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10 signs your new CMO is failing

You found her! After 6 months, $100K for the head hunter, and countless interviews, exercises, candidate debriefs, and hairs pulled, you made it. Your new VP Marketing is starting tomorrow, and you couldn’t be more excited.

Fast forward to three months later… 

There’s a pit in your stomach every time “Marketing” is mentioned. You’re not a marketing person, but you have this feeling that an experienced marketing leader should do better… that you should see more pipeline… that you shouldn’t be the one still coming up with all the marketing ideas…

Or maybe your expectations are just too high, and everything is fine?

In this post, we share 10 signs that indicate that indeed, your new CMO is not successful, and you should seriously consider making a change.

Note: Please don’t think this is about you and your company. This is an amalgamation of dozens of different companies and stories, of both successful and unsuccessful new CMO experiences.


10 signs your new CMO may not be successful

  1. No new pipeline. For most startups, marketing’s top priority is generating new sales pipeline. A savvy CMO will do anything she can to get a quick win here. After three months, there should be at least one new Sales Opportunity the new CMO can directly tie to one of her initiatives. 
  1. Going for the three Rs: Reorg, Rebrand, Reporting. The two common things to all of these? They’re important, and they’re not going to deliver any new pipeline in the short term. Not saying you shouldn’t do them, or even that you shouldn’t do them in the first 90 days. But the best CMOs find a way to get started on the most pressing of these initiatives, in conjunction with pipeline generation. 

    (“Bonus” points if they’re also gunning for a new website, another perennial new-CMO favorite). 
  1. No hiring. A marketing leader is usually brought in to expand the scope of marketing activities — through building the in-house team or partnering with top-notch external vendors (freelancers / agencies). Yes, hiring is hard; and for the struggling CMO, there are going to be plenty of excuses here. Still, a successful CMO finds a way to make this happen. 
  1. No plan. Marketing = planning + execution. At the end of her first month, your CMO should present a marketing plan that includes budget, goals (including quantitative KPIs), and activities (marketing calendar). Is it going to be perfect? No. But it should be a good enough working draft to propel execution and improve over time. 
  1. Only plan, no execution. The flip side is all big talk about Plan and Strategy, with zero execution. The bare minimum here is 1 (one!) brand new campaign planned and executed in the first 60 days of the CMO’s tenure. If this doesn’t happen, again, ignore the excuses (e.g. no resources / tech stack isn’t right / reporting is broken). They may all be true, but no matter. A good CMO finds a way.
  1. Only super-tactical execution. Another extreme — too much execution. Sure, getting your hands dirty is a great skill to have in a CMO. I loved it when a new, high-caliber CMO of one of our clients rolled up her sleeves and planned a sales dinner in her first couple of weeks, including the nitty-gritty of scrubbing Excel invite lists. But only tactics won’t do.
  1. The marketing team rejects the new organ. Sometimes a new CMO comes in and informs you the current team needs to be replaced, and that’s fair. But if everyone is in agreement that the current team is solid, and the team does not warm up to their new leader, that’s a big red flag. 
  1. The sales team isn’t excited. Sure, there’s always a healthy tension between Marketing and Sales. But your sales team, and especially your sales leader, should be excited about the marketing void starting to fill. Having more marketing air coverage — new collateral, new swag, more conference support, let alone more pipeline — is bound to make them happy. If they’re not, there’s a problem.
  1. Nothing is excellent. Marketing is a vast domain, and your VPM isn’t going to excel at everything. But she should have her superpowers, and naturally, she’ll turn to them first when she joins. She needs to produce something wow-worthy in her first quarter, even if it’s just jaw-droppingly cool swag.
  1. You find yourself spending more time on Marketing. A new CMO needs to take things off the CEO’s plate, period. Sure, initially you’ll invest time and mental energy in getting him up to speed. But after the first month, he should be leading mostly on his own (with support from you in the form of weekly 1:1s and responsive Slack / email communication). You should not be the one driving the marketing ship anymore. After 90 days, you should be able to take Marketing off your list of problem areas. You should not find yourself still thinking about marketing at night, or fielding marketing questions from the team.

And on the flip side, what are the early signs of success for a new CMO?

In short, here’s your checklist for what to expect within the first 30-90 days of hiring a new marketing leader.

  1. A marketing plan for the next 1-2 quarters, including budget, goals, and a marketing calendar
  2. A couple of quick wins
  3. A few incremental Sales Opportunities
  4. People at the company are excited
  5. You’re relieved. 

The bottom line

Finding a marketing leader is so hard. But the same way you didn’t compromise during the hiring process, don’t compromise for less than excellence once your new VPM is on board. If you found yourself nodding too often while reading this post, it might be time for a change. 

One final note: Your CMO isn’t stupid or incompetent, and neither are you. The most common reason we see leading to this situation is a mismatch between the CMO’s capabilities and your startup’s current needs. For example, The Big Shot CMO who’s excellent at big companies (or even late-stage startups), and fails miserably at an early-stage startup. Or an ACV mismatch – a VPM who’s used to high-velocity, low ACV environments is unlikely to succeed at enterprise GTM (and vice versa). 

The upshot? Your CMO can flourish elsewhere, and you will find another CMO that will thrive at your startup. 


For further reading

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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