The Road to CMO

As an early- or mid-career marketing professional, you face a bewildering landscape of changing technology and practice — and an abundance of advice on how to excel at doing your job. But what about career growth?

Last November the Boston HubSpot User Group (@HUGBoston) brought together a group of marketing execs to let us know what we might be missing. Moderated by Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation Nights (@MassInno), our panel included Sharon Bronaugh of Toolmex Industrial Solutions, Mike Feinstein of Digital Lumens, Dino Cattaneo of Astonish, and Dave Zwicker of MSPExcellence. Here are just a few of the A’s the panelists gave to our Q’s.

Do you need an MBA to hit the C-level suite? Not necessarily! The panelists agreed that you can earn a “street MBA” through experience and study. Sharon Bronaugh shared a story about someone who had encouraged her to pursue her graduate degree; years later she learned that his highest degree was a high school diploma. All the panelists agreed that graduate school is a valuable place to acquire theoretical knowledge and build connections; but it’s hard to replicate real business experience in a case study environment.

How do senior people think differently than junior people? Senior people think about the business impact of all the activities in their domain, whereas junior people may have narrower definitions of success in a particular endeavor.

What are some key steps you can take to grow your career as a marketer? 

Spend time as a salesperson! (At least one person in the audience of mostly marketers groaned at this suggestion by Mike Feinstein). Several of the panelists had started their careers in sales. It’s important to understand first-hand the challenges experienced by a salesperson, either in general or specifically at your own company. If you understand these challenges, you will create campaigns that will support their efforts and your recommendations will have credibility. If you’re a marketer with no sales experience, try to “ride along” with one of your sales team every now and then. If you’re invited to do so, please keep your mouth shut.

Map out the entire sales process as it’s understood by your sales team and your company’s management. Make sure you understand the role of marketing at each step, and make sure your marketing activities play that role well.

Measure your success in terms the salespeople, or at least the sales leadership, can understand. Marketing automation software can measure the reach of your marketing efforts, but try to close the loop so that you can tie your efforts to results the sales team cares about. These will often have dollar signs in front of them.

Follow the money. Whenever you have a choice between projects or places to focus your efforts, try to work on projects that significantly contribute to a company’s revenue. 

Marketers often bemoan the gap between sales and marketing (while sales people try to ignore that gap while at the same time ignoring their marketing team — at least this is how the myth goes). The lesson from our panel of CMO’s was that bridging that gap is not only key to the success of your organization, but also key to your career growth. Cold calls, anyone?