Priorities for Your First 90 Days as CMO


My network is primarily filled with C-level executives at SaaS companies. When I asked them, “What would you prioritize in your first 30 days as a CMO?” a prominent CEO chimed in right away, “I expect to see demand. Leads!” This is a trap many CMOs fall prey to that perpetuates our role in the organization, not as a strategic business partner, but a clown, brought on to change the signage, sing, dance and bring people to the circus. Instead, you’ll see my opinion on how CMOs should focus in their first 90 days: people, goals, customers, product and the change management.

Your First 30 Days at CMO

Although it’s tempting to come in and immediately show an impact, over my 10+ years marketing and consulting marketers, I’ve seen how a lack of investment in foundational items leads to massive issues later. In your first 30 days, you should stay focused on people and goals above all else.

Get to Know the People

Your Boss

Although this might seem like a no-brainer, between your last interview and the day you start, the potential for goals, issues and objectives to shift (especially in SaaS) is high. Make sure you understand the priorities for the business, the culture, your department and your chief marketing officer role specifically. Again, even if you covered these during the interview, re-establish an agreement.

Leadership will probably share with you the issues they see or think about. They’ll likely say things like, “Marketing doesn’t generate enough pipeline.” Or “We’re losing market share to this new, young company because they have a better brand than us.” Although it may be true (and you certainly have to heed their experience and opinion), you do not need to absorb the opinion for your own. Keep SaaStr’s advice in mind here (even if you aren’t in SaaS):

“A true CMO doesn’t just own marketing.  A true CMO doesn’t just manage the team to the company’s goals for the quarter and year.  A true CMO also executes the CEO’s vision.”

Get at the heart of that vision.

Lastly, set expectations for your role as the head of marketing. Most CEOs disappointment with CMO performance boils down to expectations. Don’t sell that you’ll increase LTV by X before you understand the intricacies of the business.

Your Direct Reports

Of course, you need to meet with them. In my experience, the most mission critical item is introducing them to your communication cadence expectations. I’m a fan of the 1-on-1 meeting cadence Ben Horowitz outlines in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things“. But really, it doesn’t matter. Your role is to introduce your team to a regular cadence and the format you’ll drive for those meetings. In the first four meetings of your first 30 days, I’d recommend covering the following:

  1. Personality. If the org doesn’t have user manuals, or personality profiles like DISC or Myers Briggs, then you’ll need to ask a lot of questions (and maybe suggest they get something around this company-wide!). Example questions:
    1. What’s the most important thing to you?
    2. Who is the most important person in your life?
    3. How do you handle being in a bad mood?
    4. What do you do when someone offends you?
    5. Who is the person who challenged you to reflect the most about yourself? How?
    6. What’s something true that no one would ever guess about you?
    7. And aaaall these questions: Art Aron’s 36 Questions to Create Meaningful Relationships
  2. Work History. This includes their current job working with you! Look them up on LinkedIn first and try to direct targeted questions about what you have questions on. Ask about the areas of those roles they feel over 100% competent and where they struggled. Talk about the same in their current role. I always like a rating for responsibilities here. If you take each job description and put the responsibilities on an Excel sheet, you can facilitate this meeting with a quick rating of 1-5. For anything less than 4 in competency, work with them to understand if they’re currently working on a plan to improve. Refrain from solutioning. You’re gathering here.
  3. Department Perceptions. Once you understand who you’re working with and where they come from, it’s time to start digging into the department as a whole.
    1. What’s our goal as a marketing department?
    2. What’s marketing doing well?
    3. What is marketing struggling with?
    4. What internal people impact those areas of challenge?
    5. What internal perceptions impact marketing challenges?
    6. Who is your biggest internal advocate?
    7. What external factors impact marketing challenges?
  4. Their Direct Reports. This is a meeting you’ll want to set them up for well in advance. Be sure you’re supplying all your managers with a framework for this meeting. Depending on the autonomy before your arrival, waiting three weeks to have a conversation about a problem employee isn’t what I’m suggesting–do those type of things right away. But for the majority of employees, you’ll want your direct reports to outline roles and responsibilities in a similar way to how you assessed their own work history (two weeks before).
    1. Be sure to document what systems enable each responsibility. Don’t get antsy and do anything with this data yet, just collect it.

VERY IMPORTANT. Do NOT make it feel like any part of your questioning is part of a job interview to keep their job. You need these people to succeed, especially if they have direct reports. Give yourself at least past your first 60 days before letting anyone go.

Also, again lastly, set expectations. Be clear about what you expect from them over the course of the next few months.

