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According to Harvard Business Review, companies with a CMO outperform those without one by 15% in terms of revenue growth. It's no surprise, then, that the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is a coveted position in today's business landscape–one that marketers of all stripes and ambitions strive to one day achieve. But what exactly does a CMO do? At its core, the CMO is responsible for driving a company's marketing strategy and executing initiatives to increase brand awareness, lead generation, and customer engagement.

CMOs play a strategic role in their organizations and are increasingly involved in setting the company's overall direction. As David Aaker, a marketing professor at the University of California, Berkeley says, “The CMO is the keeper of the brand promise.” It's a challenging but rewarding role that requires a combination of strategic thinking, creative vision, and communication skills.

As a social strategy consultant with 10+ years of experience, I have been involved in the marketing industry for some time, and I have closely observed the trajectory of successful marketing leaders. I also recently had the opportunity to speak to a number of executive-level recruiters across the globe to get their take on what is relevant to become a CMO.

The role of a CMO is highly respected and influential. It requires not only experience in marketing but also exceptional leadership skills. Typically, the recruitment process for this role tends to be rigorous and competitive, so if this is a title you’re striving for, you’ll want to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. 

In this article, I will reveal the key factors that executive recruiters look for in candidates when hiring for a Chief Marketing Officer. Whether you are a seasoned marketing professional aiming for career growth or a rising star with aspirations of becoming a CMO, understanding the qualities and experiences that recruiters will be most helpful to you. Let's dig in and explore the checklist that will help you climb the ladder to the coveted CMO title.

What Do Executive Recruiters Look For In CMO Candidates?

Firstly, having a strong foundation in marketing is absolutely essential. If a candidate has a proven track record of success in various marketing roles—for example, brand management, advertising, digital marketing, and market research—it shows that they have a well-rounded experience.

To secure the role of a CMO, candidates must also possess a diverse set of skills that go beyond marketing expertise. Recruiters are looking for leaders who can drive business growth and foster innovation. When they are scanning candidate profiles, exceptional communication, strategic thinking, and a deep understanding of market dynamics are just some of the core attributes that are sought after.

After speaking to several executive recruiters, from the US to the UK, a few key qualities have stood out that aspiring CMO candidates should have:

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1. A Proven Track Record Of Success

Executive recruiters prefer candidates with a history of delivering results and driving revenue growth. Highlighting key achievements, successful campaigns, and measurable impacts on previous organizations will not only strengthen your profile but help you stand out from the rest. Candidates should have a solid understanding of financial metrics, budgeting, and business strategy.

For Chief Marketing Officer positions, we factor in all of our clients' requirements and needs for the role, and look for the candidate to have a vast knowledge of marketing strategies, leading teams, email campaigns, social media, SEO, digital marketing, brand management, and more. In addition to those items, we find that creativity, project management experience, and a passion for what the company does are all essential qualities for a CMO to find long-term success. Which is, after all, what we're after! Finding a great match for the candidate, and a great match for the client.

- Nicole Calabria, Goodwin Recruiting

2. Strategic Vision And Leadership

A CMO is responsible for shaping the marketing strategy that aligns with the overall business objectives. Thus, the ability to think critically, identify market trends, lead large teams, and drive organizational change is highly valued. This includes overseeing cross-functional teams, collaborating with other departments, and guiding the overall marketing strategy of an organization.

I would want to know about their management style and their success in achievements in leading a marketing group, but also achievements in management style. How many of their employees under them were advanced, moved up, promoted, etc. There are a lot of people who end up leading marketing teams who aren't marketers and that can cause the biggest disconnect amongst the true marketers who report in to them and who may be looking for mentoring and learning opportunities.

- Orfie Krejberg, LHH Recruitment Solutions

3. Adaptability And Innovation

Adaptability and innovation are non-negotiable traits for a CMO. Recruiters seek candidates who can navigate through changing market dynamics and embrace emerging technologies to stay ahead of the competition. These days, it's artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain. A great CMO will know how to be agile against external changes. They must be capable of adjusting their marketing strategies in response to any shifts that happen in the market or within consumer behavior.

