The CMO’s Guide to Mastering their First 90 Days

By Arturo Mendiola

Published on 11 Jan, 2024

Congratulations on stepping into the role of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)! With CMOs experiencing the highest turnover in the C-suite, where 57% have been in their position for three years or less as per Harvard Business Review, the first 90 days are critical in setting a strong foundation for your tenure. This piece aims to empower you with actionable strategies to navigate these crucial days effectively.

What is the “CMO Inheritance Tax”?

In the context of marketing leadership, this phrase refers to the potential complexities (and even opportunities!)  a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Growth Officer (CGO) faces when stepping into a new role within an organization.

The “inheritance” here symbolizes the responsibilities, strategies, processes, team dynamics, technologies, and overall marketing landscape that the incoming CMO inherits from their predecessor. The term “tax” denotes the inherent difficulties, complexities, or obstacles that come with this transition.

There are 5 core “tax” categories that can yield a lot of “debt” for CMOs within their new roles. Those 5 include:

  1. Legacy Strategies and Processes: Adapting to or overhauling existing marketing strategies and processes that might need refinement or change.
  2. Team Dynamics and Culture: Understanding and potentially reshaping team dynamics, managing expectations, and fostering a cohesive and productive work culture.
  3. Tech & Data Landscape: Navigating through existing marketing technologies, understanding their effectiveness, and potentially integrating new tools or systems.
  4. Performance Expectations: Meeting or surpassing past performance metrics while also setting new goals aligned with the company’s growth trajectory.
  5. External Factors: Adapting to industry trends, market shifts, and consumer behaviors that might have evolved since the previous CMO’s tenure.

But how do you solve these factors when stepping into a new role? Or if you already started and you feel like you need to get your plan back on track, here’s how.

Before You Start Your New Role

You shouldn’t wait until your official start date to get the ball rolling! There are some quick and easy things you can do now to get a head start on your new role. 

Connect on LinkedIn

Get started with something as simple as connecting with your team on LinkedIn. Connect with your new direct team as well as other company employees to build rapport and understand their professional backgrounds. 

Do Some Research

Besides learning a bit about the people you’ll be working with, also take the time to learn about the company you’ll be walking into. Gather insights into your company’s market position and public expectations through recent articles and industry news. 

Subscribe to the Right Channels

Finally, don’t forget to subscribe and follow your new company’s social channels. You should also setup Google Alerts for your company, the industry you’re working in, any of your direct competitors, and key customers you may already know about. This can help you in getting in-the-moment updates as they are fresh out of  their proverbial news rooms. 

These small tasks don’t take much time and will lay a great foundation for your first few days and weeks so you can begin making positive contributions sooner! 

Benchmark & Align In Your First 30 Days

The first 30 days are all about understanding past performance as well as aligning with the current players, goals, products, and campaigns. You’ve got to understand the current state before you can design a brighter future.

Historic Performance 

Before you can start to set new goals, review and understand past marketing performances that will inform your new KPIs. You don’t have to set any new goals now, just make sure you understand what the team’s been driving towards recently, what they’ve tried, and what’s worked and what hasn’t. 

Cross-Functional Collaboration

Now is also a great time to build relationships with directors, peers, and leaders to foster collaborative success. Beyond just getting to know them, understand their perspectives on past performance and current state as well as their visions for the future to get a comprehensive understanding of all the things as well as inspiration for the road ahead. Learn the good, the bad, and the ugly from your new peers from the past and what could be. Get their insight and show how you can be influential in making things happen now for the better of the organization and the health of collaborating together. 

Understanding Your Product & Service

Begin by immersing yourself in a comprehensive understanding of your products and services. Knowing what you sell, how you sell it, and your target audience is pivotal for success in this role. A profound grasp of your products and their unique value propositions is essential for formulating effective marketing strategies.

While this might appear obvious, we’ve witnessed numerous new leaders overlooking this critical step, which often leads to a lack of confidence and contextual understanding of how their go-to-market strategies should align with potential customers’ solution needs.

