CMO Survival: What to Do in the First 100 Days

Understand the culture, people, and resources first before making any plans

CMOs must be doing something right. Since 2006, the average tenure of the top marketing leader has almost doubled from 23.2 months to a whopping 45 months in 2013. This impressive statistic suggests that CMOs are doing a better job at demonstrating their value to the organization.

Chief Marketing Officer
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Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of visionary CMOs, many of whom have begun working with us after recently stepping into the role at a new organization. While each has had their own style and has been successful in various ways, many have identified that the first 100 days in the job are crucial for setting the tone for long-lasting success. Here are the key principles that the most influential CMOs focus on during their first 100 days.

They listen. In the first couple of weeks they make it a priority to gain a 360° view of the organization by arranging a host of meetings to hear the perspective other executives, sales and product leaders, direct reports, key thought leaders, and current vendor/agency partners. By actively listening they build critical relationships that help them get buy-in for their ideas and come away with a clearer understanding of the opportunities, challenges, and obstacles that lie ahead.

They know their teams and have the right people in place. Understanding exactly what their teams are capable of, both internally and externally, is invaluable when it comes time to execute. By conducting a skills assessment and digging into the core capabilities of the team, they are able to align them with what is needed for the marketing plan to be successful, adjusting roles and bringing in new talent to fill gaps.

They understand how the brand is performing. With the rapid pace at which consumers’ opinions change, it is essential for brand owners to keep a pulse on the health and reputation of their brands. They must know how and why change happens, and what actions to take. By leveraging, or in some cases implementing, a holistic brand tracking program they are able to measure how effectively a brand is working across the wide range of experiences and touch points, both internally and externally, to build long-term value. Armed with this information they are able to clearly understand whether actions should be taken out in the marketplace or within an organization―or both.

They bring in experts and keep key stakeholders engaged. Leveraging their agency partners they solicit honest, unfiltered feedback to understand what the brand stands for. By facilitating in-person work sessions with key leaders from the organization and their agencies, they are able to define how the brand contributes to value of the organization, understand critical challenges, align on the key audiences, and identify future opportunities for the brand. With key metrics in place and real-time work flows defined, they are able to set attainable benchmarks for success and meeting the organization’s marketing goals.

They know their brand’s purpose and lead. By demonstrating the process and what’s been learned they have a clear plan in place and have the buy-in to go do the work. They have a clearly defined purpose that links everyone to the overall goals and enables them to lead their teams forward with a clear eye toward the future.

The common thread that weaves through all of these learnings is that they are all linked to discovery and exploration. The most successful CMOs understand that each one of their every moves is being watched closely by their team and others in the organization. They understand the need to understand the current state of in-house affairs that is simply not possible during the interview process and build the mandate for change.

Getting the first 100 days right doesn’t guarantee a successful, lengthy tenure, and undoubtedly greater challenges lie ahead. But, one of the surest paths to failure is to set a plan too early and build up expectations, only to be foiled by unforeseen issues related to culture, people, and resources. That early ding to credibility is one that many CMOs never truly recover from.

The message is simple. Listen first and hold back from making promises. Maybe Abraham Lincoln had future CMOs in mind when he came up with the famous old adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Are you looking for guidance in your role as CMO? Contact us.

Megan McKinley is a Consultant on the Strategy Team at Monigle.  

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