Stop the CMO Merry-Go-Round in Technology Marketing

It’s not uncommon for several people to shuffle through the CMO role. Why? Are talented CMOs really so rare? Do companies have irrational expectations? Or are other forces at play?

I sat down recently with Tracy Eiler, a seasoned CMO who’s been through this cycle a few times. She’s come up with a set of rules to help stop the merry-go-round both for CMO candidates and for the CEOs who recruit them.

Rule : Ensure You Have a DNA Match
Technology marketing is a challenging job that is not well understood. When you hire a VP of Sales or a CFO, expectations are clearer. While the role is very broad, most often a CMO is hired for to  help solve a primary burning need:

  • To help refine and improve messaging (product marketing DNA)
  • To improve branding and awareness (corporate communications, PR, analyst relations DNA)
  • To improve lead generation (/demand generation DNA)

Of course, a CMO needs broad experience across marketing disciplines. The question is what “anchor” DNA does the CEO want? If your strengths align with the DNA the CEO is looking for, that sets you up for a strong working relationship.

Rule : Be Careful with First Time CEOs
Marketing in tech companies is sometimes seen as a necessary evil. At young companies, first time CEOs may be told by their boards that they need marketing. First time CEOs may not have experience with the way marketing works, particularly if they come from engineering disciplines. You’ll be learning about the product, and you may be teaching the CEO about marketing along the way. Typically engineering CEOs may have more of a tendency than others to micro-manage marketing since it isn’t a natural discipline for them. Test for this carefully in the recruiting process with scenario-based questions from your past.

Rule : Sales is Your Customer
Dave Kellogg of Host Analytics is an unusual CEO due to his strong marketing background. Tracy has adopted Dave’s mantra: “Marketing exists to make sales easier.” Of course marketing creates and promotes the brand, builds messaging, develops customer references, and more; lead generation is just part of the equation. You can set your marketing priorities by asking, “Will this help sales?” Sales is the CMO’s customer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean marketing should be a doormat or take orders from sales. Share your point of view and recommendations and don’t get pushed around.

Rule : Don’t Be the Last Person at the Table
Tracy’s friend and former colleague and marketing consultant Crispin Read came up with this rule. If the CMO is the last hire in the e-staff, there should be a good reason. Perhaps the company was focused on creating a more robust product or had to secure a round of funding to afford marketing. But, if you ask this question and the answer is unclear, it could be a sign that marketing will be the red-headed stepchild. Effective marketing is challenging enough; you don’t want to have to sell marketing value to the company once you’re there.

Rule : Be Careful if the CEO Says, “Our Last CMO Didn’t Get It”
If a CEO trashes the previous CMO (or other staff), Tracy gets nervous. The CEO is ultimately responsible for the success of the company. If marketing has not been successful, Tracy looks for logical reasons (ability to execute, culture fit, or DNA mismatch). She looks for the CEO to describe what went wrong, not just malign the former CMO.

Rule : There Are No “Purple Squirrels”
If a company is looking for someone with five years experience in an emerging market, who has taken several companies public, has an MBA, and deep demand gen and content marketing expertise, they may not know what they really need. Sequoia Capital recruiter Jaime Bott calls this kind of search the “purple squirrel”.

Tracy looks at lots of job specs. She jokes that the perfect CMO has a degree in engineering from MIT, a Stanford MBA, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Yale. And was a product manager at P&G.

Remember the DNA rule? All of that DNA does not exist in a single person. That’s why we call marketing a team.

Rule : Beware the Audition
Companies may make unreasonable requests in the recruiting process, such as asking candidates for a 100 day plan. Tracy says she is willing to attend a staff meeting and talk through issues facing the company. She’ll give a group presentation on a topic she knows well. But some companies are asking for 100 day plans, draft budgets, and organizational recommendations. These are things they’d pay a consultant thousands of dollars for. A busy professional won’t have the time, nor be willing, to go to this level of effort.

Tracy admits she did a few of these plans earlier in her career. Today, if the presentation or group brainstorm meeting isn’t enough, Tracy is willing to pass.

Tracy didn’t come up with all of these great rules on her own; they’re the product of experience coupled with collaboration from truly great CEOs she’s had the pleasure of working with, like Dave Kellogg, Bernard Liautaud, Quentin Gallivan, Wendy Lea, and Rahul Sachdev (himself a formidable first-timer).

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Tracy Eiler

Tracy Eiler has been a B2B technology marketer for longer than she cares to admit. Her DNA is brand and demand. She’s worked software companies public and private, large and small. She believes marketing exists to make sales easier, that your brand is your company’s promise to the customer, and that the glass is half-full.

Tracy EilerMarketing Executive