How to Become a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)



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14 min


18 November, 2022

It’s not difficult to see why “how to become a CMO” is such a popular question given it’s the highest marketing-related position you can work towards in business.

A six-figure salary, a place on the board, and the power to make business-wide decisions, there are not a lot of marketers who wouldn’t want that – especially the aspirational ones looking to climb as many rungs of the career ladder as possible.

That said, it’s the top job every marketer aspires to achieve, but, unfortunately, not where every marketer ends up.

To get to the top, you’ll need to work for it by demonstrating a particular set of abilities relating to leadership, planning, developing, and delivering. You’ll also need to have experience.

A lot of experience.

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In this post, we are going to show you how to become a chief marketing officer, outlining what skills are required, what the role entails, the benefits of becoming a CMO, and information on salary.

We’ll also be talking about progression and how you can go from CMO to CEO, which is the endgame of business and the highest you can go before hitting the ceiling.

Getting to that level requires a completely different set of abilities, but we’ll get to that later.

Let’s begin by looking at the job description of a chief marketing officer to get better acquainted with the role.

man reading an application form

Chief Marketing Officer Job Description

“Reporting directly to the COO, it’s the role of the CMO to manage the marketing and advertising efforts of an organisation in order to boost its customer base and sales.”

This is how Indeed describes the CMO position and it’s pretty bang on.

Sure, there might be some variations in terms of what they do but they will almost always be responsible for overseeing and executing marketing/advertising strategies, with help from others within the greater marketing department (VP of Marketing, Marketing Managers, etc).

Chief Marketing Officers are big-picture thinkers, meaning they are often involved in the inception of ideas and strategies. They rarely execute them, as this is delegated elsewhere, throughout the marketing department.

Marketing aside, in many cases, the role has been expanded to include the following:

  • Sales Management
  • Product Development
  • Customer Service
  • Business Development

And that’s on top of market research, pricing, product marketing, marketing communications, advertising, public relations, and any additional responsibilities that they choose to take on.

How to Become a CMO

Those that make it at this level have worked their way to be there; it’s not a role that you fall into quite easily. Most CMOs start at an entry level and work their way up.

You’ll often need to spend years honing your skills and picking up experience in a range of other roles – be it marketing-focused or otherwise. It’s entirely possible to have experience in sales, for example, and work your way up to CMO, just as long as your experience and skill-set match what the role requires.

There are two main pathways to becoming a CMO – you either apply internally or apply externally via recruitment/company websites. In some instances, the position is not advertised but rather filled by someone that the higher-ups have deemed worthy of the role.

This brings us to who determines who becomes CMO.

To become a CMO you need to prove to the COO, and any other relevant parties, that you are worthy of the position. The COO typically gets the final say on who gets the role, just know that this process can be a lengthy one, consisting of multiple rounds and tasks.

Generally speaking, you can improve your chances of landing the role by demonstrating a particular set of skills:

  • Leadership: The ability to communicate, influence, and inspire.
  • Planning: A proven track-record of success with emphasis on ROI.
  • Experience: You’ve experienced working at a high-level and can handle the pressure.

These are core skills that underpin every great CMO, alongside high attention to detail, and many other relevant skills that we will be covering in the next section.

Education-wise, any marketing-oriented degree should suffice, which you’ll more than likely need if you’re applying to be a marketing executive or a marketing manager. In other words, experience in the field of marketing trumps any qualifications you might have.

In short, rarely is a new Chief Marketing Officer appointed without having cut their teeth in other marketing-based roles previously.

person using iPhone calculator

Skills Needed to be a CMO

As mentioned, to be successful in this role you will need to demonstrate a particular set of skills that qualify you for the role.

See the below list, for reference:

  • Data Analysis: Your efforts should bring in key performance indicators (KPIs) that you’ll need to decipher. Understanding this data and how to action the results is vital.
  • Leadership: Again, as a CMO you need to be a leader and showcase leadership qualities that rally everyone around you. You need to set the example for others to follow.
  • Strategising The strategies you implement need to be well thought out and align with the greater goals of the business. As CMO, you should also be able to contextualise your strategies so that everyone can understand them.
  • Creativity: Creativity is a core skill of any successful CMO. Creativity distinguishes your marketing strategies from others which leads to more interest and more sales, as a direct result.
  • Organisation: Being organised is important for any role with a high level of responsibility. CMOs need to be beyond organised, having a solid grasp on where things are, where they’re going, and where they should be.
  • Agile: An effective CMO is adaptable to every situation they face and can juggle multiple different tasks at any given time.
  • Communication: Effective communication is a major requirement of being a CMO. It’s your job to communicate not only to your team but your audience too, through your strategies.
  • Market Analysis: Aside from data analysis, CMOs should also have a deep understanding of their market, identifying who their audience is, who their competitors are, and so on.
  • Learning: Marketing is an ever-evolving field, meaning you need to constantly stay ahead of the curve in order to hit targets and smash goals.
  • Perseverance You’ll face challenges as a CMO, challenges that will test your ability to pivot and persevere. It’s important to think of alternative routes to success.
  • Technical CMOs need to have a solid grasp on technology. Technology can cover everything from social media platforms to any internal systems used to facilitate goals.

