Memo to Marketing Leaders: how skilled are you at building support for change?


The median tenure of a CMO is the shortest in the C-suite—28 months.

The great King Pyrrhus offers some insight into a primary cause.

In 279 B.C, Pyrrhus, the king of Hellenistic Epirus, defeated the Romans at Asculum at great cost in lives.

Despite this victory, he is said to have declared the following after the battle:
“One more such victory and I am lost.”

We marketers bring powerful, innovative energy to a business. We observe and synthesize changes in the outside world and use our creative adaptive skills to bring new ideas and initiatives to the table. Often our most important and disruptive ideas feel threatening to peers and even the CEO and BODs. Unfortunately, too often our “triumphs” can become Pyrrhic victories. In other words, despite the eventual assimilation of our ideas on the into the business, how we pushed through the change damages our relationship with colleagues and taints our reputation.

The purpose of this article is to help marketers take the “Pyrrhic” out of their invaluable contributions.


It’s a well known fact that CMO turnover is historically the highest in the C-suite. According to Spencer Stuart, the median tenure of a CMO in 2021 was 28 months, close to an all time low, while CEO median tenure was more than double. What is it about the marketing leadership role that leads to shorter tenures and what can they do to increase their run rate and impact in the future?

Many experts postulate that amorphous role-design is often the culprit. It’s true: I bet if you ask 50 CEO’s what they expect from their marketing leader you’ll probably get 50 nuanced answers.

Marketing is a vast, often poorly understood function. Marketing leaders are expected to be experts in a broad range of areas, including competitive analysis, brand development, creative, advertising, product design, media, strategy, messaging, customer experience, marketing technology, lead generation, data analytics, market research and e-commerce.


Marketing focuses less on cost-cutting and efficiency and more on long-term innovation and revenue growth. This means marketing leaders generally take on more risk as they explore new opportunities for growth. Marketing is also responsible for scanning the external environment and informing the internally-focused C-suite. Since the market is constantly changing, marketing leaders are expected to continuously bring new intelligence, new ideas and new initiatives to the table.

This means marketing leaders, in their effort to find new tactics and strategies for growth, generally embrace more risk. The drive to discover new opportunities for growth and adapt to external change, however, often puts them in conflict with other members of the C-suite. And perhaps this is where things get a little dicey.

Of all the people around the C-suite table, the marketing leader is typically the loudest advocate for change. That’s because they have more insight into the external environment and recognize that in a rapidly changing world, the business must adapt and respond with changes itself.

This role as change agent has the potential to create considerable tension with peers and even the CEO. Building support for change requires specific leadership competencies: influence, presence, empathy, just to name a few. Perhaps most importantly, the marketing leader will need to be an expert in engaging with individual and collective resistance to the change.

A sure sign that something is not quite right in CMO-land was found in a 2020 Deloitte study: Only 17 percent of C-suite execs report having collaborated with CMOs over the past 12 months, while 47 percent report having collaborated with COOs during this time period. By missing opportunities for cross-functional collaboration in the C-suite —and therefore having weaker personal relationships—advocating for change and gaining support is more difficult.

There’s a better way, and it starts by understanding how to understand and engage with resistance. Rick Maurer expresses it this way: “People want to overcome resistance. This view is wrong. Attempts to overcome it usually make it worse.” So if overcoming resistance is rarely helpful, then what?


Business history is papered with Pyrrhic victories. As marketers, our drive to “win” at all costs works against us. Embedded in our role is scanning and making sense of the external environment. We see trends in consumer behavior, new, threatening initiatives by competitors, the emergence of new competitors and broad changes in the ecosystem.

When we perceive threats to our business performance, particularly existential, it’s our responsibility to communicate this information to our peers and the CEO. And as good leaders, we submit or recommend potential internal change responses. It’s at this point we often face strong resistance. How we engage with this resistance will determine our impact, color our reputation, affect our relationships and shape our future in the organization and even our career.
And with a median tenure of 28 months, Marketers don’t appear to be doing a great job building support for change.

Rick Maurer, in his seminal book on resistance “Beyond the Wall of Resistance” offers a compelling approach to help us advance our ideas without suffering Pyrrhic victories. It is anchored in two fundamental questions: “what’s in it for me”,” what’s in it for them.”

Here are his five touchstones:
1) Maintain a Clear Focus. When people attack your idea, it’s easy to get lost in the fog of resistance. Remember your ultimate goal: building support for change (and not getting even!). Maintain a dual focus: keep one eye on the prize and the other on the moment. Change requires tremendous energy. People have fixed body budgets (energy) and thus have a bias for sustaining the status quo. Patience, conviction and steadiness are needed to achieve the change you believe in. Resist turning your back. That said, avoid taking a narrow, locked position.

2) Embrace Resistance. That’s right, you must explore and embrace the resistance around you. This response is counterintuitive and against your natural instinct to protect yourself. Yes, you must move toward the resistance and overcome your desire to get out of harms way. Without taking this step, it will be nearly impossible to find common ground. You need to know the reasons beneath the reasons. But be careful: don’t lose yourself in the resistance.
Respect Those Who Resist. You give up nothing by treating people with respect and telling the truth. Most importantly, you build trust. Remember, respect is also a behavior, not a belief. This means listening deeply with an open heart and mind.

3) Relax. Keeping your cool in a storm of resistance can be exhausting. Finding ways to deactivate your natural responses—anger, frustration, disappointment—will prevent you from escalating the resistance. Spending time understanding the source and the intentions of the resistance goes a long way in achieving this.

4) Join With The Resistance. You read that right. Do this by listening closely to the resistance , understanding common fears and interests. Explore ways to blend your intentions with theirs. Use your creative powers to find ways to join others.

5) Experimenting and Practicing. Learning to deal effectively with resistance is a skill that takes time to develop. Moreover, influencing the views of others is another skill, often under-developed in marketing leaders. As a marketing leader, your ability to have impact and work in a positive environment where you’re on stable ground will ultimately depend on how well you exercise these skills.

As a marketing leader, your ability to have impact and work in a positive environment where you’re on stable ground will ultimately depend on how well you exercise these skills.
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At Mach10, we support many clients interested in growing their leadership skills and effectiveness. If we can support you, please schedule an exploratory conversation, email me at or give me a ring at 617-529-8795.

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