CMO Pulse Survey 2020

Korn Ferry surveyed 111 Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs). We looked at the talent shortages they are facing, why their tenure tends to be short, and how the pandemic is increasing the focus on customers more than ever.

Organizational alignment is crucial

According to the survey, nearly four in 10 CMOs say the most important change toward improving their efficiency would be better organizational alignment behind the firm’s objectives. That’s never been more critical than now, as businesses face a current climate filled with unknowns. “Enterprises that are able to allow more agility in their teams and the way they work are going to be more successful, and marketing is at the center of all of that,” says Caren Fleit, Managing Director of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Officers practice. “There may be redesigns of organization with the customer in mind that have less functional lines.”

Who’s up next?

Succession planning is particularly relevant for CMOs because they have the shortest tenure in the C-suite, averaging 4.1 years. Last year, 84% of CMOs felt as though there was no ready-now successor. This year, 80% of CMOs said that developing a successor was a priority. “One of the reasons there’s a shortage of leaders is that many people are specialists who aren’t cross-trained to become generalists by the time they reach the CMO level,” Fleit says. “There’s a need for agility and the ability to take on new roles to eventually be a contender for the CMO role.”

Getting creative about finding talent

CMOs are hampered by a shortage of talent, with 36% of them reporting that it’s their biggest challenge to building a best-in-class team. As hiring starts up again, once the crisis dies down, companies that have a clear and authentic purpose will be able to attract better talent. “To fill their current talent gaps, CMOs need to think creatively, looking outside of their industry or collaborating across functions to solve for capabilities in high demand,” Fleit says. “CMOs must also put greater focus on developing talent from within in addition to looking outside—blending a build and a buy approach.”

CMO Action Plan


  • Stay close to your people so they’re aligned and motivated in a virtual working situation.
  • Manage business needs and empathy, and being of service vs. selling. Maintain the focus on purpose.
  • Intensify focus on the customer. Reevaluate and change the spending mix and tone of messaging to meet customers where they are in this situation. Dial up customer intimacy to adjust engagement as needed.
  • Analyze the current business and engagement models to create sustainability. Focus on near-term priorities but ensure they still align with the long-term goals and mission of the company.


  • Create, foster and lead agile teams that flex with the needs of the moment and with particular projects, both within the marketing department and across the organization.
  • Get closer to the operational elements of the business, including rethinking the value chain.
  • As many companies pivot their message to purpose and empathy, find a way to make your brand and message stand out in a sea of sameness.


  • Recast the organizational structure and critical roles to align with the evolved business model. Focus on agility, speed and closeness to the customer.
  • Identify what to outsource vs. what to take on in-house.
  • Leverage the crisis as a catalyst for the rapid change that was necessary but not happening fast enough through organizations. 

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