochrane, CMO for SAP Customer Experience

“To understand, a CMO must lead with the heart, lean-in and care. Empathy enables a CMO to gain the kernel of insight into what motivates people and what makes them feel successful, said Cochrane”

This approach enables a CMO to do what it takes to champion each person’s success, and through that, the brand’s success as a whole, Cochrane added. “In a day and age where we’ve become so absorbed in our screens, data and dashboards, it’s the human element that matters,” Cochrane said. “Because to connect with our customers, we need to humanize our brand. And if purpose is the beating heart, then empathy is the lifeblood that circulates to give oxygen and fuel a great CMO.”

To understand, a CMO must lead with the heart, lean-in and care. Empathy enables a CMO to gain the kernel of insight into what motivates people and what makes them feel successful
-Kevin Cochrane

Financial Skills

The modern CMO needs to have a solid grasp of the financial metrics that drive the business, according to Cindy Zhou, chief marketing officer for Level Access. “The ability to demonstrate how marketing is impacting the company’s bottom line is a critical part of solidifying the CMO’s seat at the table with the CEO, CFO and Board,” Zhou said. “One of the reasons for CMOs having the shortest tenure of the C-Suite is often related to misalignment on goals with the CEO. Impressions, pipeline contribution, and audience engagement statistics are good, but CMOs with the ability to articulate business impact with financial metrics such as bookings growth, revenue and EBITDA are the ones that grow their budget.”

Related Article: The DNA of a Successful CMO

People Skills

Jon Russo, CMO and founder of B2B Fusion, said CMOs need to accurately identify and hire "A players" internally and externally. “A CMOs longevity is directly correlated to the support he/she gets from the team and agencies they lead,” Russo said. “In a talent-driven economy, if CMOs don't have the immediate skills, digital or otherwise, in-house, they must quickly up level and/or augment externally with the right organizations.”

A CMO can't be expected to be an expert on every topic, but they do need people on their teams whether internally or externally to help fill in the voids and drive certain initiatives.

Listening Skills

Listening is probably something we could all do a little more of. However in the CMOs role this is a critical skill, right up there with communicating effectively. “To influence all business stakeholders,” said Dustin Grosse, chief marketing officer and strategy officer at Nintex, “CMOs should be exceptional listeners as well as communicators.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, the skills necessary are as diverse as the companies and industries they support. What skills do you think are needed to be successful as a modern CMO.