Should CMOs be the next CEOs?

As more businesses put consumers front and centre, is it time for chief marketers to get the top spot?

By Renny Monaghan

It should come as no surprise that in a world where brands are looking to get ever closer to their customers, CMOs are increasingly finding themselves in the hot seat, tasked with answering many of the most important strategic questions facing today’s organizations.

In a world where brands are connecting with customers through social networks, mobile devices and cloud-based applications, CMOs are often the leaders in organizations with the keys to the kingdom.

Indeed, they are the ones closest to the tools that have the greatest level of interaction with consumers, and are on the pulse of their relationship with a company, its brand and its products.

This begs the question, why aren’t more companies looking to turn CMOs into CEOs?

Increasingly, companies are buying into the idea of evolving into truly consumer-led, digital organizations. That is, ensuring the needs of the customers are woven into the very fabric of the business.

According to research conducted by Salesforce.com and The Economist Intelligence Unit, the concept of customer intimacy has grown in importance by 76% among CEOs in the last three years. This illustrates a clear reflection of businesses’ recognition of the constantly evolving nature of their customer relationship.

Which brings us back to the CMO. With their customer knowledge, CMOs are in an unparalleled position to effect real change within the organization.

Of course, the other C-suite position which is taking on a larger role within modern organizations is that of the CIO. In the best organizations, the CMO and CIO are working together to drive technology and platform innovation, with an eye to invest in the tools and systems that enable top-tier customer engagement. The CMO is investing in web, mobile and social customer engagement platforms, analytics and other technologies of the customer revolution, heralding a major shift in spending power.

According to research firm Gartner, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017. If we read between the lines, that means CMOs are fast becoming catalysts for revolution in the boardroom.

As boardroom roles shift, new positions are being created, changing the makeup of the highest levels of the most advanced organizations. Gartner believes 25% of organizations will have chief digital officers by 2015 — a prediction given credibility by a significant rise in the number of searches for CDOs in the recruitment sector.

Many of these new roles are directly linked to customer engagement, which further changes the role of the CMO, integrating them deeper into the organization’s decision-making process. These new roles will drive change and become increasingly important to their organizations.

As CEOs strive to create customer-led businesses, marketing officers now have more power and influence than at any time in history, with the authority and budget to accelerate major organizational change, rather than simply offer advice to the board.

A recent Korn/Ferry International poll of business executives showed 53% of respondents believe their current CMOs have CEO potential.

CMOs today understand how technology is helping to change the very nature of customer relationships, while at the same time, developing new means of collaboration.

The bottom line is that CMOs are in many ways already the de facto leaders in customer-driven businesses, and as such, have both the influence and potential to be the visionary CEOs of tomorrow.

Renny Monaghan, Head ShotRenny Monaghan, is VP, head of marketing, Canada and Latin America, at Salesforce.com

Image via Shutterstock