A successful CMO has many roles, including leading an organization's marketing department, establishing marketing strategies, and tracking successes and failures. How can a CMO create a highly successful career? What tools, strategies, and approaches can a CMO use to be successful? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing James Watson.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Let's begin with a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO.
After working closely with CMOs throughout my career in the agency sector, I decided it was time to start creating those marketing strategies myself, rather than just following them.
Can you share an interesting story since you began leading your company? What (if any) adjustments did you need to make?
Marketing is often perceived as complex and somewhat of a 'dark art,' meaning people often struggle to define it or understand it and the results it generates. At the end of the day, it’s all about the right message, delivered to the right target audience, at the right time through the right channel. I’ve found that once you break it down this way, people nod along and have a lightbulb moment that marketing isn’t as complicated as they may have thought.
None of us achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person or piece of advice that helped get you to where you are?
There have been numerous people who have helped me along my career path. The best piece of advice I received was when I was working in the ad industry, and that was to put yourself in the clients shoes. It was a great perspective to take and to help you understand not only what they really needed but also why they may be acting in a certain way. This advice has stuck with me and is still relevant to all aspects of operating at a senior level within an organization.
Can you please give us your favorite 'Life Lesson' Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everything will be alright in the end. If it isn’t alright, then it isn’t the end” by Fernando Sabino. I came across this quote at a crossroads in my career, and it really resonated with me at that time.
That’s a great one. Can you share with us the strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
A couple of characteristics that have really helped in my career have been a combination of versatility and networking skills. Things can really open up if you're open to new paths and suggestions, as the skills you have in one sector can often be transferred to other sectors. Of course, it's not always easy to see when you're so close to it. The ability to develop and cultivate a network is an absolute key skill to have; it's really been a major source of business for me. I’ve done this by trying to share interesting points of view and making sure I regularly reach out to my network across various channels.
Which skills are you trying to grow now?
I’m always looking to grow across multiple skill sets, but one area of focus is marketing automation and building the best marketing tech stack possible.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
1 . Creativity: As a CMO you need to be able to come up with new and innovative ideas for marketing campaigns and initiatives that will help to differentiate the organization from its competitors.
2 . Strong business acumen: You really need to have a solid understanding of the business and be able to align marketing strategies with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. Without this, marketing will just be seen as an outlier and a cost center.
3 . Excellent communication skills: This may be an obvious one, but a CMO must be able to effectively communicate the value of the organization's products and services to both internal and external audiences. Often that internal audience is as important if not more so than the external audience. If you can't get the organization to buy into your strategy or approach, it will never even reach your external audience.
4 . Be a people person: As a CMO, you are only as good as the team around you, and to get the most out of that team you need to have great people skills. And by that I mean the ability to nurture people, to understand how best to focus them based on what they are best at. A key part of this is to be a good listener.
5 Passion: yes indeed, you need to be passionate about marketing and ideally the sector you are operating in. I’m really lucky in that I am not only passionate about marketing but also the sector I’m in; it’s a really powerful combination. But even if you aren't passionate about your sector—let’s face it, some sectors are hard to get passionate about—a strong desire to drive the organization forward from a marketing perspective will get you where you need to go.
Are there any underrated qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
Being a good listener is so underrated. It’s amazing how many people only hear what they want to hear.
What are some of the main issues that CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
I think a challenge for CMOs can be getting an organization to understand their approach and framing it in a way that is relevant for the overall business. Being commercially aware is much more important in the current economically challenging environment than it has ever been before.
What do you believe is the best way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
Have a clear strategy, stick to that strategy, explain why it is the right strategy and communicate results on a regular basis.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I’d like to encourage people to share their time to help others, whether it’s offering to do the shopping for an elderly neighbor or going into your local school to help with extra reading practice. Even a few hours of our time can make a huge difference.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak with us!