Illustration in orange backdrop and white and black lettering. Says on the left, "CX Decoded by CMSWire” and “State of the CMO Report: Key Findings” and “Sarah Kimmel has Sarah’s headshot in black and white to the right.
CX Decoded Podcast
April 18, 2023

CX Decoded Podcast Episode 15: 'The State of the CMO' Report: Key Findings

In this podcast episode, Sarah Kimmel, the vice president of research at Simpler Media Group, casts a discerning eye on "The State of the CMO" survey, offering a rare glimpse into the shifting landscape of chief marketing officers (CMOs) and the competencies they must cultivate. The study's revelations place creative thinking at the top of vital skills, trailed by strategic management, leadership prowess and executive aptitude. The CMO's role has been undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis, marked by heightened collaboration with sales divisions, mounting demands for enhanced customer experiences and active participation in digital transformation initiatives. Intriguingly, CMOs say only 59% of leadership expect measurable outcomes from them, indicating not all undertakings lend themselves to direct ties to the bottom line. Kimmel sheds light on the turbulent journey of CMOs as they navigate a perpetually shifting sea of expectations and responsibilities.

We caught up with her recently to discuss the survey. 

Episode Transcript

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Rich Hein: I'm Rich Hein, and I am joined by my co- host, Dom Nicastro, managing editor of CMSWire. How're you doing today, Dom?

Dom Nicastro: Good, Rich. Good to be back with you. I feel like it's been a little bit.

Rich: Yeah, it has. I'm real happy to be here today on this particular podcast.

Dom: All right, awesome. Well, Rich, we have brought in the return guest. She's like the GOAT of CX Decoded podcast guests. If you measure GOAT-ness by reoccurring appearances, it's going to be a co-worker of ours right inside the walls of Simpler Media Group, which owns our website, Reason why we're bringing on Sara Kimmel today, again, VP of research over here for us is to talk about her very first — because her team does an amazing job with it — "State of the CMO" survey. It's already out there in the wild Sarah, how's it going?

Sarah Kimmel: It's going great, Dom. I'm pretty excited to be with you today. And I'm really excited to share this research. And this is the very first time that I have ever talked about this research. So you're special, and you get to hear about it first.

Dom: Yay, we’re feeling the love.

Revealing the CMO Psyche 

Rich: Sarah, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to discuss this report. And it's all about the inner workings of the chief marketing officer, which of course, is a key persona that we cover on CMSWire pretty heavily. The report that you're doing not only delves into the CMO psyche, but also complements the ongoing research we do in digital experience and customer data management. There's a lot of really cool information in here. What was the motivation behind this report’s inception?

Sarah: You mentioned it right off, you know, we do a lot of research into customer experience. And at CMSWire, we want to have the deepest understanding possible of what's happening out there in customer experience. CMO is a critical role, one of I would say two critical roles for crafting the customer journey, especially the digital customer experience. And it's also a role that's been in really rapid evolution, especially since the pandemic. So we decided last year to do a deep dive into the role of the CMO and to take a really hard look at how it's changing. 

At the end of last year, we sent out a survey, we had 709 people who lead the marketing function, in whole or part, who participated in the study, we will be repeating the study annually. And we're also going to be branching out to study some of the other roles that are really critical for the customer experience. And if anybody is looking, we do have the report up for free at

Rich: Thanks, Sarah, of course, we'll also have a link right on the podcast landing page for those curious readers out there who want to download and explore the entire report.

Related Article: Inside the Mind of the Modern Chief Marketing Officer

Inside the Mind of a Modern CMO

Dom: And that's not all guys, we even have a CMSWire article, too, that we can — we're just throwing every single angle of this report at people and the article, “Inside the Mind of the Modern Chief Marketing Officer,” ran on the week of Monday, April 3. So we'll include a link in the landing page as well for that. 

But let's forget all that, let's get into the findings because marketing leaders listening to this want to see if they can relate to what we found in our research here. So first one, Sarah, I'm going to kick to you to walk through is the top skills for a CMO. And this one's fascinating. I've been a reporter in the space for 10 years. And these skills keep changing every single year. The big one I've seen is the datasets having the data chops to analyze slice-and-dice data. That's a big one. But it wasn't the big one for us in this report. 

