How to Become a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

The marketing industry is growing, and so too is the role of the CMO. Chief marketing officers are valuable leaders within an organization. They help to raise brand awareness, offer important product information and develop relationships with customers. These are important skills in a world where the internet and social media have brought companies and consumers closer together.

Traditionally at the head of all things marketing, CMOs are experiencing an evolution.

While they’re still responsible for the entirety of an organization’s marketing department, digital transformation has required them to assume responsibilities akin to those of customer experience experts, data analysts and creative consultants. Today, the CMO role means more than it did a decade ago, and median salaries across the board are reflective of that.

Becoming a CMO offers an extremely rewarding and versatile career. But what does it take to reach this stage? Experience and education go a long way in terms of finding success as a chief marketing officer, so let’s talk about it.

What A Chief Marketing Officer Does: A Brief Job Description

A CMO is generally the top decision-maker in a business’s marketing department. The professionals filling this role regularly interact with other high-level staff, offering marketing-specific expertise to fellow department leaders, board members, managers and other stakeholders.

It’s important to remember that the CMO position involves a combination of marketing leadership, executive responsibilities and other marketing activities such as reporting on departmental vision, goals, operations, challenges and achievements.

Creating, managing and realizing marketing goals are key skills of competent CMOs. They are necessary both in the context of developing a vision for marketing operations as well as successfully communicating it to other executives and members of the marketing department. Staff need effective direction, guidance and oversight to ensure a marketing strategy is accurately developed and deployed.

Valuable CMO Soft Skills

Soft skills aren’t all about communication and focus. For CMOs, a few abstract soft skills can really help individuals be successful in the role. Those are:

  • Curiosity.
  • Creativity and storytelling.
  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Adaptability.
  • Strong interpersonal communication.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Ability to solicit feedback.

Valuable CMO Hard Skills

Today, CMOs spend a considerable amount of time analyzing data, which ultimately helps them curate a marketing campaign and make decisions. CMOs should have a comprehensive understanding of:

  • Data analysis.
  • Market research.
  • Technical literacy.
  • Design.

Marketing efforts often lean on creative talent in terms of ideation and development. However, analyzing their performance and comparing different efforts to identify areas of success and best practices are crucial to long-term success.

In many ways, a CMO is focused on balancing different skills and abilities to be the most effective leader possible. Finding successful paths forward — while considering direct work and delegation as well as creative effort and data analysis — is a foundational need. In this way, CMOs effectively offer both creative influence and sound business strategy.

How the Role of the CMO is Changing

Traditionally, the CMO position was a marketing leadership role with a strong creative specialty. According to Gartner, today’s CMOs are becoming more concerned with broadening their purview to include more aspects of the business, such as customer experience (CX).

In a 2022 article, Gartner contributor Kelly Blum explained, “Many CMOs have significantly improved their level of influence within their organizations by knowing more about the business, marketplace and customers than anyone else.”

Along these lines, CMOs will continue to evolve. Businesses have an ever-increasing need for faster, more agile strategies to keep up with quicker shifts in consumer behavior. Being able to liaise with other C-suite executives, build an effective marketing team(s) and coordinate external resources will continue to be some of the most important responsibilities of a CMO. However, these tasks will likely increase in both velocity and complexity in the future, per Gartner.

In a nutshell: Not only are CMOs integral to marketing initiatives, but they’re becoming increasingly important to the entirety of the businesses they serve. These multi talented professionals are capable of having significant influence on aspects of operations including CX, sales strategy, the adoption and implementation of leading-edge technologies and best practices, and more.

What Type of Experience and Education is Required to Become a CMO?

Professionals with an advanced degree from an accredited institution and related experience in entry level positions within sales and marketing have a higher potential at securing a role; in fact, it’s almost a requirement for a CMO. Candidates with these credentials also stand to earn more and maximize their salary.

Some common roles that current CMOs have experience in include:

  • Sales and sales management.
  • Marketing and marketing management.
  • Other mid-level managerial roles tied to both sales and marketing.

Because a CMO is often the terminal position in a company’s marketing department, businesses want to make sure those who occupy this role have the practical experience that is necessary to perform at a high level.

A majority of businesses require potential CMOs to earn an advanced degree if they want to be considered for the role. Because of this preference, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a marketing concentration will serve applicants well. After taking a mix of marketing-specific classes and coursework focused on other dimensions of the modern business world, students may acquire a well-rounded knowledge base to draw from and critical insight specific to their field.

How Long Does It Take to Become a CMO?

To become a CMO, it can take anywhere from three to 15 years. The amount of time it takes to secure the role is dependent on a variety of variables, like your dedication, commitment and how you decide to go about your education. By opting for an online MBA, you afford yourself the flexibility to study and work simultaneously, which may give you a head start on your journey.

A lot of current CMOs are industry veterans with more than 15 years of experience under their belts, but that doesn’t mean that attaining the role is impossible for people with less practice. While you gear up for your endeavor to become a great CMO, here are some key steps to deliver on along the way:

  • Expanding your skills. Here, soft skills are what’s important. Developing your adaptability, emotional intelligence, people skills, communication and more can help you tremendously. Hard skills will develop as you move through your education and various work experiences.
  • Getting a relevant education. Obtaining an advanced diploma or degree in a related field is often a major key to success for CMOs. Without one, you may be a big step behind your competition.
  • Building out your resume. Valid professional experience goes a long way when embarking on the journey to becoming a CMO. Make sure that you’re getting involved with roles that are conducive to your end goal.

How Much Does a Chief Marketing Officer Make?

CMOs can expect annual earnings above $100,000 in the vast majority of instances. Data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the median yearly salary for top executives is approximately $133,380. This is considerably higher than most marketing managers, who earn a median annual compensation of about $95,049.

Of course, pay will be more substantial at larger, more established companies. Experience, education and on-the-job performance will also influence starting salaries and subsequent pay raises.

What an online MBA Offers Aspiring CMOs

An online Master of Business Administration degree offers a versatile path to students, allowing them to focus on a number of relevant topics in the modern business world. Concentrations in key disciplines provide opportunities for further specialization, including marketing.

At UAB, the online MBA course is designed with an emphasis on leadership, strategic insight and organizational change that can empower you to become a key decision-maker as a CMO.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham helps students work toward earning an online MBA degree in a learning environment that combines flexibility, high-quality instructors and coursework focused on today’s complex, fast-paced business environment. Students progress through the program at their own speed, allowing them to manage personal and professional responsibilities while advancing their education.

For students and working professionals interested in a career as a CMO, this flexibility is essential. Being able to study and work in the field while gaining meaningful experience can do wonders for your professional development. You’ll be actively contributing to your future in two considerable ways.

Want to learn more about our online MBA program? Get in touch with one of our academic advisors today.

Recommended Reading:

Online Master of Business Administration

Difference Between CIO and CTO



UAB Collat School of Business: Course Descriptions MBA

UAB Collat School of Business: Online MBA Degree Program

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Top Executives

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Gartner – How the CMO Role Has Evolved — And What’s Next