Guest writer and friend of the Rockstar CMO podcast and, most of all, accomplished marketing and communications professional Irene Nehrkorn-Kayn continues to explore the trouble with CMOs. This week Irene wonders if, like a chef, the CMOs marketing recipe and method should be trusted and only judged by the results.


Trust me, I am a CMO! 

If I was a chef – would the restaurant owner question my pasta recipe? I don’t think so. However, it is common for a CEO to question the CMO’s marketing strategy and initiatives. Why is this, and how can we avoid this unfortunate situation?

While researching for this article, I came across the Open letter to CEOs: Why your CMO is thinking about leaving by Shama Hyder, best-selling author, keynote speaker & CEO of Zen Media, a B2B PR, and marketing firm. The article summarizes the main reasons why CMOs are often frustrated since they are seen as merely lead factories and not a valued member of the C-suite. 

5 CEO No-Goes

It was fun (and sad at the same time) reading it from a CMO perspective, and I second the five no-goes for the CEO that Shama vividly describes: 

  1. Insisting on stalking customers (which refers to the obsession to track each and everything customers do or not)
  2. Micromanaging (which is a clear expression of distrust)
  3. Asking for “sales enablement” or “account-based marketing” (which is basic marketing knowledge)
  4. Pretending to “play the long game but expecting 90-day returns” (patience! Rome was not even built in a day)
  5. Make them [CMOs] “earn” their marketing dollars (seeing Marketing as a cost center that must justify each cent).

I suspect that every marketing professional has stumbled across at least one of the above issues at some point in their career. Perhaps that was why Shama’s article was very well received by CMOs and the subject of lively discussion on LinkedIn. The overall debate at one point raised the issue of how CMOs should sell their ideas to the boardroom. Shama responded with her article How to sell your ideas to the C-suite. 

Should the CMO change?

Before I raise my doubts, let me summarize her points from that article. She lists five things CMOs should do to ensure they get a basic understanding from other board members:

  1. Think like an investor (engage with that buyer persona and teach the C-suite that marketing is an internal investment department)
  2. Expand their vocabulary (choose words that resonate with the investor buyer persona)
  3. Create attribution for demand creation and capture (aside from quantitative KPIs such as page impressions (PI), click-through rates (CTR), etc., establish KPIs that give the C-suite an overview of their company market position in their category – i.e., Share of Voice). 
  4. Learn to assess the timing (CMOs only get money when business figures match the CEO’s appetite for short-term growth),
  5. Influence, not control (which says: try not to change things that cannot be changed. If you cannot inspire the C-suite, there is still the “should I leave or should I go” option).

That is, to my viewpoint, perhaps understandable from a CEO’s view, but for CMOs a very questionable, short-sighted approach. Sure, we marketers know we’re dealing with target groups and buyer personas and KPIs. And, sure, we align and measure all our communications to that. 

Should we need to sell marketing?

However, do I have to address a marketing strategy to the C-suite to get their buy-in? To me, it sounds weird to sell marketing to the C-suite. Marketing goals are derived from the overall corporate goals anyway. That said, I should have my budget, and I should have the decision-making authority that fits my role. Why do I have to justify my strategy and initiatives then? Is that communication at eye level? I say no! 

I am the Chef – I don’t want to constantly explain why I cook my pasta in salted water and al dente to the C-suite. My answer: it tastes good, and that’s it.

Are CMOs the business laggards who have to justify their knowledge and adapt to the C-suite language before being heard? Do CMOs have to learn a new language while the rest of the C-suite is comfortably laying back in their seats, awaiting that CMOs speak up – but please in their language!? Again, no!

Cultural Add or Cultural Fit?

In this context, the article 7 warning signs you should not take that startup CMO job comes to my mind. In it, Eva Tsai, Google executive, startup board director, and investor, gives CMOs tips on how to do their due diligence to decide whether or not to accept a job offer. 

Among other things, she picks up on a point that intrigues me. Eve encourages CMOs to look at the company culture and see if that’s a fit. She asks CMOs to investigate whether a startup is looking for a “cultural fit” or a “cultural add”. The difference? When companies are looking for a “cultural fit”, they are looking for candidates who assimilate. However, looking for a “cultural add”, shows interest in cultural enrichment.

If a company is looking for a “cultural” fit, be careful and watch out! I assume you don’t want to end up like a CMO totally assimilated by the C-suite. 

So, where’s the beef?

Ideally, the CEO formulates the expectations for the CMO’s task and his role on the board. However, since this is not always done and communicated by CEOs with the necessary clarity and attention, CMOs can formulate a clear set of expectations on their own. 

Trust me, I am a CMO. Let me suggest a smart role allocation for kitchen’s hell:

The owner can determine the orientation or focus of the restaurant cuisine. But the chef is responsible for the composition and preparation of the dishes!

In addition, the organization and the distribution of roles within the kitchen are also the chef’s responsibility.

With that in mind, a CMO stands a good chance of becoming a valued member of the C-suite and getting along well with the CEO. Thus, CMOs also make their case for the role they deserve and can contribute to sustainable business growth.

Let me know what you think! Happy to discuss!

The Chef!



This is a follow-up to Irene’s previous article – The Trouble with CMOs.How to jailbreak out of prescribed CEO assumptions in Marketing

[ Read more ]



Photo of kitchen by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash


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