Craft Your Northstar in a Collaborative Workshop

Once you’ve gained a thorough understanding of your product’s lifecycle—from creation to sales and delivery—initiate a collaborative workshop to align sales and marketing objectives. According to the Aberdeen Group, companies witness a 20% annual revenue growth through robust sales and marketing alignment, emphasizing the importance of this step.

While an in-person workshop is highly recommended, virtual sessions using tools like Miro can serve as effective alternatives. Delegating specific pre-work tasks to key team members ensures the workshop’s productivity. Establishing a defined post-workshop plan guarantees the continuity of the valuable goals and momentum generated during this highly collaborative session, preventing it from dissipating once the workshop concludes.

Continual Progress Toward Day 60

By this point, you’ve developed a functional understanding of your new role, who your team is and how your team works with other teams in the business. However, sustaining momentum involves gathering external perspectives. Let’s talk a bit about what that could like like as you move towards day 60 of your tenure. 

Competitive Intelligence

You can do this by starting with a competitive review. Delve deeper into understanding your competitors’ market positioning and identify potential opportunities that could benefit your strategies. A way to help streamline this is by asking your immediate direct reports, key sellers, and your peers who they believe our most formidable competitors are. This can help you in creating a tight lights you can then track and monitor against. 

Tap Your Network

If you’re looking to gain a greater perspective on the overall market’s perspective of your business, your product, or the space you’re in, don’t forget to tap your own network. By utilizing your professional network through LinkedIn, Slack groups and beyond, you can gather insights from external sources about your organization, products, and overall marketing impact. 

Voice of the Customer

Direct customer feedback is invaluable for crafting customer-centric strategies and gaining an overall understanding of the sentiments and operations of existing customers. Evaluate available data and consider employing surveys, NPS programs, or other methods to directly gather feedback from your customers.

Understanding their perspectives is instrumental in several key areas:

  • Messaging and Conversion: Identify the messages or tactics that resonate with customers, effectively driving value proposition conversions.
  • Pain Points and Product Improvement: Understand customer pain points and use cases to inform the product team. Learn how to transform challenges into opportunities that reinforce how your solution supports their needs.
  • Building Brand Advocacy: Connect with customers to gain their trust, potentially involving them in marketing and sales efforts. Consider featuring customer stories or quotes in marketing materials or involving them in roundtable discussions or webinars.

Unpack & Streamline Operational Processes

Upon assuming your role, you’ve likely encountered a range of existing processes that may require optimization. It’s crucial to understand these processes, particularly if they impact your team’s budget and KPIs.

Take dedicated time to meticulously walk through your active processes, focusing on several immediate areas:

  1. Budget planning and forecasting
  2. Managing, reporting, and communicating forecasting and KPIs to executive peers/leadership
  3. Content, campaign, and event planning
  4. Optimizing & managing pieces of your martech platforms
  5. Lead lifecycle management
  6. Sales pipeline management
  7. Project roadmap prioritization

Ensure that your operational framework seamlessly aligns with your goals. Identify areas needing optimization and collaborate with your teams to prioritize and execute necessary improvements.

Inventorying Platforms Alongside Processes

While assessing your active processes and operational workflows, it’s equally vital to have your team share the active tools and technology used within your stack. Why? There are several compelling reasons:

  1. Comprehend Tool Utilization: Gain insights into which tools and technology your team is actively utilizing within their stack.
  2. Budget Allocation Clarity: Understand how your marketing budget is distributed among these tools and identify which technology yields the greatest ROI.
  3. Identify Redundancies: Uncover any duplicate pieces of technology that might lead to overspending or unnecessary strain without yielding desired business outcomes.
  4. Establish Ownership and Contract Details: Define ownership of technology assets, contract renewal dates, and other pertinent details. This information will significantly inform forthcoming strategies and initiatives outlined in your 90-day roadmap.

