5 CMO Pain Points that Lead to Short Tenures

by John Tyreman | January 11, 2022

Marketing combines both art and science. It applies a wide range of intellectual disciplines and touches many parts of an organization. With such variety it also brings many business challenges. This is one reason Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) have the shortest tenure in the c-suite. In this article we’ll explore five CMO pain points that, when solved, can turn marketing leaders into the longest tenured executive.

The evolving role of the CMO

“A jack of all trades is a master of none…”

This quote implies that specialization is preferred to generalism. But this is only half of the full adage, which originally referred to William Shakespeare. Here’s the rest:

“…but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

CMOs may have come up the marketing ranks by being specialists, but the position demands a generalist who can see marketing’s impact in other key areas of the business. But being a CMO is no easy feat. According to Korn Ferry research conducted in 2020, the average tenure of CMOs is 3.5 years—the shortest in the c-suite.

Recently, some organizations have combined traditional sales and marketing departments into one “Revenue” team, represented in the boardroom by a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). This structure intends to align sales and marketing efforts to create a more predictable revenue forecast.

Changes like these beg the question, “Are CMOs going away?”

No. The role of the CMO isn’t going away. It’s just evolving. 

Despite operating in an environment that’s constantly changing, a CMO’s role is just as it’s always been: to figure out how to achieve a business’ strategic objectives. They need accurate information to manage the right resources in the best way. Here are the 5 CMO pain points that lead to short tenures:

  1. Not proving impact on the business
  2. Broken budgeting methodology
  3. Failing to hire and retain top talent
  4. Losing c-suite support for marketing initiatives
  5. Sub-optimal performance from revenue channels

CMO Pain Point #1: Not proving impact on the business

Business impact can mean many things. But regardless of what you’re measuring, you need to track performance accurately. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for some marketing organizations.

In the 2021 edition of the CMO Survey, 51% of CMOs in the U.S. reported they can prove the impact of short-term marketing investments quantitatively. Another 39% have a good qualitative sense of the impact, but no empirical evidence.

Flying blind or using inaccurate data is one of the biggest CMO pain points. It can lead to poor decision making and not being able to prove marketing’s impact on the business. While it can be solved fairly easily, improper setup or inaccurate analytics can be a major challenge.

Even if analytics are set up and data is tracked properly, CMOs must know which metrics to measure for performance. Tracking metrics that are misaligned with business objectives can sow tension between CMOs and others in the c-suite.

How to Overcome: Align business and marketing objectives, then properly set up analytics

The first step is to align marketing and business objectives. There are three main objectives for most businesses:

  • Market share — increasing total sales in relation to the overall sales of the industry in which it operates.
  • Revenue — increasing the total volume of sales for the business.
  • Profit —  increasing the efficiency of delivering value to customers.

CMOs will need to work with their counterparts in sales, finance, product, and customer success to define goals and processes. Next, they must create a clear plan for measurement.

Once marketing and business objectives are aligned, analytics should be set up properly for attribution and reporting. This way, CMOs can trust the data used to report to the c-suite as well as more granular metrics used by the larger marketing team and agencies.

CMO Pain Point #2: Broken budgeting methodology

CMOs have authority to build budgets and make marketing investments. According to a survey by the CMO Council, 65% of CMOs planned to increase marketing spend in 2021; just 10% reduced their budgets. This is great news that organizations are investing in marketing. But if those investments don’t yield the expected returns, it could lead to CMOs fearing their job security. That’s why having a broken budgeting methodology is one of the top CMO pain points.

One pitfall some CMOs encounter in the budgeting process is focusing too much on demand capture and not enough on demand generation activities. Attribution favors channels that can measure the impact on revenue. CEOs and CFOs have become comfortable investing in channels like paid search and paid social, but have an aversion to investing in other activities like podcasting, organic social, or content.

CMOs may know there needs to be a harmonious balance between brand and performance marketing efforts, but it can be hard to communicate those needs to others in the c-suite.

How to Overcome: Commit to a plan and budget bound with your ability to deliver

First, marketing leaders should refer to programs in their budgets as ‘investments,’ not ‘costs’ when pitching to leadership or investor groups. It may not seem like much, but framing it this way can position marketing as a revenue-generator as opposed to an operating cost.

