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The Making of a Growth Oriented CMO

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | May 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Leslie Dukker Doty, most recently CMO at Time Inc., during Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego.  During our session we broke down the key attributes of growth CMOs and talked at length about how CMOs today can grow their skills and shore up weaker areas to power their success (see “CMO Perspective: Key Traits of Growth CMOs” – subscription required).

What are the 7 attributes of Growth Oriented CMOs?


  1. Revenue Accountability: Whether you own a P&L or not, marketing has a clear directive and accountability to drive revenue. Having a strong grasp of revenue flows, whether wholly owned by the CMO or through shared accountability with other commercial peers is foremost for CMO success. That’s why our graphic places strongest emphasis on this attribute – with double the weight of any other single trait.
  2. Strategy & Business Acumen: Applying critical thinking to devise new product and go to market strategies is required to inform and champion disruptive growth ideas. Leaders poised to succeed are as comfortable refining details with the CFO as they are brainstorming innovative new concepts. Yet many CMOs lack financial planning muscle with 47% using less mature budgeting methods to arrive at their annual marketing budget.
  3. Leadership: Beyond coaching and motivating a marketing team to success, today’s leaders must build relationships up, down and across the organization. CMOs who are strong leaders are able to explain a vision, elicit belief and motivate changes in perceptions and behavior (see “Toolkit: How CMOs Drive Digital Change”).
  4. Customer Centricity: Marketing is better placed than any other group to act as the champion of the customer, with or without official responsibility. Access to data about customer needs, behaviors and preferences enables CMOs to bring visibility and insight to all reaches of the organization in service to customer experiences that differentiate the brand and retain customers.
  5. Digital Know-How: It’s been more than a year since most marketing leaders surveyed by Gartner stated that digital is officially just a part of marketing, with 98% saying the lines have blurred. Today’s CMOs are required to be conversant in the strategies and tactics that make up a significant part of the marketing budget. That doesn’t mean knowing how to code an HTML email, or plan and execute a social campaign but it does mean knowing how to think about, budget for, hire, train and empower a team that does.
  6. Operations & Execution: Strategy without execution is merely aspirational. Great CMOs know how to delegate, but they also keep a pulse on the way their organization is operating with enough practical knowledge to ask the right questions and understand how their business runs.
  7. Branding & Messaging: This was once the core competency of marketing. CMO staked their career on well-played branding paired with smart positioning and promotions with concepts built and vetted through agencies. This skill set remains critical but no longer comprises the lions’ share of the CMO mandate.

Few marketing executives follow a career path that builds capacity in all seven areas. Nearly all the CMOs I work with come from a specific part of marketing or business expertise – making them unbalanced in their mastery of the seven attributes.

How does a seasoned CMO build strength in the attributes?

There are a variety of ways that you can identify gaps and build the skills and capabilities to live these seven attributes.  Leslie described for us four of the key things she has done over the years to propel her into leadership at major brands where she delivered strong outcomes.

4 Ways to Grow Attributesv2

  • Learning from Peers: While at Citi, Leslie found herself responsible for a major business line – the Citibank Aadvantage card. That business included a major component – airline miles – that were a big fiscal commitment back to the airline.  If Leslie’s team outsold their forecast they could actually create a major financial liability that put the brand at risk. Because this world was totally new to her Leslie leaned on peers, asking lots of questions and humbling herself to make sure she could get the business acumen she needed to grow rapidly without undue risk.
  • Learning from Clients: Leslie’s time at MasterCard involved another strong learning experience.  She collaborated with Capital One when the company was pretty new – and when they were doing things that no other card company was trying out. She wanted to grasp how they were making the kinds of risky bets they tried and spent time digging in to ask her client smart questions about their analytical approach – learning entirely new methods and skills that she has since applied in all her roles.
  • Learning from Vendors: Just because a vendor is trying to sell you something, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. During the process of RFP’ing out her brand’s database management – Leslie talked to a large variety of vendors ranging from specific dialogs to attending events and immersed herself in the technology and practices of customer data.  That has served her well as she hired and built out martech teams and stacks at ever bigger brands.
  • Hiring Bench Strength: Sometimes you don’t have the time or bandwidth to get personally great at everything – just as a great CEO hires to her gaps, so should a CMO. In Leslie’s case, backend operations and execution is not her passion. In each marketing leadership role she was in, she made it a top priority to understand the critical elements of the operation and hire talent that was stronger than she was – both to run the effort but also to keep learning their best practices over time.

What kind of CMO are you?  Do you have all the attributes in equal measure or can you use some of these continuous learning practices to build your strengths to become a strong growth oriented CMO?!

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