Who Is Today’s CMO? Is There Even a CMO?

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The title of CMO is at once desirable and perhaps outdated at some organizations, according to marketers putting a great deal of thought into the role’s evolution.

Top marketers at CallRail, a provider of tracking and analytics for phone calls and web forms, and at Green Hasson Janks, an accounting, tax and consulting firm, provided comments to Target Marketing, a sister brand of Publishing Executive.

Mary Pat Donnellon, CRO at CallRail, answered questions extensively and Mari-Anne Kehler, Partner, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Green Hasson Janks, provided the background.

Kehler says organizations such as Uber and Johnson & Johnson morphed the CMO role or left it empty, even as the top marketer’s responsibilities grow, exponentially.

“Eliminating or changing the CMO title enables the top marketer to take on important, cross-functional growth initiatives that typically would not fall in the CMO’s wheelhouse,” Kehler opines.

She says now, there are three main types of CMO roles at companies:

  • those whose focus is downstream, spurring sales through marketing communications;
  • those responsible for designing and implementing strategy; and
  • the smallest percentage are those who are in enterprise-wide P&L role that marry both commercialization and strategy. That latter role has tremendous power in the decision-making process and is where many marketing leaders want to be.

Donnellon is quite familiar with the changing role of the CMO, because that’s her former title.

Target Marketing: How has the role of the CMO changed throughout your career?

MPD: The biggest shift in the role of the CMO during my career has been the move from focusing mainly on acquiring new customers, to focusing on the full buyer and customer lifecycle. CMOs today are responsible for creating amazing experiences at every stage of this journey, and for creating customers who are advocates and evangelists for the brand.

For marketers, these amazing experiences need to be warm and personalized, but also need to be architected at-scale, and will largely be digital and automated. The CMO is the critical point for making this happen.

Another major change is the availability of data to drive marketing. In my early days, marketing was largely an art, today it is much more of a science. As marketers, we have access to more data than ever thought possible, and we need to leverage this to ensure we are engaging with our audiences in the way they want and respond to. We also need to be increasingly respectful and conscientious with this data, or risk backlash from our customers.

TM: What did your transition from CMO to CRO at CallRail entail? What contributed to your success during this transition?

MPD: I joined CallRail to lead marketing, but added sales to my portfolio shortly thereafter, and became Chief Revenue Officer. At CallRail, having marketing and sales together in one organization makes total sense. We are a high-velocity business with a very short sales cycle. Our ability to generate and close mass quantities of leads depends on marketing and sales being a truly operationally excellent revenue engine. I have had the opportunity to build this at CallRail and ensure we have the structure and alignment needed to make this happen fast. That said, all organizations will benefit from investing in marketing and sales alignment, whether they have the same leader or not.

TM: What have you found to be the most effective strategy for driving revenue results as a CMO?

MPD: As a marketer, I naturally see the CMO as the hub that brings together all aspects of the business to drive results. This includes a strong partnership with the product team to deeply understand product roadmap and strategy; with the finance team on pricing, packaging, and performance metrics; with sales and customer experience on front-line strategies and communication; and with the marketing team to create brand experiences and drive demand that converts. To drive revenue results, the CMO needs to pull all of this together.


Heather Fletcher is a freelance reporter for Adweek. She covers performance and direct marketing.
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