Sarah: No. And in fact, it was our first big surprise. So just like you we expected to hear that CMOs needed to have a lot of data analytic skills or that there were a lot of technical competencies that were super important for them. But that actually wasn't what they said. What they said was that the top skill for being a marketing leader is creative thinking. And it wasn't just, you know, oh, this is like slightly more important. It was the top skill for marketing leaders by a gap of 22 percentage points. So that's just about as significant as it gets in statistics. 

There were some other answers, strategic management, leadership skills and executive leadership. But more than anything else, people said that being a creative problem solver, that creative thinking was absolutely critical to the role of the CMO. And that's really fascinating. 

And I felt like it gave us some insight into how do CMOs think of themselves when they think about you know, how they perform and what the performance of their role is. What's super important to them is how do I solve this problem creatively, we tend to think about all of the order taking part of the CMO role. But for them, it's how do I solve this problem? Pretty fascinating.

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Inside the CMSWire State of Digital Customer Experience Report

The Evolving Role of the CMO

Rich: We're gonna get into a little bit of the CMO evolution but this role has just evolved so much and so with it has the skills that these people need to be successful in this role. I mean creativity and innovation, they may top the list. But you've got to be a strategic thinker, you got to stay current on industry knowledge. You guys already talked about analytics and data driven decision-making, leadership and team skills, and there's more, but those are like the big buckets. And then you just have to be adaptable and flexible to whatever's going on in the marketplace. And we've seen over these last several years that there has been a lot going on in this marketplace.

Sarah: Right. And that agility is really key, I think that's what's kind of underneath this focus on creativity for them is that I take all of the circumstances under which we're trying to get our marketing message out, the market conditions, everything else, what we actually have available to us in terms of technology, what I have available to me in terms of resources, and how can I use all of that and do something, achieve my objectives? 

And what they're saying is, I have to get really creative about that. But you know, you've mentioned like, you know, the technical skills and the data skills, and I don't want to kind of undercut that, because we certainly have a lot of data that shows that those are important. But first and foremost, you know, they really see themselves as creative thinkers.

Dom: Yeah, I'm gonna pick the brains of some of these CMOs to show me what they're doing creatively, because I've talked to so many of them over the years that it's there's just so overwhelmed with performance, net revenue, stuff like that, those numbers that CFOs haunt them about.

Rich: Yeah, I'm curious to know, Sarah, was there any comments or anything in that survey question in open comments? Was there anything related to that?

Sarah: About the agility? For sure, thinking that I've got to keep up, I've got to stay on top of things, I have to use what I've got, there were a lot of things like that in the comments. And you know, getting people on board. And there was even a lot of “it depends,” and “it depends” is kind of the creative answer. It's, I'm looking at my context, I'm trying to figure out how to address what I'm trying to achieve with what I've got. And I think it's that kind of mindset that we see. And we did see it in a lot of the comments, some of which are in the report.

Rich: Sarah, you mentioned that the way that CMOs see themselves as creative thinkers, I guess is what we're saying. Can you talk a little bit about how the organization sees them? How the people that they work with see them versus how they see themselves?

Sarah: Right. So my answer here is going to be a little anecdotal. But I'm sure that it'll jibe with what you hear as well, which is, what we hear is that a lot of other departments look at marketing and see it as transactional, right. And understandably, they're looking for what they want to get out of the marketing function they're looking for, I need leads, and I need customers, and we need customers to come back again, you know, they're looking for the results of what marketing gets them. 

And it, it leads them to think of marketing as a very transactional thing, I think. What I found really fascinating here is there's this kind of resistance in CMOs to looking at their role that way. They don't see themselves as transactional; they do see themselves as creative. And that's absolutely fascinating.

