Avoiding CMO Pitfalls

As a four-time CMO, I’ve made my share of mistakes, so I thought it would be helpful to share seven lessons learned in the hope that you can either avoid some of the same mistakes, or at least minimize their impact.

  1. Is this me? Let’s actually start with determining if the CMO role you are in or will be offered is right for you.  Just because the market and money are compelling, it still must feel right, and for me the company culture, management team and having shared values are more important than how exciting the opportunity appears.  Good times will come and go and when the going gets tough, is this a leadership team that can hold together and support one another or will it fray and eventually come unglued?
  2. Setting Expectations This is something that should be done ideally before you even start a new CMO role to ensure that what you are expected to do is in line with your expertise, and you have the budget and resources to deliver.   It’s also true that as companies grow and change, expectations also continue to change, so success requires that one is always calibrating and confirming what is expected so you can consistently deliver positive outcomes…which leads us to:
  3. Out of Alignment.  It should almost go without saying that the Go-to-market teams (Sales, Marketing, Channels, etc.) need to be in alignment.  I’ve often found that during the course of any given year, however, priorities can shift at a company or within one or more functions, and as a consequence, it’s easy to actually get out of alignment, which can cause perception or performance issues that require extra effort to rectify.  I mentor other heads of marketing who are earlier in the career trajectory and this is one area that I counsel to correct as fast as humanly possible.  Getting feedback is a given, what you do about determines how quickly you can regain alignment and get back on the path to long term success.
  4. Out of Step.  This one is somewhat related to the previous one, but it has more to do with the cadence of the business.  Some businesses operate in a very structured, formal fashion, and some are so agile and organic, it often feels like it’s run on the whim of the CEO/founder.  If your approach is to operate instinctively, the first type of operating environment is not for you.  Conversely, if you like everything documented in formal, inter-connected plans and like to review options in depth before taking action, the second cadence will be very unsettling and become intolerable over time.
  5. Know the CEO.   The world was different before COVID and a lot of us went to offices more regularly, and had exec team offsites and board dinners, which made it much easier to get to know the CEO you worked for.  Understanding their likes, dislikes, personal interests and so on can only help you with the important things noted above, such as meeting expectations, staying aligned, keeping in step and building a trusted relationship where you can give each other objective feedback and not get out of sync for very long.
  6. Board Meeting Misses.   Having attended more than 60 board meetings at both public and private companies, I’ve seen a little of everything, but the worst thing for a CMO (other than getting fired) is to make a presentation or share results that don’t go over well.   The best advice I got after a particularly tough meeting was to develop a couple of board member allies, who along with the CEO, can coach you to ensure that your viewpoint, data and topical discussions will be well received, and thus help build your credibility, rather than diminish it.
  7. The Honeymoon is Over. The cold reality is that the average tenure of a CMO is still around 3 years (pat yourself on the back if you’ve passed that milestone), and while everyone generally gets a one year honeymoon, it doesn’t last forever. I recall in my 2nd annual review with a CEO he said bluntly “you didn’t do as good of job as your first year.”  The feedback didn’t feel good, but he was right, and I took it to heart to re-commit to making an even bigger impact in year 3 as in year 1. 

In summary, it’s a hard job, so don’t go it alone.  I’ve been a part of CMO peer groups since first becoming a CMO over a decade ago and I find them to be invaluable.  The ones I’m involved in most recently are the CMO Huddles, The CMO Club and CMO Coffee Talk.  Also, if you find yourself in need of a coach, Drew Neisser of Renegade Marketing has a vetted list of 7 coaches https://renegade.com/blog/top-b2b-cmo-coaches/ #CMO #CMOMentor #GrowthAdvisor #HelpEachOther

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