What CEO’s Really Think of CMO’s

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A recent survey by the Boathouse Group, a marketing agency/consulting firm based in Boston, should serve as a wake-up call for B2B marketing leaders. The 2021 CMO Study was based on a survey of 150 Fortune 3000 CEO's from 13 industries. Survey respondents represented companies with annual revenue ranging from $250 million to more than $1 billion. The survey was in the field May 26 - June 8, 2021.

The researchers had two objectives for this survey. They wanted to capture the perspectives of CEO's on the role and importance of the CMO position, and they wanted to explore other CEO perceptions that might help explain the short average tenure of chief marketing officers. The survey report noted that average CMO tenure (in 2020) was at the lowest point in the past decade.*

Like other research I've recently discussed, the Boathouse survey found that driving revenue growth has become the top marketing priority in the eyes of many CEO's. A significant plurality of the survey respondents (47%) said the most critical role of the CMO is to "grow the business." Developing the brand came in a distant second at 29%.

The Boathouse survey contains both good news and bad news for CMO's. First, the good news.

The Good News

The CEO's surveyed by Boathouse expressed several positive sentiments regarding CMO's. An overwhelming majority (86%) said CMO's have the power and credibility to influence key decisions made by C-level executives. Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents described CMO's as "performance-minded," and 58% said CMO's understand the business and shareholder goals of the company.

Now For the Bad News

Unfortunately, the Boathouse survey also revealed that many CEO's have several negative perceptions of CMO's - or at least the CMO's they've worked with.

For example, only 34% of the surveyed CEO's said they have great confidence in CMO's. And 80% of the survey respondents said the short-term tenure of CMO's was a sign of CMO failure. When survey participants were asked why CMO's are failing, 38% of the respondents said it was because CMO's have the wrong skill set for the changing marketing environment, and 21% said it was because CMO's have difficulty measuring the business results of marketing programs.

These results are similar to the findings of a 2021 survey of senior management executives conducted by the CMO Council. In that survey, only 17% of the respondents said they were extremely confident in marketing's ability to lead a growth recovery in 2021, and another 52% said they were just moderately confident.

The Boathouse survey also contained some fairly depressing findings about the level of trust CEO's have in CMO's, with only 32% of the surveyed CEO's saying they trust CMO's. Some of the CEO perceptions described in the survey report are visceral. For example:

  • 56% of the respondents said CMO's are committed to themselves, but only 44% said they are committed to the CEO/board.
  • Only 56% of the respondents said the CMO supports the long-term vision of the CEO, and only 10% said the CMO puts the CEO's needs before their own.
Lastly, when Boathouse asked survey participants to identify the most trusted and the most valuable member of their leadership team, CMO's didn't fare very well. The following table shows how the surveyed CEO's responded to these two questions.

My Take

Some of the findings in the Boathouse survey seem to be very contradictory. For example, the surveyed CEO's said CMO's have the credibility to influence key C-suite decisions, but only about a third of the respondents said they trust CMO's. It's as if the survey respondents were answering some questions based on what they believe CMO's should be or could be, while answering others based on what they think most CMO's actually are.

*The survey report contains a somewhat confusing chart that depicts average and median CMO tenure from 2011 through 2020. The chart appears to be based on data from the 2021 edition of the CMO Tenure Study by Spencer Stuart. You can review the Spencer Stuart data here.

Top Image Source:  Boathouse Group Inc.

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