CEOs’ CMO Ratings: New Research

Shaun H. Ruff


CEOs' CMO Ratings: New Research

CEOs’ opinion of their CMOs is the subject of a new study. It seems that little information is available about how CMOs are perceived by their bosses, so we wanted to find out. The study also aimed to add to the learning about the trust gap between CEOs and CMOs. Despite the abundance of data that benchmarks CMO spending, optimism, and capability development, there is too little data on intangible factors that fuel CEO/CMO relationships. Below are 10 key learnings received from research conducted about 150 U.S.-based CEOs.

There is a mixed bag of results in general. There is room for improvement in CMO performance, even though CEOs seem to value them. CEOs control/impact some areas where CMOs score lower (e.g., board dynamics and P&L knowledge) since they have control over them. 

CMOs can benefit from CEOs’ understanding of board dynamics and from creating clear expectations for CMOs’ comprehension of P&L. In addition, CMOs could be included in key financial discussions by CEOs, as well as held responsible for presenting and/or discussing financial results. According to this survey, CEOs perceive CMOs as not performing to expectations, and CEOs have opportunities to better communicate expectations and shortfalls to enable CMOs to exceed expectations.

CMOs can also benefit from these insights. As one source suggests, “it is remarkable that marketer’s study individual CEO relationships so infrequently, despite making their living studying customers.”. In order to be effective, CMOs need to show loyalty to their customers and build strong relationships.




  • The majority of CEOs graded their CMOs a “B”. CEO’s gave their CMO a “B”, 55% gave them a “C”, 23% gave them a “D” for overall performance. The lowest average grades were given to CMOs on the attributes of “driving growth” and “innovation”, despite all attributes measuring “B” grades (e.g., strategy, execution, trust with CEO, etc.).


  • It was better for CMOs to score high on tangible attributes than on intangibles. Intangibles (i.e., relationships with the C-suite, establishing trust with the CEO) are among the weaknesses that CEOs rated their CMOs lower on (61% gave their CMOs an “A” or “B” grade). Almost all CEOs gave their CMOs an “A” or “B” for tangible tasks related to their jobs, such as managing media, budgets, etc. However, only 36% of CEOs ranked their CMOs “best-in-class” for these activities.


  • Among CEOs, only 27% believe their CMOs “play big”. Five percent of CEOs think their CMOs play it “safe” and twenty-three percent believe they play it “small” (focus on control over innovation).


  • The majority of CEOs (65%) believe that CMOs play a key role in tough decisions at the executive level.
  • CEOs believe their CMOs comprehend P&L and balance sheets only slightly more than half (53%) of the time.


  • CMOs are regarded by 63% of CEOs as understanding the board dynamics and the political dynamics of the organization.


  • Board meetings aren’t attended by 51% of CMOs.


  • Most CEO respondents (57%) believe they would not be able to save their CMO from a bullet. A mere 43% of CEOs believed their CMOs would sacrifice themselves for them. This is what I think. Despite the report’s assertion that this is a low percentage, I find 43% extremely high. 


  • Last but not least, only 49% of CEOs consider the CMO as a friend. This question would be fascinating if reversed – what percentage of CMOs believe the CEO has their best interests at heart?




The findings of this study force leaders to rethink the relationship between a CMO and a CEO. The CMO could be asked the same questions, however, in the opposite direction, and what the CMO thinks about their CEO would be interesting. If CMOs were asked the same question, I hypothesize trust issues or the perception of “taking a bullet” might exist. Can you explain what that would mean if that were the case? Thus, does it imply that trust and effective communication are developed through a two-sided relationship? Can CEOs and CMOs work together to make the relationship more productive? Does the CMO have the responsibility to make this happen?



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