But the road to the top isn’t always clear and many wonder what it takes to become a CMO. Is it just a matter of becoming a great marketer and then applying for the position when there is an opening?

Apparently not, according to Damien Cummings, former CMO and currently CEO of Peoplewave. At our recent Digital Intelligence Briefing in Singapore, Damien dispelled myths about how people get to the top of the marketing chart and laid out the five steps all aspiring CMOs must go through to even be considered for the position.

Step 1: Understand the CMO’s job

The role of the CMO is not, according to Damien, just the top marketing manager. Instead, the CMO is now expected to be the CGO, or chief growth officer.

This means that the CMO, in addition to leading marketing, must also know how to grow the company’s business, and this requires a whole different set of skills.

Those who are aiming to be a CMO in the future, then, need to understand all aspects of the business:

  • Sales
  • Go-to-market
  • Market share
  • Margin
  • Customer acquisition
  • Customer experience

And they also need to know how to plan and execute strategies which take each of these disciplines into consideration.

So the first thing to know is that the CMO role is not just about being a great marketer. You must be an excellent business strategist as well.

Step 2: Know the whole marketing career path

Damien continued by explaining that there are four phases of a marketing career and aspiring CMOs must ideally experience each of them on their way to the top.

Entry level

First off, there is entry-level marketing. Most people start here and have a basic understanding of marketing principles and how digital fits in.

In order to move on from this phase, though, marketers who want to be CMO must be curious and treat their entry-level experience as an expansive learning experience.


After around 5 to 10 years on the job, marketers may find that they are not actually doing much marketing. Instead, they have outsourced their jobs and are busy managing staff and agency partners who are responsible for most of the creative, placement, and analytics.

Marketers looking for a CMO spot one day should, at this stage, develop a laser-like focus on customer acquisition metrics and be able to talk at length about related costs on various channels

Senior marketer

After 10 years, marketers gunning for the CMO role will have moved on from managing day-to-day marketing and be more focused on brand leadership, customer experience, and providing inspiration to other marketers.

Senior marketers should also be able to write and execute a marketing plan, not just aim to hit sales targets.

Additionally, those wanting to be promoted should be known for something besides customer metrics in the organisation. They should associate themselves with projects such as digital transformation, new data initiatives, or proving marketing return on investment (ROI).


Then, at the fourth stage, the aspiring marketer reaches their goal and is the chief marketing officer.

This role is very different from the three which precede it as the focus of the CMO, as mentioned previously, is on growing the company’s top and bottom line as well as managing change throughout the organisations.

Those who desire this job must realize that being a CMO requires crafting long-term (5 to 10 years) plans and delivering it using large-scale project management, often encompassing the whole organisation. Those who lack a passion for managing enterprise-wide projects may want to rethink their career goals.

Step 3: Acquire the required soft skills

Besides knowing the career path, marketers who want to be considered for a CMO role need to be strong in three areas:

a) Vision

This includes setting short and long-term targets and explaining complex strategies through frameworks

b) Leadership

CMO candidates should always be able to do the job of everyone on the team – and be able to put aside their management hat and do them on a moment’s notice.  At the same, they need to be a thought leader and one step ahead of everyone else.

c) Digital outlook

Nowadays, marketers aiming for the top need to be digitally savvy and be considered a leader in their company’s digital transformation programme, never a follower.

Step 4: Talk the language of data

Moving on from everyday tasks and soft skills, CMO-bound marketers should also lead company-wide initiatives to make data an essential part of marketing.

They need to do the work which makes data:

  • Real-time: So that marketers can get digital, social, marketing, sales, and service data on a real-time basis.
  • Aggregated: So that data is available on desktop and mobile and can be used to make decisions wherever marketers are
  • Visual: Because if data is not seen, it is not used.
  • Physical: Finally, marketers should put data at the centre of your sales, marketing and service centres.

True leaders in this space often push for a ‘command centre’ which brings together brand marketers, agency partners, and data display for social and web analytics.

Step 5: Be ready to lead change management

Damien’s final point was that the CMO is the most likely person in an organisation to lead digital transformation because they will typically have flexible budgets, a customer focus, and the ability to run small tests unlike the CEO, CTO, or CIO.

But leading change means more than knowing how to spend budget. One of the most important parts of leading the change is to have the soft skills (see above) to foresee who in the organisation will be the loser due to the change process and then work hard to make sure they will still have a place in the transformed company.

Having this level of personal influence and leadership requires that aspiring CMOs have strong communication skills and that their leadership style is, perhaps ironically, more personal and less digital.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank Damien Cummings, CEO of Peoplewave, for his excellent presentation on the steps required for marketers to become a CMO.

We’d also like to thank all of the marketers who attended the presentation and helped with this post by asking many intelligent questions.

We hope to see you all at future Econsultancy events!