Five Tech CMOs give their advice on how to get to the top!

By David Holton, Director of Americas

Tech Marketing Recruitment

Technology Marketing Recruitment
Dave Holton, Director of Americas

Having specialized in recruiting Tech Marketers across the USA for almost 30 years (yikes!), I speak to America’s best marketing talent on a daily basis. 

From Head of Marketing up to CMO, one common thing I often discuss with a candidate or applicant is their career journey, and the retrospective professional path they might have taken if they knew at the start what they did now.

Lots of them were ahead of the curve and got themselves a mentor or coach before it was really a thing, while others are perhaps too humble in putting their success down to good luck.  

How Do You Become a Tech CMO?

So back in November of last year I started to write about this – the advice that CMOs would give to their younger selves or the current crop of first-jobbers looking to become a Chief Marketing Officer in the Technology sector. 

As I was writing it, I realised that one key element was missing – actual quotes from Tech CMOs. I reached out to a handful of big-hitters who each agreed to lend their voice to this article – their quotes really do join the dots! Excerpts of their quotes are highlighted throughout this article, and their full transcripts are below. I would like to wish my sincere thanks to them all. 

In writing the article, I looked for similar themes in each response and built topics around them. And the results were pretty surprising as you will see at the end with seven primary and nine secondary themes. 

1. Lorey D. Zlotnick
CMO, Brand Architect
Zequity Marketing

My motto has always been “Evolve or Die”.  It’s never good enough to just stay status quo; regardless of how successful the company is. Stay Current. No matter how big or small, evolution will undoubtedly create growing pains. Whether if comes in the form of technological advances, a shift in how or where your product is consumed, demographic changes, new competition, or internal reorganizations; it will impact your product and how you market to consumers. Embrace change and always challenge yourself and your team to ask “How can we do it different? How can we do it better? Where will the health of our business be in 5 or 10 years? Are we prepared for industry evolution? You will never be bored if you are always seeking out trends and questioning/challenging “the norm”.  

A former boss once told me get out of the office and have lunch with at least one person I didn’t know every week. This led to some incredibly valuable contacts and relationships; great advice. Time is well spent when you are investing in yourself and your network.  

2. Virginia Dori
President and Founder
CMO-on-Demand Consulting

Marketers in this digital world need to focus on direct marketing strategy. They must acquire scalable knowledge and skills on how to target their specific audience with the right platform at the right time. GTM is of the essence, when launching products/solutions, timing is everything. One of these skill set is the ability to be highly analytical to interpret data and leverage its impact thus allowing to make rapid adjustment on campaigns if necessary.

ABM is one of the best direct marketing approach available, and finding the right partner ie., SFDC, Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, Pardot are some of the best tools for Demand Gen. A young marketer must be tenacious enough to convince old school techie founders with PhDs that their traditional approach of blanketing the world with generic marketing campaigns no longer work.

3. Luanne Tierney
Fractional CMO
LT & Associates
There are several opportunities when you are working your way up in the Marketing world. My mindset early on in my career was to make sure I understood what it was like to being in the field and talking to customers either as a sales rep or a partner rep so I invited myself to tag along on their calls and listen in to their meetings. As a result, my number one focus was to be a marketing leader who created content, assets and experiences to help the sales and partners teams get in the door faster with their prospects and partners and help them build a authentic long term relationships that lasted longer than the sales cycle.

It’s a crowded market with many successful marketing leaders in the industry whom I admire and reach out regularly to share best practices and ideas. To be an innovative marketing leader, I have found you need to surround yourself with a diverse, talented team with many different skill sets ranging from Data Analytics, Messaging, Video, Partner Marketing, Writing, and Digital Marketing.

The other thing that is just as important as the CMO skills-set, to me, is to have a strong set of leadership values that align around how your treat your people. Mine are sincerity, consistency, authenticity, and support of risk taking. When a team feels the trust of their leader, they really do their best work because they are having fun and can be innovative marketers.

The greatest influencers in my career are the different sales leaders I have worked with from previous companies, from Tracey Newell @Informatica, Emilio Umeoka @Apple, Chuck Robbins @Cisco, and Christopher Jones @QLIK because they truly partnered with me about delivering a great connected sales and marketing experience.

4. Leila Modarros
CMO, Infostretch
The preference of being CMO at a smaller startup or a Marketing Manager at a well-known, larger enterprise organization really depends on your personal preference. If you are an energetic leader, the CMO role may be more attractive unless, you are highly specialized in 1 – 2 areas with very specific skill sets.