This comprehensive inventory not only sheds light on operational aspects but also plays a crucial role in strategizing for the upcoming quarter.

Establishing a streamlined and efficient foundation is pivotal as you begin to design strategies for the future. These approaches will not only strengthen your understanding but also serve as a robust platform for formulating and executing effective strategies, propelling you toward your Day 60 milestones.

Closing Your First Quarter Strong

First things first, congrats! You’re nearing the end of your first quarter as CMO, now let’s ensure these remaining weeks in your first quarter have the most significant impact possible within this 90-day period.

Designing the Future

It’s time to translate all your diligent research and gathered feedback into a comprehensive plan for the future. Start by developing a robust marketing strategy based on the insights gleaned over the past few months. This strategy sets the stage for future success of your new department, and will be the anchorpoint the team should be aligning with.

Pro Tips: Be realistic about the plans ahead and show a high level of the plan to your own supervisor or executive peers for a gut check or feedback before completing the strategy and sharing it with your entire org. When you’re being realistic with your upcoming strategy, it’s more attainable to reach. Set not only quick wins but overarching expectations that can stretch your teams in the right way.

Optimizing Resources and Processes

Ensure that your budget allocation effectively supports impactful initiatives and that your operational processes align with your future strategic plan. It’s crucial to ensure each team member is focused on initiatives relevant to your strategy, contributing collectively to build the solutions and business your organization needs. Strengthening these aspects will fortify your business case for the proposed strategic marketing plan.

Building a Strong Business Case

Prepare a compelling business case for new initiatives, additional headcount, or consulting services within your strategic plan. Given the pressure faced by 93% of CMOs to demonstrate measurable ROI from marketing expenditure, crafting a robust business case is pivotal. Make your goals highly specific and measurable. Explicitly connect your planned initiatives within your roadmap to these objectives, outlining the anticipated ROI. Utilize this opportunity to proactively address critical issues or challenges. Prepare to present these items to your CFO or senior leadership for approval and insightful guidance.

Present & Monitor

Once alignment is achieved on your strategic roadmap, the business case is developed, and consensus is reached with your peers and CFO on upcoming investments, assemble your team to communicate and align on expectations. While incremental updates are advisable leading up to the final presentation, gathering your team together under one cohesive message of alignment and focused future fosters trust and establishes the required authority they will respect.

In your presentation, emphasize using dynamic dashboards to monitor progress towards the intended results. Highlight the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that each role or group will be responsible for and specify how progress updates should be conveyed.

These steps will not only lead to a robust conclusion to your first quarter but also set the stage for sustained success in your role as CMO.

Where to Next?

Your initial 90 days as a CMO holds immense significance in establishing a foundation for growth and innovation within your new organization. 

While we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, where we’d really recommend you start is by storing all of these critical insights into one location. That’s why we created a handy checklist for you as the home base you can use for all the details and data you will accumulate in your first 90 days. 

You can download our checklist here. This should serve as an easy to use roadmap to guide you through evaluating the marketing landscape, leveraging triumphs, learning from past experiences, and effecting impactful change. 

Feeling a overwhelmed with all of this? We can lend an extra hand to help.

At Shift Paradigm, we specialize in assisting new marketing and sales leaders to navigate the inevitable challenges that come with assuming a new role. We can aid you in making sense of your newly inherited situation, charting the right course, and devising effective measurement strategies. Not only this, let us take some weight off your shoulders by helping you take stock of your technology stack through our Shift Tech Navigator solution. If you’d like to learn more, talk to us here.

Congratulations once more on your new role as CMO! Rest assured, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Written By Arturo Mendiola

With over two decades of rich experience at the intersection of digital marketing, technology, and customer experience, Mendiola stands at the forefront of driving innovative digital experiences that resonate deeply with consumers. His approach is the embodiment supporting clients with the best in personalization and digital transformation, that accelerates material growth for brands and companies.
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