10 Vital Skills Every Modern CMO Must Have

Posted by Chad Coleman
min read
August 20th, 2021

CMOs are the rockstars of the whole show, but unfortunately, their role has been underappreciated for too long: now, after years of being the underdogs, CMOs have finally—and deservedly—climbed their way to the top.

Back when marketing was immeasurable and more of a guessing game, CMOs’ roles were seen as simply focused experts with the task of overseeing the marketing department; however, the landscape of business has changed drastically.

We are in the age of the consumer and the heart of a technological explosion, which brings so much more value to the role of modern CMOs.

Now, they have their rightful position in the C-suite amongst the executives, and their job is more important than ever—which means that today’s CMOs have to carry some vital skills in their toolbox for getting the job done.

iguana blending into its environment

Adaptability & Innovative Thinking

With the market changing at lightning speeds, it’s impossible to get all caught up—ever. This means CMOs have to be lifelong learners and apply their findings to stay ahead of the masses.

A big part of this is going completely digital, which presents a double-edge challenge: on the one hand, there is the task of taking outdated systems and “digitizing” them to get caught up to today’s norm, and on the other hand, it’s a never-ending marathon of arriving at an understanding of something...then realizing new tech has already replaced it.

CMOs must prioritize, to some degree, staying ahead of disruptive technology while also converting old-world systems to new.

With the digital revolution come heightened customer expectations: speedy responses are a survival tactic. Many customers expect a response within 15 minutes of contacting a company—and if you don’t deliver on their terms, they may just tell the whole internet about their bad experience with you (which is not the type of word of mouth that any brand wants, ever).

Rebranding falls on CMOs as they’re expected to be innovative and know when to improve the business elements to reflect the times. Knowing how and when to rebrand is the responsibility of the CMO as the key representative of customers' needs—and creates an expectation of being agile and trendy at any point on the timeline.

When business numbers dip, it’s the CMO that is handed the wand and instructed to bippity-boppity-boop the company back onto a winning streak. Sounds easier than it really is, as this expectation requires continually pivoting when something isn’t effective enough—while simultaneously watching the horizon for the next best move.

set of tools laid out in aerial view on hardwood surface

Tool Proficiency

Now that marketing can be measured extremely closely and accurately, the door has been opened to a whole heap of applications and tools to streamline, collect, and automate processes and data. CMOs must be familiar with tools for:

  • Data tracking
  • Productivity
  • Company-wide synchronization
  • Automation (such as for content marketing)
  • Optimization

Without these, it would be impossible to keep up with the standard pace of marketing campaigns and content creation, customer service, and interorganizational planning and coordination.

Not only must a CMO be familiar with all of these in order to properly manage their own marketing department, the responsibilities spill over into all other departments involved.


man chopping wood


Segmenting Segments

CMOs must be able to keep clear and specific target segments with a growing customer base. With all of the data now available to us, there is no such thing as a simple target market at any given scale.

Instead, CMOs are tasked with constantly zooming in and further fragmenting customers into specific, seemingly individually personalized buyer personas in order to connect with customers on a real and relatable level. This is considered for every channel, changes with every emerging trend, and must be adaptable at any given point. Phew!

The larger the customer base, the more the CMO is expected to be able to segment it into hyper-specific target markets—oh, and if there are any segment shifts due to the volatility of the market, that’s their problem, too.


calculator on top of a notebook

Proving Results with Numbers

Return on investment is the challenge and goal of CMOs—there is no room for wasted time or money in our fast-paced world. Unlike during the so-called Mad Men era of marketing, where the ad man would turn to the client and say, “just trust me; it works,” today’s marketer faces a much bigger challenge—and much more data.

The CMO is expected to use the precision of available data paired with the company’s KPIs to produce a concrete, logic-backed plan for moving forward and upward.

The greatest challenge that comes with this, however, is avoiding “analysis paralysis”—a condition in which marketers lose sight of the customer because of focus on numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Nevertheless, data mining is a crucial role that the CMO must undertake—or delegate—to reveal new opportunities and tap into new markets, all the while keeping the customer in the foreground.


man pulling green rope on sailboat

Transfiguring from Outbound to Inbound

Being in the age of the consumer means that simply shouting promotional messages at them is no longer acceptable—it’s all about providing value to draw them in.

