The First, and Next, 90 Days

It’s well established that the first 90 days is critical for any new role. There are many tools, templates and entire books to help you plan and navigate your first 90 days of a new job, from an individual contributor role up to exec level. For a CMO, or other C-suite position, when the stakes are high and the pressure to get some points on the board quickly is even more intense, it’s important to get fast traction.

To speed the path, I’ve developed a framework for a quick start which increases the likelihood of success.  For each of my tenures as a 5x CMO, I’ve refined the tools and templates based on real-world experience, lessons learned and sharing best practices with peers.   Here are a few key considerations.

First, understand and manage expectations for your deliverables.  For most CMO’s, there will be an intense focus on a few things, from increasing pipeline, to elevating the brand, enhancing communications, driving product introduction and adoption, improving ROI, amplifying global web presence, and more.  Identify some quick wins and get alignment on what you can deliver in what period of time, – with the resources you have – early on.

Second, building strategic working relationships, with your team, peers, and others is paramount.  You’re going to have to rely on others, their capabilities and commitments, to ensure success, so invest time in getting to know as many people as you can, as quickly as you can.  Fortunately, as Billtrust, our CEO, Sunil Rajasekar, is a model for how to do this well. From his listening tour, to a systematic series of visits to every heritage Billtrust office, meet and greets, etc., he connected with a majority of the company in his first 90 days.   I’ve been working on my personal version of this since joining Billtrust last January, including in-person opportunities, as well as virtual quick connects with everyone on my team.

Third, assess your team, from your direct reports to everyone on your staff, as quickly as possible.  Do you have the leaders who can help you scale, refine and deliver consistent and predictable outcomes?  If not, have candid conversations about what efforts are needed to ensure success.  Are there any gaps in resources (human and financial) to achieve the agreed-upon goals and targets you’ve established with buy in from the CEO and other stakeholders?  How soon can you close the gaps, and if not, how will it impact your ability to achieves key goals?  And so on.

Fourth, gather insights, about the company, the market, your customers and the competition.   Go broad and get input from a wide variety of resources, both internal and external.   Is there a user community to tap into?  Are there brand and sentiment tracking studies?  Listen to GONG calls, talk to customers, partners, industry analysis, customer advisory boards, etc.  Review previous research and findings, and conduct new research as needed to test hypothesis and validate assumptions.

Fifth, establish your plan.  I like to have quarterly goals and an annual plan.   I have leveraged Forrester’s (formerly Sirius Decisions) Plan on a Page format many times.  I find it a forcing function, meaning it is a catalyst to establish marketing priorities, align to company objectives, drive integration and cross-functional alignment, and visibility, and promote better communication and clarify across the organization.

Lastly, determine the concrete metrics and measures of success, and get buy in from all key stakeholders.  Without objective metrics, it’s really hard to know what good looks like, whether you’re succeeding, or falling short, and if you are making steady progress. As marketers, we all know that marketing is subjective, constantly changing, and viewed and judged through the lense of perception – so you want to reduce as much subjectivity to your actual performance, via metrics and reporting, as possible.

With the above in mind, let’s say you succeed in your first 90 days, or perhaps fall short on a few objectives and deliverables.  What is the plan for next 90 days? I would argue that, whether you’re working for a public or private company, you should renew your 90 day plan every – you guessed it- quarter.  What worked, what didn’t, and why?  Were there some quick wins that you can build on, or setbacks to take another run at? Did you marshal sufficient resources to execute the plan, or do you need to enlist additional support to increase the likelihood of increased success in your next quarter?

As a CMO, as in other C-suite roles, it’s really important to not only get feedback from the CEO, but also from your team, peers, investors and board members (if appropriate). Many of us have learned the hard way that cross-functional alignment is not a one and done goal.  It’s a journey, a continuous cycle of gathering feedback, evaluating and adjusting.  Markets evolve, industry dynamics shift, priorities change, and reflection and resets are necessary to optimize success. Be proactive, be resourceful, stick to your beliefs – the odds favor those who persevere.

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