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Cover your flank as a new SaaS CMO

Get a solid tactical plan running ASAP so you have the freedom to build strategy.

Congratulations on the new post as CMO. You need to start immediately to prove to your CEO that he/she made the right decision to hire you, or before long, you’ll be looking for a new job. While the first 100 days has always been an important phase for new CMOs, now it’s crucial to establish success as you are onboarding. (For a deep dive on succeeding in your first 100 days as a marketing leader, download our free playbook here.)

So much for the good news.

The bad news is that it’s unlikely your predecessor left because everything was going so well, and it’s likely that there is a revenue generation or brand/product/positioning issue, or all of these at the same time.

In my observations of many CMOs over more than 20 years, there is a divide between those who focus on strategy and brand and those who lean toward the quotidian business of lead generation and sales support; few seem able to do both.

Which kind of marketing leader are you?

I wrote a blog on this divide (and you can read it here), but this blog’s about a different but related dichotomy: CMOs who come into a company where revenues are stalled and either dig in and fix the stuff that’s broken (whatever that may be) and those who seem hell bent on repositioning a brand as their first high-impact project, and to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in the power of brand and thought leadership to propel marketplace change. In fact, I’ve built my fair share of such programs for clients here at Austin Lawrence Group. And there are definitely companies out there that have the current situation well in hand but need to clear a position for themselves to extend their reach to new buyers, command a price premium and accelerate growth.

For the vast majority of SaaS CMOs, the situation is likely a combination of two competing imperatives to address immediate revenue growth and sales support, while building and executing a strategy for a brand that lacks positioning that can drive success to the next level. And this blog is for you.

What to do if lead generation is a near-term priority.

If your situation includes a lack of demand (or lead) generation, then there is likely a lot of work to do (with a need to do it right away) to understand why and deliver some quick wins:

Prospect pain points and buying behavior is a great place to start. You can get a good understanding right away by talking with sales development reps and account executives who are charged with making appointments and closing deals. Armed with this basic intel, you can now compare to the messaging you’re putting out in the market and make and test some tactical adjustments.

Deep discussions with and listening in on calls with SDRs and AEs can help you define a small number of high-impact content items to build out of the gate that will help the sales process along. You also can see if these people have built their own stuff that can be used as downloadable content; it’s not uncommon to find ROI calculators, justification tools, RFP responses (you can make into a “model RFP,” one of our favorite bottom-of-funnel downloads) and more. These new lead magnets will start developing new MQLs that you can either nurture further or pass to sales depending on how desperate they are for something to pursue.

Promote your new lead magnets on social media including LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Content marketing is more expensive on LinkedIn, but many are more comfortable with the idea of reaching B2B audiences there rather than on FB or Insta, but the data tell us that all three are good choices.

Optimizing whatever marketing tech you have already can usually drive results sooner than adopting new stuff, assuming you or your marketing agency team have the skills to do so. If you are on HubSpot (which is our platform of choice for most entrepreneur-scale SaaS firms), additions to the software over the last couple of years may have passed you by, and optimizing your use of its various features (chat, reporting, CRM and workflows to name a few) could provide a quick jolt of new opportunities at little to no cost.

Buy some emails from a reliable list vendor. Email marketing remains one of the most effective means of generating a response. The quality may not be as good as sales-sourced or inbound leads, but it can prime the pump and provide good learnings. And if your targeting and messaging are on- or near-target, you’ll generate some real opportunities along with the waste.

Build a quick pay-per-click campaign. Just like email marketing, there’s more waste than with inbound or sales-sourced leads, but you can get things happening now. You’ll need a different and deeper landing page than is customary for inbound leads; PPC landing pages should be like deep single-page sites of their own with plenty of detail and a number of CTAs. Why, you may ask? Because PPC traffic has come on the basis of very little information and you’ll need to educate them quickly on your value prop.

Find out what trade publications are offering online events you can sponsor over the next 90 days and get one or two approved and in production. The lead-up to these events will be good to help you learn the business and also recruit others to help you make them a success. You’ll also learn a lot about your organization from how this all works out.

By taking some or all of the ideas above and adding your own, you’ll have a pretty good tactical plan for the first few weeks of your tenure, allowing you to focus on the strategic (assuming you have an in-house team or at your agency that can implement it for you).

Once you have a tactical plan developed, socialize it with your management, peers and stakeholders (i.e., sales, customer success, etc.) to gain consensus. This shouldn’t take very long, and if it does, your next step must be to uncover the politics behind any resistance you experience.

New CMOs need a second set of eyes and ears.

This is where my next recommendation could come in very handy: bring in your own right hand. In fact, I don’t think a CMO should take a new job without some kind of authority to hire or bring along a trusted second-in-command, chief of staff or executive assistant. As the leader of marketing, you won’t always hear when staff are discouraged or discontent. And this is really important information to get as early as possible. It might be harder for this person to be your eyes and ears while work-from-home is the norm, but this condition will not last forever, and there still is important insight to be gained. And take it from me; you don’t want to be an island. You need internal cheerleaders to be a success.

Watch out for the disgruntled, passed-over employee.

The corollary to bringing in your own person is to watch out for the exec who didn’t get the promotion to CMO. This person is often disgruntled, and probably should have been let go     some time ago. If you can’t be certain they are on your team within the first 30 days or so, put a plan in motion to have him or her let go. I know this sounds cold, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the passed-over marketing person make the new head of marketing absolutely miserable and a good number of times has gotten the new CMO fired through their political machinations.

Somewhere about 60-90 days into the new job, you’ll be able to turn your attention to strategy. You’ll have learned a lot, have a tactical plan in place, figured out the politics and things are beginning to settle in. Now it’s time to do the work to deeply understand the business, competitors, customers, prospects and potential areas of growth – all in service of a unifying vision for the company and how marketing can drive toward that vision. Depending on your mandate from the CEO, it could take another three to six months to learn enough to build out that plan, and that, dear reader, is the subject for another blog.

Want to talk tactics or strategy for your SaaS? Feel free to book a meeting with me on the topic of your choice. Or download our free eBook on the new VP of marketing’s first 100 days.

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