Experienced marketing professionals who aspire to take on an executive role can prepare for the chief marketing officer (CMO) position as they build their careers. Discover what this role does and how to become a CMO with the right skills, experience, and education, including how a Master of Business Administration (MBA) fits into the job requirements.
What Does a CMO Do?
As Gartner defines it, “A chief marketing officer is the corporate executive responsible for an organization’s marketing activities. The CMO’s primary responsibility is to generate revenue by increasing sales through brand management, marketing communications, market research, product marketing, distribution channel management, pricing, [and] customer service.”
The chief marketing officer position simultaneously fulfills an executive leadership role and a marketing function. As the head of a company’s marketing team, the CMO will oversee marketing managers and ensure all marketing activities are working to improve the bottom line as well as the brand’s reputation.
What Are the Key Responsibilities of a CMO?
Like other executives, the chief marketing officer will have a full schedule complete with meetings, emails, project updates, and more. The day-to-day responsibilities and focus areas will vary, depending on the company size and industry as well as the products or services that are marketed.
For instance, a CMO at a small consumer goods company may spend more energy on hands-on business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing strategies, such as social media marketing, product branding, and market research. A CMO at a telecommunications company with a global reach would focus on business-to-business (B2B) marketing tactics. They would probably also take a big-picture approach to ensure regional teams are aligned and equipped to carry out the overarching strategy.
However, all of these efforts are in service of several higher-level objectives. Deloitte has identified the following roles as the key functions of a CMO:
- Growth driver: One of the CMO’s core roles is to drive sales and profitability, ensuring a positive return on investment (ROI) from the marketing budget. Key growth areas a CMO focuses on include revenue, gross margin, and market share.
- Customer champion: The CMO is a strong advocate for the customer and it is their responsibility to deliver the optimal brand experience. As Deloitte explains, they will work to “align the organization around customer centricity using data and analytics to deliver customer experiences, as well as measurable business results.”
- Capability builder: The CMO is responsible for developing and improving the organization’s marketing proficiencies—including digital, technological, and analytical capabilities—to help it retain an innovative, competitive edge.
- Innovation catalyst: The CMO can experiment and innovate to make improvements across the organization. They can explore uses for new marketing technologies and tactics while inspiring new solutions for customers’ wants and needs.
- Chief storyteller: The CMO should “act as both architect and steward of the brand by creating and telling brand stories and inviting consumers to participate in the narrative,” according to Deloitte.
What Skills Does a CMO Need?
Cultivating a strong skill set is an important part of how to become a CMO. Someone aspiring to fill the chief marketing officer role will need a combination of business administration and leadership, technology, and soft skills.
According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) and CMS Wire, the CMO’s executive role in the organization calls for business skills, such as:
- Management skills, including recruiting, training, scheduling, and supervising members of the marketing department
- Leadership abilities, including the ability to unite team members around a shared vision
- Business administration skills, including strategic planning, project coordination, budgeting, and resource planning skills as well as knowledge of applicable laws, regulations, and ethics
- Decision-making skills, including problem-solving and critical thinking abilities and the ability to make data-driven choices that support the company’s bottom line
- Communication skills, including written and verbal communication as well as presentation skills
- Technology competencies, including experience with databases, social media platforms, content management systems, and other types of digital marketing software
- Soft skills such as agility, adaptability, and flexibility to keep up with the ever-changing market landscape
High-level marketers aiming for the CMO role should be prepared with a deep understanding of marketing tactics, tech skills, and industry best practices. Related areas of expertise include:
- Data analytics, including measuring key performance indicators and using data to drive strategic initiatives
- Marketing strategy and execution, including marketing campaign management, inbound and outbound marketing, social media marketing, search engine marketing, email marketing, event marketing, and other tactics
- Content marketing, including content management and production planning for print and digital collateral
- Brand management, including building and maintaining a clearly defined brand identity for the company and its products or services
- Industry expertise, including an understanding of the sales cycle, B2B or B2C marketing needs, and market trends in the industry
- Market research, including competitor analysis and buyer persona development
- Design, including photography, graphic design, styling, and an editorial eye to ensure all visuals align with the brand
- Marketing-adjacent activities, including advertising, public relations, crisis management, business development, and sales
When pursuing CMO job opportunities, it isn’t enough for candidates to simply say they possess all of the above skills and competencies. A resume or CV, paired with an addendum or marketing portfolio, can show these skills in action. An aspiring chief marketing officer should demonstrate a track record of innovative solutions, bottom-line-boosting initiatives, and marketing successes. Tying these skills to the specific needs of the organization and explaining the impact and results of past activities in a quantifiable way can help employers get a clearer picture of what a candidate could bring to the role.
