The Rise of CMO’s: 5 Skills Marketers Bring to the Position of CEO

September 20

In the 21st-century, corporations are looking beyond the traditional pool of CEO candidates to find leaders who can meet all the challenges of the digital world. Enter CMOs.

Reebok, Saatchi & Saatchi, Dick’s, KFC, and QuickenLoans are all major companies that have hired former CMOs as their CEOs. In fact, a recent study found that 25% of CEOs have a background in marketing or sales, a number that supersedes even those with general business management backgrounds.

Though it may seem strange at first thought, CMOs have all the qualifications and skills needed to run the organisations they are marketing—from managing large budgets and staffs to understanding companies and their customers inside and out. CMOs bring many skills the role of CEO. These are the top five.

Customer Expertise

We are in the age of the customer. Whether you are a B2B or B2C company, customers now expect your marketing, sales pitches, and shopping experiences to be personalized to them. The department at the forefront of this change is the marketing department. They are responsible for understanding the entire customer lifecycle from leads to recurring, loyal customers. It is essential that incoming CEOs understand this lifecycle process and can pinpoint improvements in customer pipelines that will increase profits. Successful CMOs are experts in understanding what customers want and when they want it and can bring that knowledge to the role of CEO.

Financial Acumen

Though finances may not be what you immediately think of when considering CMOs, the marketing field has always revolved around measuring and optimising returns on investments. Marketers have to understand the cost of acquiring customers on different platforms and the profit and revenues that result from each platform. As more platforms have emerged in the digital era and the tools available to analyze results of marketing campaigns have become more precise, a major responsibility of CMOs has been to analyse and prioritise platforms and campaign types to maximize a company’s profits at minimal cost. Many CMOs manage large budgets, staff, and outside contracts, so transitioning from CMO to CEO is a matter of scaling up those responsibilities.

Technological Expertise

Marketing is no longer solely print and in-person experiences. It now consists of a well-designed website, emails, text messages, online advertisements, social media ads, and any new technology platforms that emerge. As a result, marketing professionals are some of the most tech-savvy members of your organisation. They have to be. Every time a new platform emerges, they analyse whether potential customers can be targeted through that platform and, if so, what would be the best method to do so. They also have to have an intimate knowledge of internal customer and sales databases to build comprehensive marketing plans. Choosing a CMO as your new CEO means that you will be hiring someone who understands internal database needs as well as external technology best practices and how your technology should be working together to create seamless customer experiences.

Management Skills

As marketing has become more complex, marketing departments have reflected this change. Marketing departments are now filled with print specialists, online advertising specialists, social media marketers, analysts, copywriters, and designers. If the department doesn’t have the expertise on staff, then the CMO is managing contractors as well as staff members. In addition to leading an increasingly complex team, CMOs are also juggling constant deadlines to review artwork, copy, campaign plans, analyses, and technology contracts. Successful CMOs are not only great project and time managers, but they also have to be effective communicators, which translates to effective campaigns and well-run departments—everything you should want in your CEO.

Holistic View

CMOs, by necessity, have one of the most holistic views of the company. They have to understand every aspect of a customer’s experience—whether it’s with the company’s website, salespeople, stores, or advertisements. They hear every complaint that customers make through social media, via emails, and in online reviews and they have to respond to them in a timely and conciliatory manner. As a result, no one understands more about how every outward-facing aspect of the company is affecting customers and, therefore, profits. Additionally, to build successful campaigns and respond to complaints, the marketing department often has to work across departments in ways no other department does. This company-wide understanding translates to a well-rounded CEO who understands how various departments can work together to create the best possible customer experience.

If your company is in the search for a new CEO, consider thinking outside the traditional pool of candidates to those with expertise in marketing. Through the increasingly complex world of marketing, many CMOs have built skills that will make them successful CEOs who have intimate knowledge of the customer experience, technology, finances, and communication and management best practices.




Lincoln is one of the top recruitment agencies in Dublin, Ireland. We provide expert staffing, recruitment and outsourcing services to our clients in both Executive Search and professional marketing recruitment in the Irish market. Get in touch with us today if you would like to know more about the potential CMO’s can bring to the role of CEO’s.

About the Author

Orla Doyle

Orla Doyle

Head of Marketing & Communications 353 ( 1 ) 661 0444

Orla Doyle is the Group Marketing and Communications Manager at Lincoln Recruitment Group. Orla graduated from the University of Limerick; she was awarded a Bachelor of Business Studies specialising in Accounting and Finance and subsequently a Master’s of Science in Financial Services. With a background in Accounting and Finance, Orla has previously worked with a Top 5 Accountancy firm and a large multinational bank based in Ireland before taking up international marketing opportunities. While working for reputable international companies, she gained her 6-year experience in marketing and communications and developed her excellent skills related to events management. She also holds a Diploma in Strategic Digital Marketing from the Marketing Institute of Ireland.


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