Your Peers

So many organizations struggle with marketing and sales alignment, mostly because chief marketing officers fail to create powerful cross-functional relationships. If you have a Chief Revenue Officer, they should be your first stop. Your CFO should be second. Meet with the highest person in every department. I mean, Every. Single. Department. Customer Success? Meet them. Operations? Meet ’em. Janitorial staff? Do it. As the chief of marketing, you are an agent of change for the organization as a whole. No one is beneath meeting to understand how their department impacts your internal and external perceptions.

Use the above cadence as an outline for these meetings as well. Of course, you won’t go all the way down to responsibilities in their roles and ranking their confidence in delivery. But, sharing your framework may come as a welcome tool for their own management of their teams.

I’m a broken record. Be careful about expectations.

Align on Goals For Your CMO Role

As you’re meeting with people, you’ll get a feel for what drives them intrinsically and also at work. During your conversations with your boss, you’ll be able to understand overarching goals and where marketing fits. By the end of your first thirty days, you should have goals for the department for the next 60 days, perhaps even longer.

More important than even the goals you set, will be the accountability structures to support those goals. Whether your organization uses SMART goals, OKRs or KPIs, be sure your team, boss and cross-functional support understand what you’re driving toward and how to see if you’re achieving those goals or not. Again, I think this is the last time I’ll use “expectations” in my life – ensure the goals are achievable. You don’t want to miss the first goals you create – it sets a poor expectation moving forward. And of course, ensure these goals align to the company goals. For more on that, read this article by our Chief Strategy Officer.

That all sounds easy, but there is a catch that a lot of people miss. Ensure that you can measure these goals. If during your exploration, you find that everyone seems to have a different definition of a “lead” and that’s a core metric you aim to drive or you’d like to set an LTV goal, but it becomes obvious many of your financials are missing from a system of record, you must quarterback bringing people together to define areas of unclarity and get the data in order.

Your First 60 Days as CMO

Now that you understand the people and you’ve defined the department’s goals, it’s time to dig into the products and buyers.

Get to Know the Product

I’m a huge proponent of chief marketing officers experiencing product training. If the product is for a skilled user, like an architect or a developer, of course you won’t have the skill set, but you can still listen in to onboarding or training calls. During these calls, you can identify what seems to be going well versus what’s awkward or straight-up painful.

Learn about the features in depth. Never forget that marketing is simply selling en masse. In order to sell, you have to intimately understand what you’re selling. If during your people discovery, you found others on your team that could benefit from this, do it together!

Learn about how your products, features and price point compare to your competitors. Why do you lose deals to competitors? Why do potential customers choose to stay with your competitor instead of coming to you? Do you lose deals because people simply “do nothing”?

What’s the product roadmap? What customer asks drive it? How is it influenced? How does product marketing support new initiatives?

Keep in mind that all of this product knowledge and questioning is still just internal. It’s important to understand the internal perception of what you sell before going out into the market and hearing what they think. But eventually, it’s time…

Get to Know Your Buyers

And this is very specific. Not your prospects. Your buyers. The first step here is to look at the data. Depending on how many deals you sell and the size of the buying committee, this might be tedious. Don’t let the size of the dataset intimidate you. Take a sample, like all the deals from this year for example. And look at who signed and who was involved in the process.

Talk to people who purchased your product. Not people who use your product, because they might not be the same. Buyers. Contract signers. Buyers. Start with them. If you don’t know what to ask, Google it.

Then, talk to users. If you have NPS results, take a sampling of advocates and detractors. If you don’t have NPS, but some other gauge of satisfaction, take highs and lows. You want to understand the great, but also the ugly. Good users will likely fall somewhere in the middle and it’s often helpful to understand that largest population as well.

Again, if you discovered members of your team or your peers that could benefit from hearing directly from customers, invite them to join you.

Partners In Your CMO Position

At this point, you’ll also want to sit in on any non-linear sales processes. If you sell through the channel, it’ll be key to understand how those partners are selling and if it’s sell-to, sell-through or co-sales.

Embrace the Unhappy Path

Although you’ll gather great insights from current customers, especially the detractors, you’ll learn even more from churned customers or closed lost deals. Now it’s time to research why you lost those deals or why your ex-customer cancelled. Given your tenure, you’re likely not too close to decisions or the product to take anything personally or get offended, but it’s still worth mentioning: do not develop questions to lead toward something specific. The most common mistake I see in someone conducting these types of interviews directly is the desire to drive validation of a hypothesis. One thing I advise to help avoid this is to write down your hypotheses explicitly and test your line of questioning against them.

For more on response bias, check out this resource.

Share Your Findings

All this legwork isn’t a means to simply form your thoughts on what to do. As one of your CMO duties, you need to disseminate it throughout the organization. Start with your direct reports. See if they identify any gaps. Then get with your CRO or sales leader. What’s their opinion? Finally, service/support leadership. What’s their opinion? Any concerns must be nurtured and addressed.

