CMO Churn is the CEO's Fault

Marketing has one message to achieve awareness, sales adopts another to close the deals, and product rationalizes a different one to address competition and/or customer requests. This is a sign the company has likely grown past the original founder's insight and needs a new strategy to base the narrative. The CEO's are left to try and figure out how to get the entire company to talk about what they do the same way. And the CEO's solution is often to ask the CMO to fix it.

By
Mike Geraci
|
May 25, 2022

Dave Gerhardt returned to Drift in the newly created role of Chief Brand Officer to do what he does best after 12 months as CMO of Privy. The move is interesting on two fronts: It’s a sign that leaders in B2B SaaS are starting to recognize the importance of brand, and second it is yet another sign that the role of today’s CMO is more complex, and tenuous, than ever.

Depending on which study you read/believe (KornFerry, Spencer Stuart…) broadly, the median CMO tenure is approximately 42 months. In tech, the tenure is anywhere from 18-36 months. Regardless of which number you pick in the range, the CMO tenure is still the shortest of any industry C-level position. And those numbers drop every year. It appears Dave's exit was the result of Privy's acquisition, which is definitely one of the factors that contribute to high churn in tech, among others.

While commentary on CMO churn trend and causes dates back more than 15 years, what we  have recently realized in our work is that CMO churn is high likely because they are caught at the intersection of bad strategy/lack of strategic narratives and misaligned tactical success metrics.  Fundamentally, the reason businesses can't tell and sell a differentiated story about themselves is a strategy problem, but it gets named and blamed as a marketing department problem. 

High-growth companies (whether aspirational or in reality) can lose message-market fit. Without an organizing strategic narrative so the entire business is literally operating from the same page, the messages the brand is sending out to the market become variations on a theme, at best, but more likely at cross purposes with one another.

Marketing has one message to achieve awareness and intent, sales adopts another to close the deals, and product rationalizes a different one to address competition and/or customer requests. 

This is a sign the company has likely grown past the original founder's insight and needs a new strategy to base the narrative. The CEO's are left to try and figure out how to get the entire company to talk about what they do the same way. And the CEO's solution is often to ask the CMO to fix it. 

But that assignment is a signal to the rest of the organization that their strategy problem is marketing’s problem, so the other departments continue to work from their own script, which creates disconnect and confusion within the organization.  If and when the CMO presents the new strategic narrative, every other person on the leadership team feels empowered to challenge, change, and correct  it based on their perspective. 

Strategic narratives and POVs are the guiding light for the entire organization, not just for a marketing program. If CMOs are made responsible for the strategic narrative, they should also have the authority to implement it across the board. The trepidation and hesitation CMOs we work with have, is when they are given the responsibility but not the authority. It is, we have come to appreciate, the reason strategic narrative expert Andy Raskin refuses any gig that isn’t a direct connect with the CEO. 

The CMO role will eventually splinter, as witnessed by DG’s new Chief Brand Officer (CBO) position. There’s probably room for a CMEO (marketing enablement) or CDMO (direct marketing) or perhaps maybe we just reduce it to Chief Market Officer. It’s called a Go-To-Market plan for a reason. 

To save the CMO, we need to serve the CEO. 

-DRMG

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