Hence the idea of content marketing came about, where marketers must know when, where, and how to reach a customer with something that will pique their interest and establish trust with your brand. Like I mentioned in my Instagram guide, people these days can sense spammy or low-quality content—and blatant selling as well, I might add.

So, CMOs must be the guide that helps businesses transition from push to pull smoothly and successfully. It sounds simple enough—write something cool, shout it on the social media mountaintops, and people will come flocking, right?


You need to be acutely aware of prospects’ place in the buyer’s journey, learn what they like through buyer persona building, and then catch them on their favorite platform—and only after that can you hope to get leads and nurture them further.


wooden bridge leading to evergreen forest

Bridging the Marketing and Sales Gap

Smarketing, the process of integrating the sales and marketing departments, is the new norm. And the responsibility of joining the two teams together falls upon you, dear CMO. You form the heart of customer experience as part of your role, which means treating each customer interaction with your brand as important to the big picture.

After all, a brand is defined by how customers interact with it, and for each customer, the impression and meaning are different. Though CMOs in times past used to just concentrate on new customer acquisition, it’s crucial these days to also focus on customer retention: it’s important that marketing takes an active role in continually delighting active customers.

Because this task falls in both the sales and marketing departments, it’s the duty of the CMO to seamlessly merge the two departments to nail down clear communication and elevated efficiency when identifying customer’s journeys and creating strategies for delight.

Another CMO requirement is being an expert in CRM, or customer relationship management. With all the tools and technology that makes the process technical and measurable, the data collected from customers must be analyzed and a procedure must be devised to manage sales. Then the big picture must be derived by the CMO to help the smarketing team move forward in the best direction.


man diving into pool

Being Content-Agile

These days, marketers shower their online customers with content day and night. Though they potentially stole this trick from bloggers, the competitive arena heightens the pressure of getting more and more stuff out there...but this often leads to losing sight of what’s important: the quality of the content. Blasting out a bunch of crap every day is much more harmful than having carefully catered, quality articles for your target audience.

Hence, CMOs face a steep challenge: producing a lot of excellently-written, engaging content—as fast as possible. This means having interesting topics on deck, recruiting speedy writers, creating a system of quality assurance...and then, on top of it all, having a method for testing published content for engagement, such as A/B testing, and then improving as needed with data to back up the strategy.


man sitting on edge of cliff looking out into horizon

Gazing out onto the Strategic Horizon

Now that CMOs have found their way into the room with all the other Chief-of-Something-Officers, they carry the burden of widening their job scope even further by being the visionary of the entire company: CMOs must know how every piece of the puzzle fits together to form the big picture.

Though traditionally the CEO is tasked with this role, the CMO bridges the gap between the external market and the internal operations by looking at the whole pie, not just piece-by-piece. This means becoming a hybrid creature, straddling both the qualitative and quantitative approach to improving customer reach. This also entails having well-rounded knowledge of technology, cybersecurity, finance, sales, and even other non-marketing factors to get the job done.

Because the CMO watches over everything in the marketing realm, they are the ones who must capture the vision of the entire company while maintaining consistency of brand pillars through communication. In short, CMOs are the company’s master storytellers.


paper with notes and lightbulb drawn on with crumpled paper on top

Developing New Methods for Moving Forward

Who is in charge of developing new strategies and processes to keep the company growing—or keep it from stagnating? As you may have picked up by now, it's the CMO: they are the business partners in driving profitable business growth, therefore playing a large role in business strategy.

The CMO must set goals with real profit and loss targets based on the data and vision they have from the marketing side of the business. Being the bridge between the market and the business on the topmost level is a daunting task, but the upside is that CMOs play a crucial and unique role in strategy and therefore are highly valued in the C-suite.


Last, but certainly not least…

four leaves turning red laying on wood surface

Embracing Change

Everything changes, but the marketing world seems to change just a little faster than the rest of the world. This can be scary or exciting for many reasons, but the CMO must simply deal with it. And by deal, I mean stay on top of trends, learn new technologies, adapt to shifting customer viewpoints, and always, always be learning.

Fortunately, there's a plethora of free marketing tools and resources out there that allow you to complete the day-to-day tasks effortlessly so that you can focus your (and your team's) energy on the learning the next big thing.  

The bottom line

Every CMO ever has a slightly different job description from the next, and that’s just part of the ever-changing, increasingly crucial role.

What’s important for every CMO to do, however, is check off every item on the above list in order to wow the C-suite and reinstate the vitality of the CMO in the grand scheme of the company.