What Degree Do You Need to Become a CMO?
For a marketer considering how to become a CMO, it’s important to look at educational requirements and employers’ expectations. Pairing a marketing or marketing-related bachelor’s degree with a marketing-focused MBA is the most direct way to prepare for an executive-level marketing position.
When hiring for the chief marketing officer role, employers will typically look for at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as marketing, public relations, advertising, or business communication and administration. However, Indeed advises aspiring CMOs that “most companies prefer or even require an MBA” for this role.
A program like Northeastern University’s Online MBA with a Marketing Concentration at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business can help students develop the ideal combination of advanced business and marketing expertise in as few as two years.
The robust MBA core curriculum features a broad range of courses designed to challenge business students to think differently and to prepare students for the complex challenges of the modern business environment. These courses cover topics from finance and global markets to analytics, supply chain management, and business ethics.
In addition to this comprehensive MBA foundation, electives in the Marketing Concentration curriculum provide a deep dive into critical aspects of marketing that can translate directly the responsibilities of a CMO. Courses include:
- Brand and Advertising Management
- Digital Marketing
- International Marketing
- Market Focused Strategy
- Marketing in the Service Sector
- Marketing Research
- New Product Development
Overall, a graduate-level program like Northeastern University’s Online MBA program can offer a mix of theoretical and practical experiences that empower students to become stronger and more strategic business leaders in their chosen fields.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a CMO?
For many aspiring marketing executives, reaching the C-suite is a years-long journey up the corporate ladder. Most employers will look for a combination of advanced qualifications and a proven track record that can only be earned after many years on the job. According to Indeed, this includes at least 10 years of experience in marketing or business development, as well as five years in a leadership position.
But this timeframe does not guarantee a marketer will secure a CMO job after 10 years in the workforce. Someone pivoting from another department to marketing may need to spend more time building their expertise after several years in a different role. Another professional hoping to advance at their current company might need to hold a senior management position until the CMO position opens up.
However, the long path to the C-suite is a valuable time in an aspiring CMO’s career. In order from the most junior to the most senior role, other titles a marketer may hold before joining the C-suite include:
- Marketing assistant
- Marketing specialist
- Marketing manager
- Marketing director
- Vice president of marketing
It’s also possible to take a less linear path, for instance by starting in a sales role and transitioning into marketing, or progressing from a social media position in a marketing department to more advanced supervisory positions. From entry-level experiences to leadership positions, each new role is an opportunity to learn, grow, and hone the skills that are essential to success at the executive level.
What Are the Job Requirements for a CMO?
Due to the CMO role’s importance in the organization, employers look for the right combination of education, work experience, and marketing and business leadership skills. To sum it all up, the job requirements for a CMO include:
- 10 years of marketing experience
- Five years of management experience
- A bachelor’s degree in marketing or a related field
- An MBA with a marketing concentration
- Relevant industry experience
- A proven track record of marketing success
- A varied and advanced marketing skill set
- Strong leadership abilities
- Any relevant professional certifications
Employers will also look for the right cultural fit and will prioritize candidates whose core interests and values align with the company’s mission and practices.
How Much Money Does a CMO Make?
As with other C-suite roles, the chief marketing officer typically comes with a six-figure salary. According to PayScale’s analysis of more than 1,500 CMO salary profiles, chief marketing officers earned an average base salary of $174,696 as of February 2021. The lowest earners made about $91,000, whereas the top earners made around $272,000 per year.
Different financial packages may impact a CMO’s earnings. For instance, PayScale reported commission structures, bonuses, and profit-sharing programs that can account for a small or significant portion of a CMO’s total income.
A variety of factors including company size, industry, geographic location, and years of experience also play an important role in determining actual earnings.
For instance, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that executives in similar high-level positions earn the most in the professional, scientific, and technical services sectors as well as manufacturing. PayScale insights also point to a $100,000 difference in annual earnings between new CMOs with one to four years of experience and seasoned CMOs with 20 or more years on the job. Moreover, CMOs in large cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston can earn between 9% and 37% more than the national average, in part as a reflection of higher costs of living.
Grow Your Marketing Career with an Online MBA
Now that you have a deeper understanding of how to become a CMO and what it takes to be competitive in the employment market, consider how an MBA could help accelerate your career path and bring you one step closer to the C-suite.
PayScale — Average Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Salary
BLS — Top Executives
Indeed — Learn About Being a Chief Marketing Officer
O*Net — Summary Report for Chief Executives
CMS Wire — 11 Necessary Skills and Traits for the Modern Chief Marketing Officer
Gartner — Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)