Lessons Learned As A Stand-In Chief Marketing Officer

Founder and CEO of Insightly and a lifelong techie with a passion for all things startup.

During a recent period of transition—which happened in the midst of the pandemic—I served as my company’s interim chief marketing officer while actively recruiting a permanent replacement. The experience reinvigorated my appreciation for the discipline of marketing and everything that goes into the CMO leadership role.

CMOs have the highest turnover rate in the C-suite, typically staying in a role for 35 to 41 months. I experienced why firsthand as I took the helm of this team.

CMOs lead with both sides of the brain.

I was quickly reminded how marketing is multifaceted, requiring distinct left and right brain elements. You use the right side of your brain, the innovative side, for design and customer-facing creative work such as effective and exciting websites, engaging assets for pitch decks, and compelling, multichannel content to communicate with and engage both prospects and customers.

You use the left side of your brain for data-driven and analytical tasks. Significant advances in technology have produced readily accessible and easy-to-use tools to capture marketing metrics. As key executives responsible for driving growth, CMOs must select the right technology for measuring marketing effectiveness. This requires a keen eye for data and analytics across the entire customer journey.

As I interacted with the various functions on the marketing team, I gained respect for how our soon-to-be-named CMO would have to switch brain sides multiple times per day every day.

Marketing touches the entire company.

Marketing must partner with every other function in the company, connecting all efforts in cohesive support of a growing pipeline of customers. Having marketing in charge of oversight and measurement gives a company’s functional departments a defined and collaborative framework to hold each other accountable to make the customer experience what it should be.

A special focus for the marketing team within our company is working closely with the sales team to develop marketing initiatives that create awareness of new solutions for our customers. As a stand-in CMO, I relearned the value of selling new products and features to customers who were already doing business with us. Your chances of selling to an existing customer are 60% to 70%, compared to 5% to 20% when targeting new prospects. Further, existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products than new customers. This is why it’s so important for marketing teams to spend a lot of time with customers.

Marketing initiatives should evolve from consistent customer feedback.

As interim CMO, I emphasized the importance of spending time with customers because it is one of the best ways marketing people can invest time and energy. I set the example for our marketing team by initiating intentional customer conversations, starting with questions like, “What are the outcomes you want to achieve through our partnership?” I then let customers’ answers shape marketing initiatives to equip the other functions of our company to predictably deliver outcomes that meet customer requirements. What better measure of your marketing efforts than customers telling you that you helped them gain market share, elevate their customer experience, grow faster and foster better employee relationships?

As a result of this engagement, I was open to adding a customer marketing function to our team when our new CMO proposed it, with a focus on customer advocacy, upselling and cross-selling.

A CMO’s pace and prioritization are similar to a CEO’s.

As interim CMO, I was reminded daily that there could not be pauses in the pace of marketing. As with CEOs, there are a million things that a CMO must do to keep up with running the business. Marketing creates value for other functions in the company and is an integral aspect of the products and services the company delivers. The marketing team creates content that contributes to a bigger brand presence so that when a sales representative is building or expanding a territory, they are prepared to start compelling conversations with the people that are ideal customers.

Key Lessons From My Time As CMO

The key takeaway I had from being immersed in marketing is that the team is equipped to supercharge every function in the business. Product marketing, for example, can make everyone in the entire company better at telling the story of the value you are providing your customers. It helps in many other ways as well, including:

• Helping you build a better product when feedback is shared about the outcomes your customers desire.

• Generating better documentation and mitigating against failure by unlocking the power of your platform.

• Removing friction from the buying process and helping you align price with value.

• Assisting you with onboarding new employees.

My advice to other companies is this: If there is an opportunity or a lull in a position within your company, whether it’s in marketing or another role, use it as an opportunity to pull in an employee from a different department. You will find that this can add value on both ends—new ideas will be generated, and different perspectives will be seen, ultimately creating a stronger team.

My time as interim CMO came to a close after a full year when we successfully hired an experienced leader for the role, and I was able to refocus my efforts on other teams. It was a fun ride and a great learning experience.


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