To be a successful CMO today, one must command a deep understanding of digital marketing strategies, including SEO, SEM, content marketing, email marketing, and analytics, to ensure optimal online visibility and engagement. They should have a strong grasp of social media platforms, able to devise innovative campaigns that amplify brand presence, drive customer engagement, and foster community. Furthermore, they must embrace omnichannel strategies, skillfully coordinating the customer experience across all touchpoints, both online and offline, for seamless, personalized interactions that enhance customer loyalty and drive business growth.

- Edouard Thoumyre, Accur Services

Standing Out With The X-Factor

The competition for CMO positions can be fierce, with top-level candidates vying for the same role. So how can you ensure you stand out from the crowd?

Differentiation And Personal Branding

Having a clear vision for the future of marketing and being able to articulate that vision confidently and convincingly is fundamental, as you’ll need to demonstrate your thought leadership to stakeholders. As part of this, having a strong personal brand that is aligned with the company's brand and values will help you tremendously. This shows that you’re capable of not only promoting the company but also know how to market yourself effectively.

What is important is showing examples and highlighting your value. This could be how much you have grown the revenue of that business through your strategic marketing initiatives, or these are the activities or things I did to implement change. What is also very important for CMO level roles is sharing that leadership capability. This is both internally and who you face whether that be a CEO/Founder or an Investor and how you manage that relationship. Fundamentally what is important [is] what value add you can show. Other notable skills include having a track record of building and scaling teams, having robust analytical skills and the ability to utilise both qualitative and quantitative data to drive marketing success and lastly having a strong commercial focus. Know your numbers!

Rowan Fisk, 3 Search

Data Analysis & Decision Making

Candidates going for the CMO position must possess a unique selling point to distinguish themselves. One way to achieve this is by showcasing expertise in data analytics. The ability to leverage data-driven insights to make informed decisions about marketing efforts can significantly impact an organization's success. Candidates who can demonstrate a track record of using data to drive results will capture the attention of executive recruiters.

In fact, according to a Data & Marketing Association study, it was found that 87% of CMOs believe that data analytics is essential for their role. The study also found that 90% of CMOs say that they are using data analytics to make decisions about marketing campaigns. This shows that an understanding of data analytics and knowing how to interpret data is becoming increasingly important for CMOs. As the amount of data available continues to grow, CMOs who have a strong background in data analytics will be well-positioned to succeed and stand out from the crowd. 

The best CMOs have a mix of many skills and qualities. I like to focus on two main areas:
Skills & Story. For skills, they must have strategic vision, creative thinking, data analytics, branding, digital, communications, and leadership. As for their story, I like to see how all these disparate skills and experiences are woven together. If a CMO can show that their story makes sense, it creates an elevated experience, even showcasing how failures can resolve to greatest outcomes... then I feel more confident they can do the same as a CMO for my client. So much of marketing is telling the story.

Annemarie Penny, Dreamore

Securing The CMO Role

The CMO title is a coveted achievement for many marketing professionals. To reach this title, candidates must align their skills and experiences with what executive recruiters are seeking.

The path to the CMO title is not just about ticking boxes—it's about embodying the qualities that set you apart from the rest. Success requires a blend of marketing experience, strategic thinking, and leadership abilities that will not only showcase your skills but your personal story within the industry.

Remember to invest in your skills, showcase your accomplishments, and let your passion for marketing shine through! For more insights and expert tips, make sure to subscribe to The CMO newsletter for a dose of success stories and guidance to help you transform into a seasoned marketing leader. 

By Melissa Ariganello

Melissa is a seasoned social media strategist and marketer who was recently awarded the Independent Consultant Award by Women in Marketing Community Interest Company. With a deep passion for understanding the ever-evolving digital landscape, she has developed expertise in leveraging social and content platforms to drive engagement and business growth.