3 Key Things CMOs Should Know Before Becoming CGOs

A chief growth officer moves across the C-suite

A CGO who can lend leaders a creative hand can inspire fantastic results. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Unsplash
Headshot of Ben Plomion

My experience as a CMO was brighter than the picture Harvard Business Review paints, but some things resonate. Like most marketers, I had a privileged understanding of the market, brand needs and value proposition but no way to apply my insights to strategy, product and sales decisions driving growth. That puts CMOs in a challenging position since most are measured against growth. It’s a core reason average CMO tenures are the briefest in the C-suite. Meantime, cross-departmental growth officer titles are popping up in corporate organizational charts.

Sales and marketing need to be more closely integrated. The chief growth officer position appears to perfectly embody that integration. Despite numerous articles detailing the role’s function, I found little about what making the transition from CMO to CGO might actually entail—and, more importantly, what the practical benefits might be.

Six months into my role as CGO, here are a few insights into how and why companies can benefit from putting a CMO in charge of growth:

Creating a stronger value proposition

A big part of the CMO’s job is identifying and promoting a differentiated and relevant value proposition. CGOs need to do that too, but they also need to validate it. The first order of CGO business should be a listening tour: in-depth interviews with every sales and sales support member to help identify how much clients actually understand and give credence to value propositions.

Investment in marketing programs needed to be increased to that not only promote but also prove our selling points. After sales leaders developed a list of key client objections, the marketing team redirected their efforts toward producing research and other educational content to address each objection. It’s too soon to gauge the impact this strategy has had on our customers, but the marketing team already has a clearer sense of purpose and a better understanding of how their work can impact the company’s growth trajectory.

Approach sales challenges with more creativity

Almost any good CMO has a solid creative sensibility: the essential combination of curiosity, ingenuity and calculated risk tolerance when adapting to rapidly changing market dynamics. I always saw the most success as CMO when I was restless, driven by a conviction that there’s always a better way. Sometimes that meant taking a risk on an off-the-wall content marketing program. Other times it meant dumping familiar processes for better unfamiliar ones.

Transitioning to CGO allows the application of that same philosophy to sales. Sales systems have a naturally conservative structure because sales incentives are more aligned with short-term revenue gains over long-term wins. You’re sure to discover behindhand processes that everyone thinks are etched in stone. For a CMO-turned-CGO leading sales, nothing’s too precious to be reevaluated.

Leaders are often more eager to make process changes than they let on. Sometimes they feel compelled to maintain the status quo, but a CGO who can lend leaders a creative hand can inspire fantastic results.

Assess new opportunities with a more analytical approach

CMOs are notorious for getting excited about the latest trends. Sometimes those shiny new objects prove to be more distraction than innovation, but you can see net gains in pursuing them. The CGO role presents challenges in that regard because of the broader mandate and responsibility.

For one, there are simply too many opportunities for innovation. The choices are overwhelming. Then there’s the greater impact those choices will have. A CGO doesn’t have the luxury to pursue a wild goose because sales resources come at a much higher premium than marketing resources. Misplaced efforts have negative sum effects since not only do you throw away the cost of the failed effort but you’ve also taken resources away from your established growth system.

Take an analytical approach to everything. Be inspired, but also be thoroughly informed before you get carried away by inspiration. That means calling on data-driven consultancies to help identify areas where we’re leaving money on the table, cataloging competitor case studies, conducting internal research and talent audits, and partnering with analytics firms. Use these tools casually to navigate opportunities.

The CGO job becomes exciting as a natural enhancement: leading innovation from market to product and back again. CGOs aren’t enhanced CMOs. They are growth-focused brand builders, trusted C-suite advisors, internal yet analytical connectors and cross-departmental leaders who can drive real progress for any organization that makes room for them at the executive table.


Ben Plomion is chief growth officer of computer vision and digital innovation firm GumGum.