The CMO’s First 100 Days

Sometimes it feels like a day just isn’t what it used to be. From a certain point of view, it isn’t. Thanks to the ever-quickening pace of technological advancement, what could be accomplished in a day 20 years ago can now be accomplished in hours or even minutes. Imagine what can happen in 100 days.

Three years ago, I wrote a book to give CMOs a roadmap for their first 100 days. Since it came out, I’ve been surprised by how much the role of CMO has changed in such a short time. Today, CMOs can expect their roles to be even more ambiguous as marketing shifts from creating campaigns to creating customer experiences across all touch points. As buyers complete much more of their decision process before contacting a sales person or visiting a retailer, there is even more pressure on CMOs to deliver growth for their companies. We aren’t just heads of marketing departments anymore. We are increasingly called on to be business leaders with the courage to break down silos wherever necessary and ensure that the customer remains the central focus.

Those changes mean that a CMO’s first 100 days are even more critical today than when I wrote the book. The role may have gotten bigger, but the essential steps to a successful first 100 days haven’t changed at all. Whether you’re a new CMO or a veteran, these steps can provide a guiding light for a role that’s constantly evolving.

The Work Begins Before Day One

To prepare for day one, it’s important to begin during the “t-minus” days. You have to recognize that, as a CMO, you’re fundamentally a marketing change agent. You’re not there to maintain the status quo. During the interview process, it’s really important that you get a good understanding of the magnitude and rate of change your company expects. You have to seek alignment from your CEO and C-suite peers on the kind of initiatives you plan on undertaking.

The Big Questions

In the first 30 days, it’s important to have big questions. I think great leaders lead through insightful questions, pointed questions—questions that reflect a genuine interest to understand.

If you come in on day one and you have all the answers, you immediately lose credibility. That said, by the time you get to the 100-day mark, your honeymoon’s over, and you better have some answers. You never stop asking questions, but the balance of questions to answers shifts pretty heavily in the first 100 days.

The Introduction

It’s important to align with your boss (the CEO). You have to make sure that you’re on the same page about the kind of change that he or she expects. Your peers may not have internalized your role yet, so part of the process of settling into your job as CMO is getting to know your peers individually. Take time on day one to set up coffee time or dinner time or lunch time to get to know them as people. What are the issues on their minds, what are the goals they’re trying to achieve, what’s their view of your organization? What do they expect your organization to be delivering to them? Get to know what motivates them as people, and it will be easier to anticipate potential points of resistance to the transformation agenda you’ll soon be sharing.

The Vision

Crafting a strategic vision is something you may have done before or this could be your first time. Either way, I’ve suggested a framework to CMOs that I call the strategic triad: customers, competitors, and capabilities.

Understand your customers, their needs, and their passions. Understand your company’s capabilities, your strategic advantages, and how those relate to your competitors. Ultimately, these help you craft a vision of how your brand can uniquely make a difference in the lives of your customers.

The First Challenges

It’s unrealistic to try to redefine major corporate strategy in 30 days. That process can be 90 to 180 days—depending on the size of the company or the magnitude of the changes. Inevitably though, you’re going to be faced with a decision in the first 30 days that you may not be prepared to make, but you’re going to have to make anyway. It’s helpful to have some guiding principles that ground you, so these early short-term decisions align with where you’re trying to lead the company.

For example, one of our clients knew coming in that his vision for his organization was to create bolder, more emotionally resonant advertising. When he started reviewing some campaigns early in his tenure, he had to say they weren’t up to the new standard. That created some angst, but it wasn’t a draconian move because he had principles to stand for. He coached and counseled and helped the people see a better path.

The Pressure

It can be an overwhelming job. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s your first time as CMO or fifth time as CMO. If it’s your first time, this is the biggest role you’ve ever been in. If you’ve done it five times, you’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Either way, there’s a lot of anxiety for the new CMO. You’re there to make things happen. You’ve been brought in with fanfare. You’re there to be a hero. But it’s a relatively lonely position. You’re the functional leader of marketing. Who’s going to be your sounding board? Who can you talk to about your strategy or what you’re thinking about?

To some degree, you have some important peer conversations. But it’s hard to have some of the conversations you want to have with your peers because your peers may be the source of the anxiety or the challenges you’re facing. I often hear that when CMOs get together, they realize they’re having similar kinds of challenges and issues. It’s a good group therapy session.

But while there’s anxiety, there’s a lot of excitement. Most of the CMOs I’ve gotten to know over the years are excited about being positive change agents. They’re there to make a difference. They believe in themselves and their companies or they wouldn’t have taken the job.

The Essential Quality Of Courage

As you’re forming your transformation initiative, you have to have the confidence and belief that what you’re trying to do is possible. Confidence and courage are essential ingredients in the success of any CMO. It’s not easy. You’re going to have difficult days and difficult decisions, so have the courage to persevere.