The relationship between the CEO and CMO truly sets the tone for an entire organization. CEOs who prioritize marketing as part of their company’s growth strategy are twice as likely to have more than 5 percent annual growth compared with peers, according to McKinsey & Company research

3 Ways to Get CEOs and CMOs In Alignment

  1. Use the company’s core values as the base for the relationship.
  2. Identify and agree on all of the company’s stakeholders, from customers to employees.
  3. Share the same messages using the phrases and vocabulary.

Yet this same study found a massive disconnect between CEOs and CMOs. With titles like chief brand officer and chief customer officer becoming more common, CMOs are unclear about their remit compared with other growth- and customer-focused roles. 

It’s also common for CEOs to underestimate the power of marketing because most come from an operations or finance background, not marketing. At the same time, many CMOs don’t report metrics that clearly outline marketing’s impact on business growth, which are the ones CEOs care about. Perhaps it’s no surprise that CMOs have one of the shortest tenures in the C-suite

The CEO-CMO relationship doesn’t have to be a contentious one. As someone who’s served as a CEO in different industries for more than two decades, I’ve found the most effective partnerships have a foundation built on three core elements: the company’s values, a mutual understanding of who the business’s stakeholders are, and a shared language to describe the company and its activities. 

By starting with these foundational elements, CEOs and CMOs can charter a path to success for their business and their stakeholders.  

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Build on Core Values 

Core values can serve as the baseline for forming a harmonious CEO-CMO relationship. These values can be everything from rapid innovation to respecting all people, but no matter what they encompass, they must be values your business and employees uphold each day. 

Marketing’s most basic role is to create and disseminate messaging. While the full marketing team often determines company values, it’s marketing’s responsibility to ensure the messaging resonates with internal and external audiences.  

External content like sales decks or customer emails must be reinforced by employees who can reiterate the core messages in any discussions with customers, partners, or prospects. Because values are the principles that guide every decision and interaction at your business, they must be reflected in all materials that are developed. This creates a unified message that can rally employees and inspire customers, enhancing brand credibility and customer loyalty. 

If your business doesn’t have core values or has changed them too many times, the culture can begin to feel out of sync. Every employee, especially the CEO, should be able to recite their company’s values. From repeating them during all hands meetings to displaying the values within offices or on internal intranets, the values must be accessible, understandable and committed to memory.  

By aligning on the core values and reinforcing them each day, CEOs and CMOs can begin building a trusted relationship based on a shared understanding of the business.  


Identify Your Stakeholders

When you know who your stakeholders are, the leadership team can develop a strategy that meets their needs. 

Some CMOs may take a narrow view of marketing and only focus on the customers and prospects who make up the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP). Similarly, CEOs often get caught in the trap of only focusing on the company’s shareholders — its investors, stockholders or board of directors. However, both views are limited and can widen the disconnect between CMOs and CEOs.  

The full breadth of companies’ stakeholders includes employees, customers, partners, shareholders and even the environment. Understanding whom (or what) your business affects can help CEOs and CMOs foster a holistic approach to decision making, ensuring that strategies cater to the diverse needs and expectations of all stakeholders involved. 


Consistently Share the Same Messages

Using consistent language to describe who the company is, what it does and how it’s performing may seem like an obvious way to ensure alignment, but it can be one of the more challenging hurdles to overcome. Telling your stakeholders a consistent story, using the same language, is as critical as understanding the full breadth of who your stakeholders are.

For example, during an all hands meeting, the CEO may discuss the annual operating plan (AOP) for the company. If the CMO’s discussion uses the word budget rather than AOP, there’s a disconnect in the messages the two leaders are sharing with employees. This may seem innocuous, but it demonstrates internal misalignment between two key leaders, which could shake employees’ confidence in the leadership team. 

The same goes for how messages are shared around the product or service you provide. If a CEO describes the product portfolio during a company meeting one way, but the CMO creates marketing materials that don’t align with this definition, employees will be confused and so will the customers, prospects and partners they connect with.   

When every team member, from the C-suite to front-line employees, speaks the same language, it creates a powerful narrative that resonates with employees and customers alike. 

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Reap the Rewards of Alignment 

The benefits of a synchronized CEO-CMO relationship extend beyond a healthy sales pipeline. When the relationship is operating correctly and CEOs understand the value of their CMOs’ contributions, stronger brand positioning, a more cohesive employee and customer experience, and improved operational efficiency can be achieved as well.  

Companies that successfully align these key leadership roles outperform competitors and forge a path to enduring success in an ever-changing business landscape. McKinsey’s research underscores that businesses ignoring this imperative risk falling behind in an era where data-driven decisions and cohesive customer experiences are the linchpins of growth.  

Align on values, stakeholders and language. Then witness how the power of partnership transforms your company’s growth trajectory.

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