Influencing C-Level Change: 6 Questions A New CMO Should Ask The CXO Table

Published: June 3, 2008

A number of topics were recurring at our Summit, including the challenges of ROI measurement, the introduction of new marketing and social media, the challenges of having credibility at the CXO table, and the CMOs ability to maneuver these new requirements as the success hurdle.

During my career at Siebel, DoubleClick, Avaya, and QD Technology, I have found one of the most important things to do to ensure success at the CMO level, is to be able to get answers to the following six important questions to assess the probability of your success in the CMO role:

Question 1: Is there clarity of strategic direction and approach within the board and the CEO?

For a CMO to be successful, the CEO and Board must be in sync on what is working, not working, and the strategies to improve. I was involved in an interview process a number of months back for a large computer company CMO position, and the CEO kept talking about the company’s biggest problem, “Having more exciting branding and messaging”. One of the board members told me the biggest problem was improving sales and demand generation in APAC. If that group is not in sync and crystal clear on the key strategic problems they want to solve, how are you as a CMO going to make the right decisions on priorities, resources, and defining success?

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Question 2: How much real authority do I have to drive change?

To be successful, you must have authority and support of the CEO to drive marketing investment decisions, media decisions, in-region plans and resource deployment, user group management, etc. Whenever I hear about corporate staff CMO positions with each region having their own marketing groups reporting to region heads, I question how much authority and ability to drive needed change.

Question 3: What is the degree of customer centricity in the company?

If your company is product focused (despite all the lip service given to customer focus) or short term bottom line only focused, how much influence will the CMO really have within the company? When I worked at M&M/Mars back in the late 90’s, the focus was on the consumer and consumer driven product development, and programs drove the value and importance of the CMO role within that business. A number of product focused, high-tech companies would not be the right fit for high impact CMO success. Customer centricity must start with the CEO and Board. If they don’t truly believe it, your ability to influence change at the CMO level will be difficult.

Question 4: Does the CEO and/or Board think they are marketing experts (without any real marketing experience)?

In discussion for CMO opportunities, I always dig into the CEO’s and board’s understanding and training in marketing. If they feel they understand without the experience, you will constantly get unproductive and frustrating “help” in messaging, packaging, TV/Print, and even more problematic, newer social media. When the CEO asks “Why aren’t we on” or “I really like the color red, we should use that in our campaigns,” your success probability just went down.

Question 5: How much influence will I really have over transforming my marketing organization?

If you are told that given a current headcount freeze, you need to make due with what you have for the next 6-9 months—I would start worrying. In addition, if you are told all training of employees must be done in house, start worrying. We all know the single most important lever you have for success is the development and building of a high performing marketing organization. You get the right mix of stars and your success rate goes up. Not having the ability to achieve this will hurt your success as CMO.

Question 6: What is my marketing budget and how was it determined?

If you are told there is no real budget when you start, but based on your proven success, additional dollars will be on the table for discussion, you might want to rethink your interest in the CMO position. If the CEO and Board know what they want to accomplish and are interested in you driving the needed strategic and tactical changes, you should not have to prove yourself for the resources needed to succeed in the role.

In conclusion how many of us wish we knew the answers to these questions for prior marketing jobs we have taken? Also, you most likely will not get the answers you want for all six of these questions, but by understanding the answers, you will have much better visibility to your probability of success and what you need to do to influence success within the organization.

Pete Krainik is the founder of The CMO Club, a new group formed with the mission of providing an environment of networking, insight, openness, and contribution for CMOs that enables its members to help each other become better. Pete has more than 25 years of experience in Marketing, Sales, IT, and Product Management within the Consumer Goods, High Tech, and Software Industries. Pete started the club back in early 2006 and has grown to over 1100 members. To request membership go to or contact Pete Krainik at 908.342.1632

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