When times get tough, do marketing leaders get fired? Three years of results from The CMO Survey indicate the answer is “No.” Looking at Figure 1, we can see that the number of years a top marketer is in his or her current role in a company averages 4.4 years and that this number has not changed dramatically over the last three years: 2009 (4.3 years), 2010 (4.6 years), and 2011 (4.3 years). If CEO and boards took out performance frustrations on CMOs, we would have surely seen these figures bottom out over the last few years. I don’t have a good comparison to an earlier CMO Survey, but other studies report a much weaker survival likelihood in earlier years. For example, over the five years preceding The CMO Survey, Spencer Stuart reports the following retention rates: 2004 (23.6 months), 2006 (23.2 months), 2008 (28.4 months), and 2009 (34.7 months). My figures may be from a more stable population of marketing leaders, but are pretty much on the same trajectory over—up, not down.
It appears that CMOs, on average, earn their keep; or at a minimum, companies realize that only so much good can come from stirring the pot. When CMOs leave, strategy is disrupted and valuable information is potentially lost. Furthermore, new CMOs need time to learn about the company and to gear up to lead the marketing organization. This means a loss of productivity and perhaps an opening for competitors to pounce.
The CMO Survey also finds that marketers tend to have experience in the companies in which they serve as CMO. Looking at the right-hand side Figure 1, we see that marketers have approximately 8.6 years of total experience in these firms, which when differenced from time as CMO, leaves marketers with approximately 4.2 years of other experience in these firms. No study has yet confirmed the wisdom of hiring from within or from the outside. However, one benefit of time in the company is the ability to really understand the company’s business, its customers, and its business model. Another benefit is the ability to build a network to get decisions implemented. These are two reasons many CMOs fail so I see these fruits of experience as a plus.
The CMO Survey also asked top marketers to report the number of direct reports they have. This is one view of marketing leader power. This figure is interesting because it is has increased from 4.6 in August 2009 to 7.2 in August 2010 and stayed level at 7.3 in August 2011. Together with tenure levels, this is another piece of convergent evidence that CMOs are offering value to companies during tough times.
I see successful CMOs doing a number of key things for their companies.
- They view themselves as a contributor to the firm’s bottom line.
- They lead the company’s efforts to create customer value in both the firm’s offerings and in its business model
- They use customer-based metrics that show the impact of their decisions to all members of the C-suite.
- They lead their companies’ efforts grow and innovate.
- They build marketing capabilities (not just one-off marketing strategies) based on organized, motivated, and knowledgeable human capital.
- They develop trust as a truth teller of the present and as a forward-looking planner.
- They execute strategies well. In fact, they put as much time and effort into implementing as designing the strategy.