The Changing Role of the CMO: From Order Taker to Growth Driver

In CMO/Marketing by Shelly Kramer1 Comment

business growth

Today’s CMOs are dramatically different than CMOs of a decade ago. Today’s CMOs have a seat at the table when it comes to core business decisions, things like embracing and driving digital transformation, formulating and implementing growth strategies, technology adoption, forecasting revenue outlook, developing pipeline management strategies, and the like.

Heavily invested in business decisions, modern CMOs must be adaptable, innovative, and agile. CMOs today aren’t watching the customer journey from afar—they’re shaping it. They aren’t taking orders—they’re driving growth. In short, CMOs’ responsibilities have been evolving for some time, such that they look entirely different than they did a mere decade ago. Let’s explore one report that breaks down the changing role of the CMO—and all the challenges that come with it.

CMOs Today, By the Numbers

In a recent study—The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift—the CMO Council and Deloitte gathered responses from more than 200 CMOs across a variety of industries and geographies, over one third of which hail from companies netting over $1 billion in revenue. Here is what the study uncovered:

  • Twenty-seven percent of CMOs today report they’re primarily responsible for developing growth strategies and generating revenue, beating out CEOs as principal driver of revenue by five percent.
  • Marketing is expected to be a significant growth driver among senior management and the board, with 68 percent of respondents calling it either a primary mandate or a high expectation. Twenty-three percent called it a moderate expectation. (See Figure 1.)
  • Many marketers reported refining and shaping the brand (44 percent) and polishing campaigns to predispose prospects (42 percent) were some of the best ways marketers could inspire growth.
  • Survey responses show a well-designed web presence still reigns supreme: Site design, interaction and conversion came in first (46 percent) when asked what areas of digital marketing innovation most directly benefit the CMO’s goal of increasing revenue. Targeting, predictive analytics, and personalization came in a close second (44 percent).

 The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

Figure 1. The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

 The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

Figure 2. The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

CMO Growing Pains

The CMO Council/Deloitte study was a kind of litmus test for CMOs today, looking at the story behind the rapid acceleration of the role. While the researchers found highlights of the journey, they also found its challenges:

  • CMOs report being often “bogged down” with things like approval cycles, operational tasks, and meetings instead of using that time to advance digital transformation initiatives. Forty-five percent of respondents, to be exact, indicated they spent too much time reviewing campaigns, budgets, and marketing plans.
  • Only 16 percent of respondents indicated they had a seat at the table with other executives to discuss global business strategy.
  • A mere eight percent of CMOs said they spend time auditing and working to improve the customer experience (CX)—a big disconnect, especially when competing on CX is the way to get ahead in the digital economy.
  • Many CMOs indicated their actions primarily contributed to long-term operational change rather than short-term revenue growth. (See Figure 3).
  • One in four CMOs said they only get support from functional leaders “some of the time,” often indicating it varies depending on who is in charge.
  • Many respondents reported struggling to achieve fully integrated analytics.

To overcome these challenges, the CMOs surveyed indicated they’d be open to rethinking their priorities and deliverables (51 percent), delegating more tasks (49 percent), and hiring team members with additional skills (44 percent) in the coming year.

Based on the research, The CMO Council and Deloitte identified “key opportunities” for CMOs and other high-level marketers moving forward. These include shaping the customer experience as a business driver, not a system of campaigns, shifting strategy and investments around culture and technology, and better communicating the value of efforts in terms of revenue.

The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

Figure 3. The CMO Shift to Gaining Business Lift

What’s Next?

All in all, the study concluded “tremendous opportunities await CMOs in 2017 as they more fully embrace the roles, actions and strategies that drive substantive growth for the entire organization.”

I couldn’t agree more. My team and I have been watching the role of the CMO evolve for some time now, even examining how the typical CMO’s personality stacks up against that of the rest of the C-suite, and we’ve seen this coming.

CMOs, are you tasked with driving growth within your organization? What are your challenges as you embrace these new responsibilities? Tell me in the comments.

Additional Resources on this Topic

The Role of the CMO in Digital Transformation
The Modern CMO: Adaptable, Innovative, Agile
The CMO’s Changing Role

Photo Credit: divyaaum Flickr via Compfight cc

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


  1. The greatest challenge I encounter is when other management fears changes even in the presence of solid evidence the changes are wise and necessary.

    Research and planning is like setting out for a nice walk.

    Breaking into a run with implementation is the fun part.

    Melting all the ice in the path before you start the walk – that’s the tricky part.

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