Careers and journeys: Reflections on a career to CMO

Jon Evans, CCO of System1
The road from early-stage marketer to CMO is a long and winding one, and it looks different for anyone who travels it. Jon Evans knows this all too well. He’s the host of the incredibly insightful Uncensored CMO podcast (get listening!), as well as the Chief Customer Officer of System1. In this webinar, Jon and […]

The road from early-stage marketer to CMO is a long and winding one, and it looks different for anyone who travels it. Jon Evans knows this all too well. He’s the host of the incredibly insightful Uncensored CMO podcast (get listening!), as well as the Chief Customer Officer of System1.

In this webinar, Jon and Joe sat down to:

🔬 Investigate Jon’s career to date

❓ Answer big questions about the role of a CMO

📤 Share advice for how to make your next big marketing career jump.

It’s a light-hearted, anecdote-packed session, full of insights and takeaways you can take into your next performance review.

Watch the full webinar back, or read on for the key takeaways.

Table of Contents

👓 At what point in your career did you know where you wanted to focus? And how did you set about making that happen?

Jon worked out pretty early on that what gave him the most energy was the invention side of marketing. The coming up with ideas bit. But moving from an analytical role to a more creative one can be tricky. So Jon thought about how his creative skills and passion could benefit a business problem, and then set out trying to solve it. He explains:

“Identify a need in the business, and map that to the skill set you have. Then try and solve the problem. If you can do that, you will be successful in moving towards the part of the business you want to be in.”

🦸 It sounds like you were incredibly proactive and confident. How do you feel confident in your own ideas when you have to defend them to senior management?

Jon explains how he gains confidence from sharing ideas and getting real time feedback. When he was pitching a huge transformation project in his role at Britvic, he went to every member of the board and asked them to identify why the idea would fail, then he would go back to them with why it wouldn’t. This exercise allowed him to stress test his idea, and feel empowered to run with it.

Jon also believes that confidence comes from surrounding yourself with the very best people. From hiring really well to choosing the right boss, he explains that selecting who you want for and with should be infinitely more important than choosing where to work based on a brand or title.

💻 Do you think generalists or specialists are better placed to develop into more senior marketing roles? How do you operate?

Jon explains how in his experience, the skills that make you a great CMO are not the same skill set that makes you a great specialist. Whilst most CMOs are probably generalists, he believes that a clearer determining factor is how you approach leadership and understanding the wider needs of a business.

When you’re at the CMO level, your job is to lead the commercial success of the business. You’re there to deliver financial results, growth, and strategy, so you need to understand how the entire business works.

Whatever stage you’re at in your career, Jon encourages getting involved with projects outside of the marketing and brand teams. Work on something cross-functional which allows you to understand how a different part of the business works. The more you understand how the pieces fit together and how decisions are made, the more effective you’ll be when you scale up.

💡 What is your leadership style? And has that changed over the course of time?

One of the most inspiring bosses Jon ever had was called Clark. When Jon eventually left the role, Clark sat him down to ask how supported he had felt whilst doing the job:

“Did you ever feel that I over-rode you in terms of decisions? I wanted you to know at every single step that it was ok for you to try and fail because I knew you would learn more by doing that. I would always have you back at every step of the way.”

Jon explains how this was an incredibly profound moment for him and since then, he has aspired to be a leader like Clark – inspiring and backing everyone who has ever been in his team.

But more recently, after some 360° team feedback, Jon has learned that not everyone necessarily wants to be managed like that. Where Jon loves freedom and being trusted to take risks, lots of people want clearer parameters, clear decisions, and clear timings to allow them to do their work. Jon explains how this has been a recent lesson in leadership and a good reminder to always keep learning.

📈 What is your number one piece of advice for showing senior leadership you’re capable of progressing and taking on a managerial/more senior role?

Much like any marketing challenge, Jon explains how you need to get into the mindset of your intended audience. In this case, senior management.

Be proactive – reach out and ask them for a coffee. Senior managers are often not very good at communicating what they’re thinking about it. Ask them what is the biggest business problem they’re trying to solve. You now have data. Whatever you want to do, reverse yourself into that. Position yourself as a solution to that business problem.

🙋 What is the best piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

Become an expert at what you’re good at.

Jon remembers meeting the MD of Gallup when they were working on an idea that people perform best when they play to their strengths. It sounds obvious, but if you think about personal development and receiving feedback at work, it’s mostly negative. What Gallup discovered is that the best way to develop is to focus on your strengths. Your strengths give you energy, and your energy gives you belief, and when you’re high on belief, you’re more able to address your blind spots. Jon says, think about what you’re really good at and build a career doing that.

3️⃣ What are the top three things you believe are essential for anyone aspiring to reach a senior leadership position in marketing?

  1. Own the vision – the job of a CMO, more than any other C-suite role, is to set the direction that you’re going in and to inspire everyone. Maintaining that course is incredibly hard. But if you don’t do it, no one else will. 
  2. Hire really well – hire people different from you who can do things you can’t do. Better to wait for absolute superstars than hire the wrong person. Build teams that trust each other.
  3. Learn how to deliver through other people – find ways to build, train, and hire so that magic can happen. The best CMOs have had to learn how to make things happen through other people.