What the Role of a Chief Marketing Officer Involves

A Chief Marketing Officer develops and implements an organisation’s marketing and advertising strategies; that’s the broad definition of what it involves.

If we look a little deeper we’ll see that it involves carrying out a range of duties that includes:

  • Creating marketing strategies
  • Setting goals and objectives
  • Hiring, growing, and leading
  • Attending conferences/events
  • Executing the CEO’s vision

Fundamentally, the role involves maximising revenue in every possible way through marketing to facilitate growth in line with the greater strategies of the business.

Marketing team with post-it notes

Creating Marketing Strategies

Arguably the most important role of a CMO is to outline and monitor the marketing strategies of the business.

To create the marketing strategy, the CMO must conduct extensive market research and analysis beforehand, to ensure that the strategy will yield the intended results.

As mentioned earlier when talking about perseverance, an effective CMO will make adjustments to the strategy when needed, keeping a close eye on how it’s performing and what can be done to make it better.

A tip:

The strategy a CMO implements should reflect clear marketing communication to both clients and customers. It should also be easily understood by other members of the marketing department who implement these strategies directly.

CMOs typically create these strategies themselves, although in some cases they will seek the help of other department heads to help strengthen these strategies, making them as air-tight as possible.

Setting Goals and Objectives

The goals and objectives that a CMO sets are directly inspired by the strategies they put in place. These goals and objectives serve as key milestones for all to follow.

Awareness of the goals and objectives that a Chief Marketing Officer sets is important as it ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands what they are working towards – especially once those goals are given actions by department heads.

You see, the goals and objectives themselves tend to be a lot broader in nature.

For example, one goal might be to acquire the most qualified/important prospects within a certain country, and another might be to retain customers within set age demographics.

These are very broad goals and objectives that require a VP of marketing, or a marketing director to take and create actions that help facilitate these goals, similar to what we just said about marketing strategies and getting everyone on the same page.

This is one of the main reasons why you need to be a clear and concise communicator, to ensure that your goals are understood and can be properly managed.

Hiring, Growing, and Leading

It’s the job of the CMO to oversee all marketing-related business within the company, which includes hiring the right people under them, maximising growth as best they can, and being a leader.

Who a CMO hires is just as important as some of the other responsibilities mentioned, if not more important when you consider how important it is to surround yourself with the best people for the job.

And by best people for the job, we’re not just referring to who’s qualified, we’re also talking about who is the right fit for the culture you’ve helped to establish at the company, which can also have an effect on who applies for roles within the department!

46% of job seekers cite company culture as very important when choosing to apply to a company.
– BuiltIn

Marketing team studying reports

Data and Market Analysis

Thoughts and feelings will only get you so far in business, more so at the C-suite level where your actions impact everything – everything from how the department performs, to how your customers react to your marketing/advertising.

This is where data and market analysis come into play, both working to help you better understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and how to measure success.

Your marketing efforts should bring in important KPIs that you’ll need to decipher. The data extracted from these results is essential to identify success or room for improvement (if necessary).

Market analysis also asks for critical thinking, this time in relation to your chosen market. Performing this type of analysis will clue CMOs in on where the brand currently sits, the preferences of the target audience, amongst other key bits of information.

Successful CMOs strike the perfect balance between analytic skills (through data and market analysis especially) and creativity.

Both work in continued partnership with the other to great effect!

Attending Conferences/Events

Attending conferences and events is something that a Chief Marketing Officer will need to do from time to time for a number of reasons.

Conferences and events give CMOs the opportunity to network with prospective clients, potential investors, and established stakeholders in an open environment.

When attending these events, CMOs need to ensure that everything they do represents the brand to a tee, especially at trade shows where they might have a booth and are actively communicating with potential customers directly.

Some events might require the CMO to speak which requires confidence and the ability to speak in public; a skill in and of itself.

Execute the CEO’s Vision

Every CEO should have a vision for the company and it’s up to the CMO to communicate that vision across every touchpoint.