Next, CMOs must set the right expectations for their counterparts in the c-suite. There are resources that must be in place in order to hit performance goals. Sometimes, this requires additional investments of time and money. 

A good marketing budget communicates revenue delivery goals. It shows the upside/downside potential and plans. It is easy to forecast against and is flexible when an inevitable re-forecast comes.

CMOs should consider approaching their recommended investments and budget from both a top-down and bottom-up approach. They should partner with Directors and VPs on function budgets and hiring plans. Budgeting tools and calculators should be used by broader marketing teams to model programs and instill a sense of team collaboration in the budgeting process. 

Benchmark data can be a useful tool, but there are some pitfalls to watch out for:

pros and cons of using benchmark data to address CMO pain pointspros: headroom, protects budget, injects realism, creates leveragecons: indexes on top performers, doesn't always break out sales vs marketing, isn't apples to apples with your market

Building a plan and budget bound with your ability to deliver will prevent CMOs from being held to unrealistic goals and expectations. It will help other business leaders understand marketing, and set marketing teams up for professional growth and success.

CMO Pain Point #3: Failing to hire and retain top talent

Finding good marketing candidates can take a long time, even with a top-notch recruiting team. The range of skills needed for marketing roles today can vary widely. Finding the right marketer is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Many marketing positions can be done remotely. This has opened up opportunities for companies to hire marketing staff from anywhere in the world.  However, competitors have the same opportunity and it can be hard to assess candidates over Zoom. According to research by Robert Half in June 2021, 54% of senior managers in marketing and creative said they were hiring for new positions in the second half of 2021.

Retaining marketing roles is a big driver of the talent shortage. In the same Robert Half survey, 75% of marketing leaders said turnover has increased on their team since Jan. 1, 2021. This was mainly due to limited opportunities for employees’ career growth. 

How to Overcome: Lean on agency support while upgrading talent strategy

The old game of hiring a 100% in-house marketing team isn’t feasible today. Nor is managing a dozen specialty agencies. Finding the right performance marketing agency can help marketing teams who need to hit performance goals while they scour the market for top talent.

Agencies are made up of marketing specialists who keep up with changes to advertising platforms and search algorithms. There is immense value to companies to tap into this knowledge to optimize campaigns and hit performance goals.

[On-Demand Webinar] Smashing Silos: How to Build High-Performing Teams

Agencies shouldn’t completely replace in-house marketing teams. CMOs should work with their Human Resource counterparts to evolve their recruiting strategy. One effective approach is to hire for behavioral traits and train the technical skills needed. Talent optimization tools like Predictive Index can help with this.

CMO Pain Point #4: Losing c-suite support for marketing initiatives

In some cases, CMOs need others in the c-suite to advance marketing efforts. Having a champion in the CEO, CFO, or CRO can create momentum. However, losing support from any one of these three roles can be devastating to marketing leaders — one of the most critical CMO pain points.

For instance, imagine the CEO rescinds support for a key demand generation play because they don’t see a clear path to ROI. The CMO knows it won’t have an impact on the pipeline for six months, but didn’t know how to communicate effectively. A few months later, leads start to dip. Six months later, opportunities are scarce and suddenly there’s an urge to generate new leads. The CMO knows the demand generation play could have smoothed out those peaks and valleys for more predictable revenue, but it’s too late.

It’s not easy to communicate marketing needs clearly to the rest of the c-suite. Marketing can be complex and hard to understand. CMOs who struggle with this pain point won’t last very long.

How to Overcome: Empathize and speak the same language as your audience

CMOs need to forge strong relationships with others in the executive suite. There are three key positions to focus on: the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). Just like with good customer marketing, CMOs need to speak their audience’s language to build trust.

Managing the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

CEOs need to have confidence in metrics and reports to support their narrative to investors. They also care about the long-term goals of the company. Marketing leaders must keep this in mind in their approach and interactions. Speak in terms of investments and return, and steer clear from other deeper marketing metrics.

Trust is the biggest key to managing the CEO relationship. Can they trust their CMO to get things done? To represent the brand in the marketplace? To make progress toward their vision? If the answer is no, there is a problem.

CMOs can build trust by showing how marketing investments contribute to the long-term vision and generate revenue. The relationship with the CEO is one to build and strengthen over time.

