Look up the word “change” in the dictionary, and you just might redirected to see “Chief Marketing Officer.” As if the role of the Chief Marketing Officer isn’t big enough, the responsibilities of the modern CMO continue to evolve and broaden. All you have to do is look at a typical Chief Marketing Officer job description. Ten years ago as a busy Chief Marketing Officer recruiter, I wrote a Chief Marketing Officer job description in maybe 400-500 words. Of course, that older Chief Marketing Officer job description made little or no reference to ecommerce, social media, the proliferation of consumer touch points, the fragmentation of customer segments, the customer journey, evolving distribution models, the “voice of the customer”, the list goes on and on. The most recent “Performance Profile” I wrote exceeded 700 words (I prefer Performance Profiles over job descriptions, which focus more on defining superior performance and less on required skills), and even that was after serious editing. The demands on marketing leaders are enormous, and it takes many talents to be a top achiever: Results-driven, analytical, strategic yet still hands-on, a creative problem solver, technically proficient, excellent communication skills, strong collaboration skills, high personal integrity, a confident decision maker, strong leadership skills are among the many characteristics and personal attributes that I see listed most often on a corporate Chief Marketing Officer job description.
Other qualities that receive much less ink on a Chief Marketing Officer job description are emerging to be as equally important, and I have used a somewhat singular approach to identify some of them to help prep my executive-level marketing candidates for that all important first-round interview. Over the past several months, I’ve set side time each week to reach out to the CEO’s, Presidents and private equity owners who have hired my highest level marketing candidates- all of whom were at the VP level or higher- to learn about the successes as well as challenges that my candidates have experienced as their organization’s top marketing boss. But I took it a step further. I contacted only those clients who had hired my candidates at least 3 years ago. This adds time to the equation– in this case, at least several years worth. By then, the CEO or President will have had plenty of time to observe first hand the traits that stood out in contributing most to the chief marketer’s successes. As you might expect, the owners and business leaders pointed to many of the bullet items that you and I see on a typical Chief Marketing Officer job description. But many noted four areas in particular that were not written into their own Chief Marketing Officer job description which emerged over the years as key factors that led to the marketer’s success. No surprise, they had nothing to do with requisite skills and experience (which many Chief Marketing Officer job descriptions dwell way too much on).
I though it would be informative as an experienced Chief Marketing Officer recruiter to share those four traits:
-The ability to solve tough complex problems, and use different problem solving techniques to do it. One of my clients observed that there is far too much data to know everything with certainty. He said that his Veep was able to apply the knowledge to make smart decisions not just on what they know, but on the unknowns as well. As many know, that is a defining characteristic of superior analysts, so it’s interesting to observe how this ability apparently carries over into the marketing C-suite.
-Challenging the status quo. According to a recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit of nearly 500 high-level marketing executives, 80% said they need to restructure marketing to better support the business, and nearly one-third of them said the need was urgent. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’re working with others who’ve been breathing the same air for many years, sometimes decades, but that’s exactly what many of my candidates set out to do, and according to my clients, the ones who’ve been most successful at it were able to effectively push back on other executives and Board members and defend their views, without alienating them. Put another way, they have a strong backbone, but it’s tempered by diplomacy.
-Becoming a trusted advisor to the President and/or CEO. Another item you don’t see often on Chief Marketing Officer job descriptions, but company leaders told me that their Veeps lifted a huge burden off their shoulders by freeing them up from the task of developing the marketing message so they could spend more time running the business, focusing on business strategy, etc.
-Relationship Builder. This item is often included in Chief Marketing Officer job description, but almost every client I spoke with talked about the growing importance of collaboration in a rapidly evolving digital world. I just recently conducted a CMO search for a client where, much to the surprise of the President, the incumbent had spent almost no time meeting with clients. He felt that was the job of sales. The key take away here is that senior marketing leaders must now be excellent bridge builders across a growing number of touch points that include clients, partners, and internally across multiple functions and at multiple levels.
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran digital marketing and ecommerce recruiters, and has been called the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 29 years.