Related Article: What You Should Do in Your First 3 Months as Chief Marketing Officer

Navigating the Changing Role of Marketing Leaders

Dom: Yeah, and with that creative thinking, right, they have to prove themselves that the creativity actually does something for the company. In fact, your team found, Sarah, 59% say their leadership expects to see measurable results for everything they do. That's amazing that it was 60, it should be 100, probably, but all that creativity, that you have to have some backing to it, and it actually has to work. Next finding was about how the role of the marketing leader is changing. So what else did you find here?

Sarah: So yeah, and I'll definitely get to that. So the super interesting thing here, we asked them, How is your role changing? And how has it been changing. And what they say is that they are now required to have more cross functional partnership with the sales team. That's not a big surprise. 

They're also feeling more pressure to improve the customer experience, their role is now more likely to involve robust data strategies. So that's a big one. And they've also been tasked with digital transformation of the marketing function. 

And we've been seeing for years now in the "State of the Digital Customer Experience" survey, that there's a lot of growth in marketing tools and platforms and the kind of the technology that surrounds customer experience and marketing is just booming. So that's also not a big surprise. But you know, that's a lot of change to be kind of heaping onto a single role. That's a lot going on for marketers.

Rich: When we say that 59% of leadership expect to see measurable results. Did anybody share in the comments or open comments about what those intangible things are, that leaders don't expect hard results for? Because that's like Dom said, it seems like that number should be higher.

Sarah: And we expected that number to be higher. We were actually a little shocked that it wasn't very close to 100%. One of the kind of big open questions, you know, because what we hear a lot anecdotally is that marketers have to justify every single spend that they have has to have an ROI or business impact attached to it. Like that's what we hear. And we wanted to know how true that was. So we did ask them, What are the expectations of your leadership, we expected that to be a very, very high number. And we were a little shocked that it was only 59%.

And what 41% said was that their leadership understands that some things can't really be measured, you know that there are some things that you're not going to be able to draw a direct line from what we do as marketers to exactly what the impact is, for the organization is just a little too messy in there. And a lot of that has to do with the business context, which can be variable from organization to organization. It may also have to do with exactly what does the organization do and what metrics are available, you know, because if they're not available through business intelligence, if you're not collecting business intelligence metrics, or if you don't have all of that collected together in a place where you can match it up with your marketing spend, then it's really hard to draw that line at all. 

And so we did see some of that in the comments people talking about, well, we can't really get the data integrated, or we're really not able to measure this. Something that's a little bit more squishy, something that's a little bit more difficult to measure.

Related Article: CMO Circle: Christopher P. Willis on Community, Sales-Marketing Collaboration

The Tumultuous Journey of CMOs

Dom: You make a great point on the not everything can be measured. We had Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer of RapidMiner on a podcast. And he talked about his podcast in his company. And he hires journalists to do blogs, to do news articles, they consider themselves a news source now, are those news articles and those podcasts directly relating to sales for his company? No, not always. And guess what, he doesn't care. He just wants to be out there, be considered a source, get ranked high in Google Search, and almost be like a news outlet. So I totally can back that, Sarah, that contention that not all CMOs, are showing ROI for every single move they make. 

Sarah: Right.

Dom: So maybe that 59% number actually makes more sense now.

Sarah: Yeah. And if you think about what the value of a brand is, that's a little squishy itself, it obviously does have a value to build your brand to raise awareness, you know, but it's not necessarily true that every single thing you do to raise awareness is something that leads to a change in the bottom line, that it's all part of a concerted effort that leads to an impact. But each particular thing that you do doesn't necessarily show an outcome.

Rich: We are almost ready to move on. But I do think it bears mentioning a couple of things here. One is one is typically CMOs have the shortest tenures of all execs that's somewhere between like two and a half and four years, typically. And we're talking about the roles that the CMO has gone through in time. And I would say that this is probably one of the most tumultuous roles that I can think of. I mean, it didn't seem that long ago, where CMOs were just primarily focused on traditional marketing methods, and, and then 2019, 2018, marketing automation, which is everybody's moving to RPA, and all these other things, and then 2020 had the pandemic. 