Managing the Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

CFOs care about board optics and the long-term goals of the company. They want to provide a clear view into the financial health of an organization.

People in this role tend to be analytical, and may find it hard to understand the softer side of marketing. They understand financial metrics like customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLTV), but may find it hard to understand the financial impact of brand awareness ads on YouTube.

Curiosity can be a superpower when dealing with CFOs. Listen to understand. Sometimes they’re right. If you understand their world and care about their goals, it can build trust and a critical ally when seeking support for a new initiative. Also consider setting control and accountability commitments. For instance, if you sponsor an in-person event, commit to turning in a presentation with the event’s projected revenue impact, gather the CFO’s feedback, and present together in an upcoming executive meeting.

Managing the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)

Whether marketing reports into a CRO or not, it’s critical to be on the same page with sales leaders. The first step is to partner on setting goals for key performance indicators and avoid working in silos.

First, CMOs must understand their sales counterparts. CROs usually move into these roles after being top sales performers. In many cases, top performers are creatures of habit. They view these habits as a key reason for their success. While it made them successful salespeople, they may not have a full grasp of how marketing impacts the bigger revenue picture. This is where CMOs can build trust.

Show the impact of marketing through a sales lens. Evidence that marketing can increase pipeline velocity is one way. CMOs can also conduct a full-funnel ROI analysis to understand how each channel performs against others, giving sales leaders flexibility to evolve budgets and forecasts.

CMO Pain Point #5: Sub-optimal performance from revenue channels

CMOs have their hands full setting strategy, managing teams, networking, and collaborating with the c-suite. Unfortunately, this leaves little time to keep up with a digital marketing environment that is constantly changing.

In 2021 alone, Apple’s AppTracking Transparency had a major impact on Facebook Ad campaigns, LinkedIn added a suite of new marketing solutions, and Google made more than 4,000 updates to their search algorithm. Businesses can be leaving revenue potential on the table if they don’t take advantage of new platform features and algorithm updates.

CMOs can’t always afford to bring platform specialists in-house. Nor is it always feasible to work with specialist agencies for PPC, paid social, SEO and creative, making sub-optimal performance one of the most difficult CMO pain points.

How to Overcome: Find the right blend of in-house and outsourced support

CMOs today need to be shrewd with the skills they bring in-house vs skills they need to outsource. Some roles and positions are more of a priority than others. Building the right in-house team usually starts with marketers geared towards strategy, and outsourcing specialized skills like SEO, PPC, social media and creative.

Many boutique specialist agencies and freelancers don’t work well together. In most cases, marketing teams need different digital marketing solutions at different times depending on their organizational and campaign maturity. CMOs should consider working with one agency who provides a full range of services. This minimizes agency management time and costs, specialists are aligned on your business, and you can take advantage of the platform expertise brought to the table.

This expertise leads to campaign tweaks and iterative testing can make acquiring new customers more efficient. For instance, a consumer business prioritized improving their website’s core web vitals and it dramatically increased their search visibility, which led to a spike in sales during the holiday season. 

Our mission is to make CMOs the longest tenured exec in the c-suite

Marketing is complex, and CMOs have one of the most challenging jobs in business. With the right support these CMO pain points can turn into strengths. Silverback Strategies is built to make CMOs the longest tenured executives in the c-suite.

We’ve ditched the traditional agency org chart and embedded teams of specialists around clients accounts. Search, social, content and analytics solutions are available through a familiar team only when they’re needed. This innovative “Troop” model maintains team continuity, mitigating against inevitable personnel transitions. Having this level of agency flexibility is critical for the evolving role of the CMO.

AdAge, Inc Magazine and the Washington Post have acknowledged Silverback as one of the top places to work in the U.S. Now operating remotely, Silverback is a premier destination for top digital marketing talent in the nation, which means better results for clients.

We help marketing leaders set the right digital objectives, reach buyers on the right channels, and iterate campaigns for peak performance. Contact us or request a consultation today to help address your CMO pain points.

John Tyreman

John is Director of Marketing at Silverback Strategies and hosts the Digital Marketing Troop podcast. His natural curiosity keeps him constantly learning and staying on top of the ever-changing marketing industry.

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