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Between a Rock & a Hard Place: How CMOs Can Benefit from Mentoring and Coaching

CMO is arguably the most challenging role in the C-Suite.

The Harvard Business Review (“HBR”) reported that 80% of all CEOs dislike or are unimpressed by their CMO (1). This is not the case for CFOs for whom the equivalent number is only 10%. The C-suite function with the lowest tenure is the CMO role (4.1 years). CMOs rarely make it to CEO. One McKinsey partner admitted that CEOs and CFOs see CMOs as “replaceable divas”.

However, it cannot be that the majority of CMOs are unpleasant to work with or are talentless. This indicates a structural problem. One issue is that CMOs are tasked to be highly strategic but often do not have enough power to decide on strategy implementation. The root cause is that they seldom have P&L responsibility and hence limited decision rights. Moreover, there tends to be a prejudice towards “creative profiles”.

In view of the above, what can CMOs do to strengthen their impact?

  1. They must better speak the language of the CEO, CFO and Board & increase their understanding of profit design.

According to INSEAD, the number one requirement to make it into a Board is financial knowledge. Consequently, a lot of Non-Executive Directors have trained as CFOs, accountants, and lawyers. The key items CEOs report to the City are revenue, cash flow and earnings per share.

Said differently, these executives are mostly concerned with value capture. CMOs too often only talk in terms of value creation. Also, several measures that marketeers deem essential don’t mean a lot to decision makers. For instance: brand awareness and past 4 weeks usage.

If you start the meeting with: “we shot this commercial in South Africa because the light is so much better there”, the Board probably hears “frivolous cost”.

Here’s a personal example: when I said global market share was up 0.1 %, it did not register much enthusiasm with my Board. However, when I explained it in the right language, and highlighted that 0.1% market share was worth 25 million in profit, it focused attention fast.

Admittedly, many Marketeers are not skilled enough in finance and profit zoning. If asked: “why do we sell Brands? Why do we want to be market leader?”, too few can adequately make the connection of loyalty and scale on profit.

  1. Ask that a business with P&L – however small – is added to your CMO role.

That serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it will give you a grounding in P&L management. Secondly, it will be very beneficial to your resume and career.

  1. Before accepting a CMO role, agree that if you do well, you will be given the option to transfer into a P&L role.

In most companies, marketing is a staff role, not a line role. Staff roles do not often make it to CEO. Now, you may be a person who feels totally happy in the Marketing job with no further ambition. But if you want to move up, line experience is important.

  1. Develop “soft power”.

I’ll just highlight 3 areas that help provide it:

  • Enhance your emotional intelligence (EQ). For instance, mastery of tools such as “stakeholder mapping” can help build a stronger support base. This tool determines who could be a champion, neutral or opponent to recommendations, and suggests thinking about barriers some people may have and to identify insights to get them on board.
  • Have more facts than anybody else. You all know the expression: “the highest paid judgment always wins.” The only way to win against higher paid judgment (i.e., by your boss) is via solid facts. A statement such as “I like this commercial” can be overruled by a simple “well, I don’t”, but it’s harder to argue against “50% of our target audience will buy our brand after seeing this commercial based on quantitative research. This represents 10 million incremental revenue.”
  • Use authority to back-up your thinking: Examples: “In the latest HBR, a different way to look at innovation is mentioned. I was wondering if this could be something for us?”

“This CEO doubled the share price via an interesting strategy. Here’s what could work for us.”

It may be relatively easy to dismiss a CMO as a “diva” but it’s much more challenging to discredit the research published in the HBR or the exceptional leadership of a CEO.

At Aziz Corporate, we have the expertise to coach and assist CMOs in not only surviving but also thriving in their role.

If you would like a conversation with any of our coaches please contact kate@azizcorp.com or call 01962 774766

Peter Corijn is a mentor and coach at AZIZ Corporate. He’s also CEO and founder of VUCASTAR Consulting. Prior, he was CEO of Van de Velde, a listed company specialized in premium lingerie and swimwear.  Peter was also in the C-Suite of Imperial Brands as CMO and Vice-President at P&G. His book “True Leaders Deliver. An Essential Guide to Mission Success” will be published in Fall 2023.

Peter’s creative skills find an outlet in music. In his youth, he played support to U2, Echo&The Bunnymen and several other bands. He still records as “Paul Numi” (400,000 streams on digital media).

  • “Why CMOs Never Last. And What to Do About It”, by Kimberly A. Whitler and Neil A. Morgan, July – August 2017.

About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 30 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

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