Having the “right balance” between what you say and what you think at times can be a challenge. Remember, if you are going to say what you think, then you should be able to backup your information with solid examples and data.

To be a standout CMO, you must have ideas derived from thinking out of the box. This could be the creation of new programs that are not just a “Rehash” of previous programs. Your ability to grow your base of followers is important when it comes to staying visible. Public speaking engagements are a good way to develop confidence and sharpen your presentation skills.

Leila states that other areas of importance of successful CMO’s is that they are always ready to go above and beyond expectations. She also believes that CMO’s need a solid understanding of finance, budgets and the ability to understand technical and general domains.

5. Steve Gottlieb
Steve recommends that when you are in the process of Executive career development, be aware of becoming “pigeon holed” in one specific area of marketing such as demand generation (in his case). Steve explains that once this happens, it can be very difficult to break away from being siloed in your career. If you find yourself in this type of situation, Steve found that taking a step back to a more a slightly more broad-based marketing role was an effective way to jump start his career path to becoming a CMO.

Having worked most of his marketing career in smaller, start-up companies, Steve was able to develop a strong background in all aspects of marketing. Aware of greater risks when working with smaller companies, Steve prefers having the opportunity to grow with the company and making a greater impact company wide rather than what one might experience in a larger organization.

Another area that one should develop on the way to a CMO role is “Transparency”. Steve
makes it a point to operate with “open disclosure and honest answers” and an “open door
policy”. To be a successful marketing leader means not only having a good attitude and owning your responsibilities, but having a “high motor”, being proactive, and being able to meet all of your deliverables. These are all great ways to get you noticed.

To stay ahead of the curve, it is important that you are always improving your knowledge base. Steve recommends keeping yourself up to date as to how other companies do things. One way to do this is by creating or joining informal leadership groups. “Knowledge Sharing” is a great way to increase your existing skillsets as well as successfully improving programs.

Steve feels fortunate that he has worked with a number of excellent leaders and has always strived to learn and borrow from what he saw working for them. It is important that people have knowledge of you and what you do. To achieve this, Steve feels that it is important to always “Over deliver and put yourself in a position of value; go the extra-mile to stand out from the crowd”.

Seven Primary Themes

The seven key themes that tech CMOs would recommend their younger selves are as follows: 

  1. Stick to Start-ups
  2. Take Risks
  3. Never Stop Learning & Innovating 
  4. Exude Energy
  5. Challenge yourself to over-deliver
  6. Analyze the data
  7. Think differently to stand out from the crowd

Nine Secondary Themes

The nine secondary pieces of advice are as follows:

  1. Think long term and make it scalable
  2. Get your timing right 
  3. Balance what you say and what you think 
  4. Get good at public speaking 
  5. Understand finances and the technical side 
  6. Don’t get pigeon-holed
  7. Grow with the company 
  8. Be transparent 
  9. Monitor the competition and network with peers


So there you have it, and I hope you’ll agree the results are fascinating. As expected in some areas, but certainly some surprises in others.

In the the main batch, I think it’s really interesting that each of these is highly active, to the extreme. If we were trying to picture our CMO, it feels like a loveable, fallible, caffeine-infused superhero!

This second batch are more specific than the first, but no less important. More tactical and frequent, you really get a sense here of the thought-process that goes into being a top Tech CMO, rather than just the underlying drive required from the first batch.

Whereas the first group are more adrenaline caped crusader, this second group is more considered and thoughtful – Robin’s ying to Batman’s yang perhaps!

I think the overall trend reflects the greater role that marketing now plays in modern companies. It’s now a crucial role, and second only to leadership / management in my opinion. The big reason is of course the internet. Whereas marketing tended to be reactive pre 2000, it’s now the driving force behind an organisation’s sales and can make or break a business.

The current crop of tech CMOs have cut their teeth in the post 2000 era, hence the big change from more considered thinkers to the dynamic all-rounders we see below. I think the most telling result from this is that CMOs from the 1950s – c2000 era would probably identify most with the second list, and shy away from the first. Will we see a similar shift in another 20 years I wonder?

As always, please do leave your thoughts in the comments section to submit your pieces of advice.

Do You Need Tech CMO Recruitment?

technology marketing recruitment
David Holton

To discuss in confidence how Marketing Moves can support your organisation’s growth, please contact David by any of the means below:

+1 (916) 474-4680
+1 (530) 412-2031




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Lauren Long
Lauren Long
4 years ago

To your point about sticking to startups, a big part of making big moves without big employee numbers is through partnerships and channel sales. I read a great article about that by a popular and excellent CMO, Sage Osterfeld.

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