Getting buy-in with these core people is essential. Essential. You’ll want them to advocate and push this intel down to their teams. So, getting their buy-in and agreement is absolutely critical to its success.

Once you have buy-in, it’s time to organize the findings into actual buyer personas. There is a lot of content on buyer personas, including this post on our process. If you already have personas, your role is to validate and adjust per your findings.

Tip: Be sure your personas have actionable elements. Ensure they include data points that are actually available to you and reasonable. If you hypothesis that one of your buyers is likely to be first born, although that’s great, you’re never going to be able to target on that data, so, you might as well keep it in the anecdotal description.

With personas in hand, it’s time to get leadership to share them with their teams. Throughout the organization, people should be using personas as a guide for whether or not they should do something. For example, people should be asking questions like, “Would Martha really use this feature?” or “What question is Rich Googling to get to this piece of content?”

Your First 90 Days as CMO

This 30-day run can best be described as reassessment, technology and change management.

Refine Goals

The first thing to do is to hold yourself and your team accountable to the goals you set at the end of 30 days. Are you still on track? Do they still make sense? If you didn’t create a weekly structure to review these, in my opinion, you should do that now. =) Waiting a month to assess likely won’t be effective.

I’d also wager that after your in-depth product, customer and prospect digging, you’ll have some ideas about things to change. Where appropriate, work with your cross-functional peers to share and adjust the items they own. Getting a new executive leader like you doesn’t happen in organizations all that often. It’s an opportunity for the entire org to get a fresh perspective and improve.

Keep in mind that your marketing department goals may have shifted as well. Map out the goals for your department explicitly. In my experience many people struggle to create goals with enough detail that also contain enough flexibility to encourage ownership of individuals.

For example, a common marketing goal I see would be something like: Increase marketing-sourced pipeline by $2 million.

A better goal would be: Increase marketing-sourced revenue for X product by 30% YOY, while maintaining CAC to achieve a 3:1 LTV:CAC ratio.

All the intel that goes on behind the scenes of that goal is to understand where the biggest opportunity exists in your product set. It also requires you to understand the current LTV:CAC ratio (which should be around 3:1, BTW). It also positions the increase as a percentage, which makes it seem more doable and you can also begin to facilitate conversations about these areas of growth within your team. By that I mean that it gives you the opportunity to educate the team on industry trends. Perhaps the product line growing by 30% will only slightly outpace projections for the growth of that category in general. Perhaps it means taking market share from competitors.

Invest in Technology (and other things)

Given LeadMD’s technology bend, it might be surprising that my advice is to wait to adjust and/or implement any new piece of technology until after 60 days. Every CMO I know has a tech-stack they’re comfortable with, but those stacks are from previous companies and you most likely won’t be running the tech, so, with all due respect, who cares what you think? Too many executives focus on technology as a means to create scale, but without the focus on your objectives first the technology just gets in the way and creates work for people on your team.

Instead, look at your goals and ask your team, “What prohibits you from meeting this goal?” Their answers will likely breakdown into the following areas:

  1. Education. If people on your team haven’t been held to a revenue number before, they might just need education on the types of things to think through. They could answer those questions with your help, conferences, on-line trainings, etc.
  2. People. Few marketing departments are perfectly funded. They might suggest hiring someone with a specific skill set that they don’t possess, nor do you collectively feel would be easy to gather.
  3. Tools. Once you have a strategy and plan, it’s time to get to the execution. If your team decides one of the ways to increase sourced revenue is to allow sales reps to pull data automatically into their CRM, but that’s not a function you currently have available, you’ll need a tool to help.
  4. Support. This one’s easy … ish. This is on you. If the issue is simply feeling like they’re up against something impossible, it’s time to step in and be their advocate internally.

Align these with your responsibility outlines for each role and the technology they currently have. Especially in large organizations, budget can often be saved by combining contracts or getting people user licenses to platforms you’ve already purchased.

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Change management is challenging. It’s hard to maintain structure and accountability toward goals, but it’s absolutely key. Making your vision come to life will require a diligent change management process. Starting with the people you invested time in to create deep, thoughtful relationships with– you’ll need to align them to your vision and organize them on your march toward your goals.

Be consistent.

You’re coming into a role where people expect you to shake things up. But be thoughtful about how you do so. Consistency here is absolutely critical. Marketing is a discipline where things shift and change constantly, but you, you wonderful leader you, you must be the constant that stabilizes the team. If you set a goal for the year and upon assessing the check-in points, it’s obvious that goal has unexpected side-effects, bring people together to explain what you’re seeing and brainstorm how to move forward with solutions.

Bringing people into problems and solutions with openness and transparency will serve you well. And again, the reason you spent your first 30 days building relationships was to use them, not just in your first 90 days as CMO, but well beyond.

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