This vision might be a lot broader than the marketing goals and objectives we looked at before, so it’s up to the CMO to translate that vision and make it actionable through the lens of marketing.

Your CEO should have a vision statement handy for you to take and adapt. Again, how the CMO proceeds are usually aided by other members of the C-suite, meaning they aren’t always expected to plan out what happens next alone.

Why Become a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)?

Becoming a Chief Marketing Officer is a challenge, but it’s the type of challenge that yields some of the most satisfying rewards you’ll come to find in marketing and in business.

Seeing your plans come to fruition leads to a sense of fulfilment and value, not to mention, constant increases to your salary should you be successful in your efforts (more on CMO salaries in the next section).

Another reason to become a CMO is that there is always something to do; there’s also always something new to learn, be it a new marketing technique, a new social media platform, or a new trend.

The opportunity to lead and inspire others is another motivating factor, one that grows as the team does in a lot of startups, hence why a lot of experienced CMOs are choosing to work with up-and-coming brands!

These are but a few reasons why becoming a Chief Marketing Officer is the goal of many. Why you want to become a CMO might differ in comparison.

money in jeans pocket

CMO Salary

It goes without saying that a CMO’s salary varies from business to business. A startup won’t pay the same as a multinational business with a rich history.

According to Payscale, the average salary for a CMO in the UK ranges from £57k to £152k with most sitting at the £100k mark. It’s worth noting that this does change depending on location.

CMOs working for brands that are based in the south (especially in London) tend to make the most money per annum.

In America, CMOs make between $88k and $272k. The average pay for CMOs in the states is a lot more compared to the UK ($176k), which was to be expected given the differences in economics and payment structures.

Some CMOs make six figures, but they tend to work at big companies, such as Marriott International, Coca-Cola, and Dell Technologies.

Do keep in mind that the salaries mentioned don’t include bonuses or any other additional sources of payment. As mentioned above, your performance could lead to constant increases in your salary.

Chief Marketing Officer Career Path and Progression

It’s the end goal of many marketers, but this is where the journey ends if marketing is your main area of interest and expertise.

There are two positions higher than this one in business, the first is the CEO position and the other is Chairman of the Board.

To land either of these roles you will need to operate on a much higher level, taking on various other considerations and responsibilities. For example, it’s the job of the CEO to manage the entire C-suite and ensure that every team is nailing its targets.

For anyone not in the loop with their business knowledge, the C-suite is made up of the following roles:

  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • CMO

To be the Chairman of the Board is an even larger step, one that is even harder than landing a job as CMO, as you’ll need to be qualified to run the entire company, from marketing, to finance, to operations.

You’ll be expected to oversee every aspect of the business with eagle-like precision to ensure that profits are maximised and shareholders are satisfied (if applicable).

Generally, an executive position, like chairman, requires 10 or more years of job experience, including success in management or another high-level decision-making position – preferably one at the C-suite level.

But again, if marketing is where you want to stay, then the CMO position is your endgame.

Becoming a CMO FAQs

Let’s turn our attention to some frequently asked questions to ensure that you know exactly what you’re applying for.

  • What Does CMO Mean?

    CMO stands for Chief Marketing Officer, and they are corporate executives responsible for an organisation’s marketing activities.

  • What Does a CMO Do?

    A Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), develops and implements an organisation’s marketing and advertising strategies. Their duties include creating advertising campaigns, managing marketing budgets and using marketing initiatives to increase revenue.

  • Do CMOs Make a Lot of Money?

    Chief Marketing Officers make a lot of money per annum, with some making up to six figures a year. The average salary for a CMO in the UK is between £57k and £152k with most earning £100k (UK).

How to Become a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, let it be this:

To become a CMO is tough – even tougher when you’re up and running – but the risks are well worth the rewards. Again, and that’s without mentioning how much you’re paid to do it!

You more than likely get your own parking space, too; forgot to mention that perk.

Hopefully, this post has given you a much clearer idea of what it takes to become a CMO, what skills you require, what they do, and why it’s such a revered job title.

At Canny, we work with marketing teams from here, there, and everywhere to deliver expert branding, websites, and content; anything to help take some of the weight off your team’s shoulders, allowing them to focus their efforts elsewhere

If you’d like to learn more about what we can do for you, simply get in touch.

And if you need to know more about us before reaching out, feel free to check out our portfolio page.

Hey I'm Tony, Founder and Director of Canny Creative. I eat, sleep and bleed Canny to be honest. I'm an absolute workaholic (and yes, I know that's not a good thing!).

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