Here’s what I foresee CEOs and CMOs talking about behind closed doors this year. Think of it as a guide to help marketing leaders situate, stay, and soar.

Take a scan – let me know which is your favorite.

These trends, predictions, and signals come from my searches for marketing leaders, which have allowed me to have thousands (yowzas!) of conversations with marketing leaders over the past year. While there’s a B2B tinge here, much is also relevant in the B2C world.


  1. Marketing leaders nestle into their organizations in 2 new ways: 1) The marketing leader reports to the Chief Revenue Officer; and 2) The marketing leader owns marketing plus other meaty functions, like product or strategy.
  2. CEOs invest time in careful role design for CMOs.
  3. CEOs and CMOs talk early and often about alignment across CEO expectations, CMO responsibilities, resources, incentives, and authority.
  4. The best CMOs don’t just talk about collaborating; they actually collaborate to the point of discomfort.
  5. Collaboration is not just a soft skills thing; it’s a data thing, with CMOs leveraging data across marketing, sales, product, and customer support.
  6. Customer marketing as a function blossoms.
  7. Chief marketers at businesses under private equity ownership “learn to speak PE.”
  8. Team-building expertise separates true marketing leaders from marketing managers.
  9. Compensation for some marketing chiefs shifts toward a more variable structure.

Here’s some more detail:

1. Marketing leadership roles are nestling into their organizations in new ways.

I see two emerging models:

  • A marketing leader reporting to the CRO. Increasingly, in B2B SaaS companies in particular, there is a Chief Revenue Officer who owns sales, marketing and customer success. Typically, that CRO has a sales background. The plus here: traditional finger-pointing between marketing and sales gets replaced with a unified view. This tighter handholding between marketing and sales is showing up in 2020 ‘sales kickoffs’ being rechristened as ‘revenue kickoffs.’ The question mark here: When marketing leaders report to CROs (rather than CEOs), will those chief marketers be constrained to being revenue drivers, as opposed to growth strategy drivers writ large?


  • A ‘CMO plus’ role. I’m seeing some companies graduate to placing marketing leaders who are responsible for more than marketing. For these companies, growth won’t come from more leads and more pipeline alone. These organizations need someone to define the market, not just the marketing. For one search, we recruited a Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer who owns product, marketing, and corporate strategy. In another, we recruited a Chief Strategy Officer who owns marketing, product strategy, and evangelism. The plus here: marketing spans and steers the business. The gotcha here: It’s great to extend the role, but don’t break it. That marketing leader can’t do it all alone and will need to be amplified.

2. Given the above, in 2020 I see CEOs leaning into careful role design for their CMOs. We all know it’s hard to find and keep marketers. CEOs will minimize the chance of a short-tenured CMO by carefully figuring out what they need in a CMO role, and defining that role ahead of time. The best ones don’t just tumble straight into recruiting, but learn first and recruit second. I am very grateful to the many marketing leaders in my network who have graciously participated in research interviews to help shape CMO roles at other companies.

3. Beyond role design, CEOs and CMOs will be talking early and often about alignment. It’s not enough to just define the role before the CMO is in place.  CEO expectations and marketing responsibilities must be continually aligned. Even if those expectations and responsibilities are aligned, things will go awry when the CMO lacks the necessary authority, resources, and incentives to fulfill their responsibilities. Here’s a framework you can use to support regular alignment conversations; my hope is that those regular conversations alleviate the dreaded CMO tenure problem.
Alignment - expectations, responsibilities, authority, resources, incentives

4. OK, this one is key. CMOs won’t just talk about collaboration, and won’t just sit in on meetings with sales and other counterparts. They will collaborate to the point of discomfort. Some examples:

  • My pal Mark Goloboy, in a VP of Marketing role, spent a few weeks full-time doing the job of a sales development rep. Kudos.
  • In an environment where many other companies tout work from home flexibility, one of my clients instead has a work in the office culture. The CEO shared with me that they are at the stage of growth where the ‘bump effect’ across marketing, sales, product, and customer success is giving them an advantage and helping them scale quickly. That’s their model; maybe your radical collaboration moonshot looks different.

As you interview marketers, ask them what uncomfortable things they have done to extend beyond their marketing swim lane.

5. Collaboration is not just a soft skills thing. It’s a data thing. The best marketing leaders will not just be smart on *marketing* data. They will incorporate data from across the org (sales data, product usage data, customer support data, etc.) into their view and into their programs. Is there any surprise why Customer Data Platforms are ascendant?!  As part of this, marketers are evolving their view from ‘managing marketing data’ to ‘stewarding customers’ information.’ That is a real distinction and is so much more customer-friendly. I think we’ll see this shift show up in job titles – where instead of ‘VP of Marketing Data’ we will have more ‘VPs of Customer Information.’

6. As an outgrowth of this data collaboration, we will see a blossoming of the Customer Marketing function in B2B in particular. As it gets more expensive to acquire customers, the focus shifts to retaining those customers. And as companies invest in customer delight, they will more gracefully enable existing customers to recruit new customers. I am excited to see customer marketing get more creative and more professionalized.

7. On a different note, as more B2B growth stage companies are under private equity ownership, chief marketers will learn to ‘speak PE.’ PE people are used to hiring CFOs and CEOs, more so than CMOs. CEOs and marketing leaders can’t expect PE investors to learn marketing in all its nuances – it’s a tall enough order for marketing experts themselves to keep up! The best marketing leaders will treat their investments like a portfolio, and will speak in business metrics first, and marketing metrics second.

8. Team-building expertise separates true marketing leaders from marketing managers. As the chief marketer’s purview expands and ascends, it becomes even more important for that person to hire a team of star specialists who they train – and, importantly, cross-train – into a well-oiled machine. I love this quote from Erica Sheehan on The Get podcast: “The broadest skillset in marketing will generate, at best, an average return. It’s all about the team.”

9. Finally, compensation for some marketing leaders shifts. I’m seeing hints of change afoot in compensation for chief marketers. Bonus targets for marketing leaders of growth-stage companies in particular have tended to be in the range of 20-30%. But I am seeing some marketing leaders with comp structures that include higher target bonuses, such as 50%, reflecting the greater alignment of marketing and sales, and the greater connection of marketing results to business results.

Many of the above topics are discussed in more detail with my guests on ‘The Get’ podcast, produced by MarTech Advisor, a part of the Ziff Davis B2B media network: