Why skilled marketers fail – and how to fix this

The 12 powers of a marketing leader
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: March 13, 2015

Seventy one percent of CMOs have strong top- and bottom-line impact, but over half are struggling in their careers. Better leadership skills would up the career prospects of many marketers. For our new book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I have conducted the largest study to date, involving over 68,000 executive assessments, on what it takes for marketers to drive the business and to succeed in their careers.

How can marketers achieve both business impacts and career success? If you follow my blog, you ‘ll know that I’ve spent the best part of the last four years researching marketing leadership. Data collection and analysis are now completed (see below). What we’ve learned has completely changed my view of what matters in marketing—and I think it will change that of many marketers as well.

Did you expect that:

  • 71% of CMOs believe they have high top- and bottom-line business impacts (59% of CMO bosses agree)
  • Just 44% of CMOs, however, like where their career is going (CMO bosses even put their marketers LAST in terms of career success versus all other functional leaders)
  • Functional marketing skills matter for sales and profit growth. However, leadership skills are the biggest drivers of CMO career success.

In a nutshell: Success with customers doesn’t automatically lead to career success. Marketers need very different leadership skills than those needed by other leaders in an organization—mainly, influencing skills. They must learn how to operate above the radar screen.

We need many more influential marketers to help companies grow. It is possible!

The M-DNA study and the personal lessons learned during our interviews have already helped us develop a completely new approach to marketing leadership training and CMO coaching.

PS: As I write this, I’ am working with Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School and chairman of Which?, the world’s second-largest consumer organization, on our book on marketing leadership (fall 2016).


For the book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise undertook a comprehensive study of chief marketing officers and other leaders. The study can be divided into three parts:

Core research
In the first part, 1,232 senior marketers completed an extensive self-assessment of their personalities as well as what they know, how they lead, and how successful they consider themselves in terms of their impact on business performance and their personal career success.

We have established which leadership behaviors, marketing skills, and personality traits are the causes of business impacts and career success of our CMOs. To help with this, Dr. Frank Buckler, expert in causal data analytics, built a neural network with our CMO database. Frank normally finds success drivers in large customer databases or optimizes the marketing mix for clients with his unique NEUSREL-method, the same method we used in our study. (The basic idea is to “let the data do the talking” to uncover detailed causal relationships between variables.)

360-degree assessments
The second part looked at CMOs and other leaders through the eyes of others. We analyzed 67,278 existing 360-degree assessment responses (from superiors, peers, and direct reports who rated senior marketers as well as leaders in other disciplines (for example, finance and sales). Professor Manfred Kets de Vries and Elizabeth Florent of INSEAD Business School, whose leadership models are at the heart of our work, graciously gave us access to their massive assessment database: the GELI. We re-coded and analyzed a total of 67,278 360-degree assessments from business leaders from 179 countries to understand how marketers are seen in organizations today.

Over 100 C-suite Interviews
In the third part, we developed insights from interviews with over 100 CMOs, CEOs, and leadership experts about what it takes to succeed as a senior marketing leader.