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New CMO: What are the First Steps?

Don’t just think about the answer to the question or completing the project, think about what comes next. Showing that you’ve thought about what could come next gives leaders confidence in you.

Skills That Senior Marketers Need to Acquire Now

 1. Soft Skills:

  • Curiosity: Marketers need to be naturally curious and inquisitive about the outcomes of their work and how their work plays out in the larger organization or how it aligns to company goals and objectives.
  • Teamwork: Effective communication and collaboration is essential as the marketing team of today now needs to work with so many other teams (like finance and IT) to ensure both fiscal responsibility on projects as well as continued digital innovation in marketing.

Hard Skills

  • Finance experience: Today’s marketers should understand how to calculate an ROI and understand what is on a P&L. This is easy to learn – just search for it online and there are a number of useful descriptions.
  • Quantitative Analysis. This is a critical area in which the role of the data scientist is very helpful. However, senior marketers without a data science background can start trying to think more like a data scientist – and that means thinking creatively and outside-of-the-box. They need to have a total grasp of data—being able to derive insights and not just collect data. This is an area that will require them to go back to school to learn contemporary statistics and the tools that can enable them to make better decisions.
  • Customer Experience: UX/UI experience is important to better understand the voice of the customer and incorporate a customer-centric approach to decision making.
  • Storytelling/Writing Capabilities: Much emphasis is placed on being able to create stories that connect with consumers. Equally important is the ability to connect with the CEO, C-suite, Board and employees. Storytelling is as important in driving internal commitment and alignment as it is in engaging consumers.”

Before signing on to any CMO position, a candidate should make sure he or she understands the following:

  • What is really the CMO’s role in the firm? Is there agreement about this across the C-suite? Do the CEO, CFO, CHRO, and the board all describe the position in the same terms?
  • What is really the CMO’s responsibility? Which functions report to the CMO on the org chart, and which don’t? What departmental budget items are the CMO’s responsibility? Are any budgetary areas missing? (Though some firms may balk at sharing budgets with candidates during the hiring process, asking to see them is valid and can serve as a test of whether the firm wants to be transparent about the position’s responsibilities.)
  • Are the expectations and performance metrics for the role consistent with the responsibilities and the candidate’s experience? Is the CMO being set up to succeed?

After answering these questions, the candidate should summarize in writing his or her understanding of the role and the expectations and responsibilities involved with it, and share it with both the executive recruiter and the CEO, asking for confirmation that they are all on the same page.

Don’t focus much on the job description and rely on the recruiter’s assurances instead of asking the right questions during interviews: to see org charts and budgets before accepting the company’s offer to quickly realized CMO’s responsibility. That would have enabled you to have a pointed discussion with both the executive recruiter and the CEO regarding the importance of role design.


  • Before you accept the job make sure you meet as many board members as you can in the C-Suite.
  • Talk with your team and find out who’s “on the bus” and what skills they have. There are already people doing work here. Are you a good fit for this team? Give them a chance to tell you their honest thoughts. What have they tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Why? Don’t make people feel like they’re interviewing to keep their job. Keep these meetings informal and light. Seek to understand how your company has marketed products and services in the past, what the previous marketing financial investment has been, and who’s been doing the work. 
  • If possible, go through your and your team’s new hire training to see how the people you’re relying on (especially the sales team) start.
  • Make regular 1:1 meetings with your managers. You’ll get direct reports on people (not status) updates that belong to the employee — not to you. Never cancel or reschedule them. 
  • A marketing organization should be designed around the marketing strategy — not vice-versa. If you plan on a content-heavy inbound marketing strategy, you may need to build a creative vertically integrated team that handles writing, design, video, and promotion. If you have a complex funnel and sales process that’s well tested and needs to scale, a funnel-oriented team may be the best structure.
  • Identify opportunities: site traffic, SEO, social media, CRO, marketing automation, sales enablement etc. 
  • Clarify responsibilities. Does each of your directly responsible individuals have the SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely)? If don’t – generate waterfall graphs using your analytics software so that each team or DRI knows how they’re performing throughout the month.
  • Get everyone to agree on metrics & goals. CMO must be based on data to prove their strategy is working and creating a strong ROI. What are we tracking? Where are we tracking it? What’s the source of “truth” for our metrics? No two analytics systems ever agree. Make sure everyone knows what’s being tracked and how. If you’re making marketing decisions from subjective lead ratings that your sales reps forget to complete, your data is useless. What data in your system is missing or inaccurate?
  • Understanding which content leads to conversions on your website, which assets are frequently used by the sales team, or which content themes earn the most engagement from your target accounts is likely a part of your regular routine for gathering performance data.
  • Tightly align sales and marketing. Create a tight SMarketing (Sales+Marketing) alignment plan with the VP of Sales. Your success (and, frankly, your happiness) as CMO is going to be determined more by the VP of Sales than anyone else — including the CEO. You should set and agree on an SLA with sales. Set up a monthly SMarketing meeting with the sales and marketing teams (or each business unit, depending on your size). How are we performing on metrics? How do we improve? Identify any open issues that exist between Marketing and Sales and explain how you and the leaders plan to address them.
  • That’s why it’s important to know which assets sales reps are leaning on to move prospects through the buying process.
  • Don’t delay implementing employee happiness metrics that enable you to be proactive. Create anonymous internal feedback and employee survey programs. Make sure that your anonymous feedback mechanism has a feature that enables you to anonymously respond if necessary. ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) or other anonymous happiness metrics are good leading indicators of potential employee churn problems.
  • Focus, focus, focus. Do fewer things better. One of the most difficult challenges of leadership is knowing which billion-dollar opportunities to ignore.
  • Mentor team members on your own team. You may develop the next all-star. That will make you feel good and build the next set of leaders so you can retire one day.


  • Develop your technology buyer personas. Everyone at the company should know them. A buyer persona is a group of your buyers with similar buying and usage behaviors. “Why” not “Who” is the key characteristic of a Buyer persona.  You can get this information from the customer (what do they tell you about themselves?), outside data (such as lead enrichment services), or behavioral data (page visits, past sales, etc.).
  • Map content to buyers. 
  • Start at the bottom of the funnel. Make sure sales reps work inbound leads and dot it right (are properly trained).
  • Figure out Marketing’s role in the company’s unit economics.
  • You may even want to set up a dedicated Customer Marketing Team to help services up-sell or retain customers.

If key players in an organization aren’t even considering the CMO to be the successor, it’s one of the earliest signs of a subpar leader. The best people want to go work for a great leader. Exceptional CMOs constantly fine-tune their skillsets over time – or else, they risk falling behind and dragging their employers back with them.


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