So next two years, everybody spent adjusting to that. And then we went back to the workplace, and there are still people who are working remotely. I mean, there's just so much that this role has had to deal with and change. I mean, I can't think of another role that has had this much tumult in it over the last several years. Can you guys?

Sarah: I actually can't either. We noticed right away in 2020, when we did the "State of the Digital Customer Experience" survey, that marketers were having a tough time. It was not a very smooth transition for them. A lot of them were caught sort of flat-footed. Their organizations hadn't made the investments in digital customer experience platforms, say on the digital workplace side, there had been a lot of investment, it was a lot easier of a transition to bring people into remote working. 

But for digital customer experience, it was a really rough ride. And it didn't necessarily get better. Because as you mentioned, customer preferences changed. A lot of platforms were adopted, suddenly, there was a lot of sort of technical skills and platforms to learn and a lot of complete change in the customer journey for everyone. 

I agree that this role has been through quite a lot. I wouldn't be surprised if you know, I haven't looked into it. But I would not be surprised at all to hear that this role was experiencing much higher attrition than others.

CMOs Grapple with Technology Explosion

Dom: Yeah, marketing went through a lot in that pandemic with layoffs and stuff. And there was a lot of reporting on marketing jobs loss. So who was at the forefront of that? Our friends that we did the report on? So it’s absolutely been a tumultuous role. 

Let's move on to finding number three, maybe get to one more, maybe two depending on how much we last here because remember, we don't want to get with the whole report. We want people to download this thing. Absolutely. So let's move on. So the report it talks about just how true is it the marketing leaders need to increase their technical competency. So there it is, there this something that we've been talking about throughout this whole podcast. So, Sarah, what did CMSWire’s research team find in this one,

Sarah: What we found was that three-out-of-four marketing leaders say that they've had to increase their technical competencies, either significantly, or moderately in the past three years. So that's pretty ubiquitous, that's almost everybody. And those who haven't could be much smaller organizations or already had those skills to begin with, and didn't necessarily have to increase their skills. So it's been a just a huge wave of increased skills on the technical side, for marketing leaders.

Rich: Were there any insights into the particular skills as the things we've already talked about? Right, like data analytics and insights and the pace of marketing technology and having to keep up with that stuff? Is that the driving force behind that?

Sarah: Yeah, we are talking about the need to increase skills with technology and platforms specifically. So one of the things that's kind of happened here is that this explosion of CX technologies, you might think like, well, you know, everyone goes through a wave of learning it, and then we're all upskilled. Right, and now we're ready to deal with this again. 

But what we actually see in the "State of the Digital Customer Experience" survey is that not only has there been a giant wave of adoption in CX technologies, there's a giant wave of adoption planned. We've got about one-in-three organizations are looking to adopt 15 separate tools in the next couple of years. So this investment in technology is leading to more investment in technology, the success that organizations have seen through using CX technology has led them to invest more in CX technology. 

So this kind of a wave of adoption of technology, it's not finished, it's not over as much change, as marketing leaders have seen with technology, there's more change on the horizon. That is coming.

Rich: Dom, you and I have talked in the past about app overload. And there's just so many different apps and platforms that you and I have to go into every day, I can't imagine, I know, the modern marketer has even more, adding 15 more tools on top of the 50 you’re already doing sounds like quite a challenging role for the CMO.

Dom: The ones I talked to, you know, we do persona research, the chief marketing officers I talked to, they seem to do a good job of focusing on those two to three tools that they really need to do their jobs, the least the ones I talked to. So anecdotally, and those are the tools that are showing revenue, marketing, attribution, that kind of thing, the customer data platforms, those kinds of tools. So I think they're getting better at management. And there's a whole role for that, right. It's like the martech strategic adviser, right, or the digital operations leader, which is another role that we pursue as a persona here at CMSWire. 

So if the CMO isn't the de facto digital operations leader, they need to certainly work closely with that person, in terms of just making sense of all the martech tools and not being buried in all these tools they don't need to be in. I wanted to wrap things up, because again, Sarah, you're too good, we can't give away too much, because we gotta let people download this thing. So let's finish up. You already mentioned some surprises. Were there any other surprises top of mind that we didn't get to like maybe one surprise that caught you and your team's attention? Outside of the other surprises we kind of already discussed.

