CMO Success, Stage by Stage

For chief marketing officer success, focus on helping them attain the right skill set at the right corporate growth stage.

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Chief marketing officer turnover has long been a challenge for companies. As a company matures, it can become clear that the CMO’s leadership skills and abilities no longer align with the organization’s needs — which could spell the end of the CMO’s tenure.

We interviewed 100 company leaders to understand how CMO roles and marketing functions should be organized at different stages of growth (from series A to IPO). What we found was surprising: The skills and abilities that make a CMO well suited to leading an early-stage company are quite different from those a company needs as it grows. We identified three key points at which organization-level marketing changes: Series A (the early stage), Series B-D (the developing stage), and Series E-IPO (the mature stage).

CMO Skill Requirements at Different Company Growth Stages

Assuming that a CMO has the skills and knowledge to succeed as a business matures through different growth stages is a mistake. What makes a CMO successful at an early-stage company may, in fact, limit their success at the company’s mature stage unless there is an intervention to upskill them.

For example, at the early stage, organizations need a scrappy, nimble, roll-up-your-sleeves CMO who can go from creating content to pulling together and delivering an investor presentation. These CMOs often wear multiple hats, shifting from content creator to CMO to project manager to analyst as needed, and are capable of stepping into and executing any number of roles. Marketing operations are often less structured and less routinized compared with other business functions, making it imperative that the CMO is flexible and can adapt to rapid change.

What makes a CMO successful at an early-stage company may, in fact, limit their success at the company’s mature stage.

However, as companies grow (the developing stage), they need scale experts who are better equipped to help the marketing function become more structured and systematic. At this stage, it needs processes and repeatable systems that support scale. CMOs need skills associated with designing and engineering routines, systems, and processes that enable more consistent and efficient implementation of programs. This requires planning and structure and less ad hoc leadership.

As businesses mature further, CMOs need the ability to lead a more sophisticated organization with more layers and a broader remit.


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