Skip to Content Skip to Footer
What Are the Most Important Qualities of an Effective CMO?

What Are the Most Important Qualities of an Effective CMO?

Christine Moorman and Jennifer Veenstra

Marketing leaders agree effective CMOs must be able to represent the voice of the customer.

What makes a CMO effective? The August 2017 CMO Survey posed this question to a sample of 349 top marketers. Ten potential roles were provided and respondents were asked to rank their top three on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being the most important (Table 1). Based on interviews with top marketers, CEOs, CFOs and CIOs over the last year, the list was developed by Deloitte to understand why CMOs often are not successful in the C-suite. 

The role most frequently ranked 1, or most important, by survey respondents was “being the voice of the customer at the leadership table.” What does this mean in terms of actual behaviors? Being the voice of the customer does not mean mere representation of the customer. Instead, it means offering multidimensional customer insights that guide company decisions. It means having a deep, research-based view of customer needs, journey and purchase experiences, usage experiences as well as retention and referral behaviors. It means understanding competition from the customer’s point of view, not from the structure of an industry report. Finally, it means understanding the value of different customers. Marketing leaders in consumer services, retail/wholesale, education and health care sectors placed the greatest emphasis on this role (Table 2).

Aggregating across all three ranks, “playing a key role in company growth activities” was most frequently ranked a top-three role. Our research shows this is important because growth is a measurable outcome against which marketing can demonstrate the value of its customer insights. To become an influential and credible voice among their C-suite partners, marketing leaders should leverage customer insights to drive business growth decisions. However, the C-suite does not always ask CMOs to drive growth nor evaluate them on growth metrics. To move the needle, CMOs need to craft metrics that connect marketing’s impact to key growth indicators. Consumer packaged goods, tech/software/biotech and energy industries rated this role as most important.


Three other roles dominate the ranking. “Having an enterprise-wide business mindset and understanding” received the second-highest percentage of top votes, with services/consulting, transportation and energy sectors rating it important. This role requires that CMOs effectively collaborate with their C-suite counterparts. Many respondents emphasized this enterprise-wide mindset or ability to socialize it across the company as a defining quality in the success of CMOs.

“Having the ability to demonstrate the quantitative impact of marketing efforts” requires CMOs to speak the language of their C-suite peers. Even when marketing has an impact, the challenge is often to effectively communicate its value by translating marketing activities into the financial language used in the board room. This role was most highly rated by consumer services, tech/software/biotech, education, health care and banking/finance/insurance industries.

 “Having direct sales/customer-facing experience” was rated higher by manufacturing, energy and communications/media sectors. C-suite members have increasingly realized the growing power of customers. Organizations are trying to engage customers in ways that speak to their needs and values and establish an ongoing relationship rather than a transactional one. There is no one better-suited to lead the customer-centric charge than the CMO.

The Impact of E-commerce

The percentage of a company’s sales that come from e-commerce also influences the importance of several of these marketing roles (Table 3). Companies that generate more than 10% of their sales from e-commerce valued “having the ability to demonstrate the quantitative impact of marketing efforts” at twice the level of companies with fewer e-commerce sales. Data availability and the ability to perform fast and low-cost experiments are likely explanations for this finding. Likewise, companies with e-commerce valued marketing leaders “being the voice of the customer at the leadership table” at twice the rate that companies without e-commerce did. Our interpretation is that marketers play this role because digital strategies tend to sharpen the focus on customers because the interactions are direct. On the other hand, companies with no e-commerce sales valued marketing leaders “playing a key role in company growth initiatives” at four times the rate of companies with 10% or more of their sales from e-commerce. 

Marketing Leader Titles

Although marketing roles appear to vary, the title used to capture the contributions of a company’s top marketing leader remains “chief marketing officer.” Sixty-eight percent of respondents selected this title from a set of options that included chief brand officer (9.1%), chief marketing and technology officer (5.7%), chief growth officer (5.7%), chief revenue officer (4.6%), chief commercial officer (2.3%), chief customer officer (2.3%), chief digital officer (1.7%) and chief experience officer (0%).

An Agenda for CMOs

Based on these findings, what role should a CMO take in the C-suite?

  • Be the customer expert. Position yourself as the person in the C-suite with expertise on the customer, and tie this knowledge to company strategy.
  • Speak the language of the C-suite. Assert strategic recommendations and growth investments in the language and metrics used by the rest of the C-suite.
  • Bring a left- and right-brain mentality. While analytical rigor in the marketing department is more important than ever, be careful not to lose the creative, right-brained ideas that create customer connections and produce growth.

Christine Moorman is T. Austin Finch Sr. Professor of Business Administration, Duke University, USA, and Founder and Director, The CMO Survey.

Jennifer Veenstra is managing director of the CMO Program at Deloitte Services, LP.