CMO Talks: 3 Things to Know Before Taking a New CMO Job

Posted on by David T Scott

Here’s a bit of news. CMOs get fired. A lot. In fact, we’re the most fired executive in the board room.

At any given time, it’s estimated that about one-third of all CMO’s are out of work or looking for their next gig, according to a 2013 Korn/Ferry study. Almost makes you want to switch careers and become a Starbucks barista, doesn’t it?

The thing is, you might be the greatest marketer on the planet, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re not in the right environment to succeed. For instance, you struggle to see eye to eye with a CEO that doesn’t understand marketing or appreciate the value our profession provides to the company. Or, maybe the product just doesn’t live up to it’s potential. Regardless, we find ourselves hitting the pavement and digitally knocking on doors looking for a better match.

With that said, we CMOs – more than any other executive sitting at the executive table – need to choose our next positions wisely.

To start, we need to extinguish the misconception that cool companies are cool to work for. That’s a hard allusion to dispel when you look at companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney, and Facebook among others. I mean, how cool would it be to land the CMO job with a company that promotes fun products, right?

I used to think that way until I worked at some great brands and realized that the work environment didn’t exactly fit the brand’s outwardly cool-factor. It’s not always the case, but if we’re looking for a healthy career, we need to dig a little deeper and look beyond how we perceive the brand from a consumer standpoint – it’s not all Mickey and Pluto and loveable polar bears – and see it for what it really is.

What I discovered was that the brand of the company doesn’t really matter as much as having a solid working environment – one where you are supported and are set up for success.

When looking for that next stage of employment, there are three essential elements – a litmus test of sorts – to keep in mind to help make your next job a success. And if your dream job doesn’t have these three things, RUN THE OTHER WAY!

Test #1: Do you like your prospective boss?

The job responsibilities, the perks and the money maybe great, but none of it matters if you don’t get along with (or simply hate) your boss. Trust me, it happens.

But what should you look for in a new boss? You need to know that they are a person you can respect and have values you agree with. And, probably most importantly, you have to know if they will have your back.

Remember that the interview process at this level is a two-way street and you should (and need to) put them through as much scrutiny as they do you. Ask them questions to learn if they’re a compatible employer.  What is their management style? How did they get along with your predecessor? And, who do they admire as a leader and why? These questions will reveal very specific qualities in the person you will be spending a lot of time with and help either lead you into or steer you away form taking the job.

There’s no question that unsolicited feedback becomes invaluable when evaluating a place of employment and potential boss. So take the time and use the resources you have at hand such as social media and your own personal network to see if you can talk to someone who has worked for the company and (preferably) directly with your potential new boss.

“Getting the perspective of current and former employees, partners and vendors would be really useful in building a complete understanding of culture, values and expectations,” says Jose Ramos, CMO for Astrum Solar.

You also want to pay attention as to where your new role sits within the organization.

“It’s not a hard and fast rule, but a quick way to take the pulse of how strategic of a function marketing is considered within the company is to look at who the CMO reports to,” says Peter McStravick, Principal at Heidrick & Struggles, a leading executive recruiting firm. “If the marketing head is a direct line into the CEO then it suggests the company is at least market oriented..”

But as many questions as you ask and people you talk to, nothing will replace your gut. The ultimate question should be: do you trust this person? If your gut says no, you guessed it…RUN THE OTHER WAY.

Test #2: Do you believe in the product, does it work?

Can you market a tobacco product if you don’t smoke? Or, the next Grand Theft Auto if you hate video games? Well, you probably can, but its certainly easier if you’re passionate about it. This issue is probably more likely to occur in the technology field where a lot of times the product just doesn’t do as promised. And marketing a product that doesn’t work as intended can make your job much harder – instead of marketing, it simply becomes lying.

“A lot of things are expected of the CMO, but lying shouldn’t be one of them,” says Mitch Bishop, the CMO of Moovweb. “The magic of good marketing is when all you have to do is amplify the truth in the product, not bend it. If the product works and you believe in it, it makes the job that much easier.”

Whatever you do, don’t just take the company’s word for it that the product is the greatest thing since. So, when you receive the offer, make sure you ask for a demo or sample. Play with it. Taste it. At the very least, talk to someone who has used it. So when the time comes, you can and will stand behind the product because you know first-hand how great it is.

Test #3: Are you set you up for success?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked into a new job only to find that your budget has been cut, your staff is inexperienced, or your boss believes marketing is a bunch of hocus-pocus. If I could, I would have three hands raised right now.

Before you sign on the dotted line, you’ll want to make sure that you’re in the best position to be successful. So here is what you may want to know:

What will your budget be: According to the Corporate Executive Board’s 2012 Marketing Investment and Spend Trends study, the average company spends six percent of sales revenue on Marketing. Growth related companies such as SalesForce and Marketo spend as much as 20% or more. Anything less than six percent means you may be twiddling your thumbs; or worse, it may demonstrate that the company doesn’t see the value in marketing programs.

What will your team look like: Sometimes you’re asked to build a team, and other times you inherit one. Either way, you’ll want to understand what you’re working with and what you’re up against. An incomplete team is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have the commitment from the organization to fill in the gaps. It could be a very bad sign, on the other hand, if there is no commitment to bolster additional staffing.

Does the organization see the value in marketing: You want to make sure you’re wanted in the organization, not just a box being checked off or a hole being filled. So when you get the offer, you should do some sleuthing within the executive team. Does the CFO see you as a cost center? If so, RUN. Does the VP of sales think of marketing as a crutch for poor performing sales people? If so, RUN. You get the idea.

“The nature of the relationship between sales and marketing is a key decision input for me,” says Ramos. “Having eyes wide open about strengths and weaknesses of the relationship is critical to understanding where progress is possible and where it will be stymied.”

Having an honest dialog about these things can go a long way.

“I see many new hires derailed by a lack of clarity with their boss regarding [the job],” says Paul Millard, Managing Partner of The Millard Group – a boutique executive search firm, “This should not be a mystery. This should be covered up front.”

While I would never wish for anyone to be out of a job and forced to find new employment but, unfortunately odds are against us as CMOs that we will have to at some point. Hopefully with these three simple tests you can avoid a bad decision and ultimately find the right opportunity to flex your marketing muscles.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear from you as to what guidelines you use when evaluating your perfect opportunity?

David T. Scott has served as CMO and head of marketing for startups, Fortune 500 companies and billion-dollar organizations, including GE, AT & T Wireless, PeopleSoft, Foresee, and Intermec. He is the author of The New Rules Of Lead Generation.

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