How Worried Are Marketers About Changing Privacy Regulations?

Sarah: There was one more really big surprise. So we asked marketing leaders, just how worried are they about changing privacy regulations? And how is this going to change their job, you know, are they really — are they stressing out about that, and we fully expected to have a majority of marketing leaders tell us that they were really worried that this was going to impact their role, and it was going to make customer experience more difficult. And you know, it's going to make marketing, achieving their goals more difficult. And that's not what they said at all. 

Marketers are really not that worried about changing privacy regulations and the impact of that on their job. And this took us hugely by surprise, it took us a while to kind of sort through it and see, you know, what's going on? Why is that? And it appears to be that this is actually old news to marketers. They've had a long time to adjust to the idea that there were more regulations coming that privacy was a huge concern, and they are not panicking anymore. So more than half of the marketing leaders in the study said that they're only slightly or not at all concerned about changing regulations with privacy making an impact on their job. So that was the second really big surprise in the data that we had.

Dom: I'm guessing that the CMO of OpenAI didn't respond to this. Because they just had a they had a major ChatGPT data breach that we covered, giving away some personal and financial information. And hey, it happens, right? Doesn't mean they're super concerned about it. But it happens. It's still out there for sure. 

And, you know, there's movements to get that privacy law, that comprehensive privacy law in the United States, I think at that point, that'll be a time to kind of where it ramps back up, you know, right now, I get it, there's a lot of hodgepodge state privacy regulations that CMOs are just OK, here's another one, here’s Maine, here’s New Hampshire. 

Sarah: I think also, Dom, that they've seen it coming for a long time, a lot of organizations, if they're doing business in Europe, they're multinational or global at all, they kind of have to take the strictest regions' privacy regulations, that's actually what they have to adopt, to continue to do business. You know, a lot of organizations have to demonstrate to the EU that they're already there. Even if you know the bulk of their business might be in the US, if they want to do business in Europe, they've got a play ball, as it were. And so this has been something that's been on their radar for a really long time. And it's no longer I would say, spooking them.

Rich: So for me, I think that one of the big reasons that we see less concern about this is that over the last couple years, I think they've made strides in the technology and tools that organizations use to manage this. There's as-a-service kinds of platforms that can be used. And of course, as more and more organizations rush to get GDPR compliant, and California Privacy Act compliant, they're increasingly familiar with these regulations. And, you know, I think that this is something that marketers are a little bit desensitized to, at this point, because they've been steeped in working in this for quite a bit now.

Sarah: I would agree. And I think you, you're totally onto something there with the technology kind of lending a helping hand in this area. We have seen a really remarkable shift over the last three years, in terms of how well people say that their tools are working. So if we go all the way back kind of the Dark Ages of 2019. It's a really small percentage of CX professionals and marketers who said that their tools were working well. And really small, I'm talking like 9%, who said that their tools were working well. 

And then what we see over the course of the pandemic, and the adoption, and having to use those channels in those platforms a lot more is we see a larger and larger percentage of marketers who say that those tools are working well. And it's been, you know, kind of like a 180 shift. 

And we're completely on the other side of it now, with the majority of marketers saying that their tools are at least satisfactory, getting the job done, and not so much that they're problematic or need work. So the tools are probably really been helping out here to increase capabilities for marketers.

Dom: All right, let's wrap things up. Sarah Kimmel, our VP research CMSWire. Can't thank you enough for coming on. Once again, you want to do it like in a couple of weeks or something?

Sarah: Sure thing, Dom. 

Dom: Every other week, put it on your callie. But the "State of the CMO" report is out and Sarah, I want to turn it to you just one more time. Let our listeners know where they can access this report.

Sarah: Sure thing, the report is available for free at

Dom: Beautiful. All right, unless Rich has any parting words. I think we're good to go here.

Rich: Just thank you everybody for listening, and we'll see you next time.

Dom: Thank you everybody.

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