You Made It—Now What? 5 Suggestions For The First-Time CMO

Congratulations, you’ve made CMO, the highest position in marketing. Now what?

Life isn’t easy for a newly minted CMO, especially one coming in from the outside. You have so much to learn—a new company, new people, perhaps a new market—and so many new relationships to build across the company, all the while trying to get comfortable with new pressures, new responsibilities, and high expectations to deliver results quickly.

It’s a big load, likely the heaviest of your career so far. And you might not have a lot of other CMOs in your existing network to discuss ideas and use as a sounding board. I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years, and I’m six months into joining a software company as the new CMO.

I thought I’d share my initial take at this new CMO gig. First of all, know that it’s manageable, as long as you use the smarts that got you the job in the first place and stay focused on what’s going to make you successful.

Where do you start? I chose to follow the 90-day plan—a simple construct that many leaders follow to get up to speed quickly, make an immediate impact, and lay the groundwork for future results.

Are you a first-time CMO coming in from the outside? Here are five pieces of advice that worked well for me in navigating those first 90 days:

1. Don’t walk in and assume you know everything: Though you almost certainly researched the company heavily during the recruitment and interview process, true knowledge comes only after you’re inside. So spend your initial weeks learning the landscape—the people (not just the leadership team), the culture, the products, the internal processes, marketing’s track record in the organization, and areas ripe for change. Relish your initial weeks as a time of discovery.

This is the drinking-from-the-firehose phase, and it can be overwhelming. Pace yourself. You can only read so much and confer with so many people before you burn out on excess information. If you start to feel that way, you probably have learned enough about the topic at hand and it’s time to move on. The next time you come back to it, you’ll probably have a better perspective.

A smart calendaring strategy can help, too. In the initial weeks, avoid setting up all your reoccurring meetings that could quickly sap up your free time to learn. Schedule or agree to only meetings that aid your deep dive.

2. Make it a top priority to build relationships with the marketing team, your sales team, and other senior executives: You have a unique opportunity in the first 90 days to get to know stakeholders at all levels, communicate your vision, and ask questions.

This, of course, is best done in one-on-one meetings, where people feel most comfortable speaking their minds.

Where the marketing team is concerned, you can focus in the second 90 days and beyond on ensuring the right skills are in place and making any necessary changes, but for now, just talk to people and listen. It’s hard to know what plays to call as CMO until you know the players and the dynamics across the business.

3. Get a sense of marketing’s role and reputation in the organization: Everyone knows that marketing is responsible for a company’s brand and image, but there can be many different interpretations of what that means. How healthy is the relationship between sales and marketing? Are any parts of the business pigeonholing marketing in a less-than-strategic corner? Conversely, is there a belief that marketing is the answer to everything? How advanced is the company in terms of data-driven marketing decision-making?

Only after you’ve had these conversations and understand the lay of the land can you hone your vision, understand how you may need to reposition your department’s role in the company, and start getting buy-in for your plan to help take the company to new heights.

4. Look for quick wins: All those people across the organization with whom you’ve been talking will soon want to see you do or fix something tangible. It’s just natural human behavior. So while not taking your eye off the prize (the big strategic picture and your overall plan), find some low-hanging fruit that can demonstrate your ability to solve a problem or make an improvement. It can be as small as streamlining a process or instituting a new communications vehicle, but chances are it will get you noticed and appreciated.

5. Don’t let the job consume you: Ascending to CMO is a big deal in your career, but not big enough to lose your balance as a person. As dedicated as I am to my new job, I am more than my career. For me, my husband and two young children are important, and I try to make sure they know it and my actions show it. Work still stops for a few hours every night as I eat dinner and spend time with my family. (No phones allowed.)

It’s a lot to learn in such a short amount of time. But it can be incredibly rewarding. Many more challenges will lie ahead, but it’s important to get off to a good start. Focusing on learning and building a plan makes all the difference.

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