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CEO Onboarding for the SaaS CMO to Accelerate Results and Increase the Odds of Success

Onboarding a new CMO is crucial to their success and that of your company. You might be tempted to think that as a senior executive, your new marketing leader doesn’t need your help to get started, but nothing could be further from the truth. While he or she doesn’t need you (the CEO) to cover the basics, that should be part of all new hire onboarding at the executive level through HR, she/he will need your support and guidance to ensure a quick and effective start and positioning toward long-term success. And since the CMO is critical to you making your numbers, it should be more than worth the investment.

CMO Onboarding Video version A SUBBED

Here are 11 areas I recommend focusing on to help your new CMO succeed:

Vision. Share your aspirations for the company freely and openly. Allow it to be exercised in deep conversations with your new CMO. It’s likely that you brought this person in to fix a problem or bring new skills to your executive team. If you don’t openly share what you’re hoping to achieve, and accept reasonable feedback on what it will take in terms of time, money and people, you cannot hope to get there. You might find that using a methodology like Gino Wickman’s "Traction EOS"  is helpful to get your whole management team on the same page. If your company is relatively young, be prepared for this vision to be challenged and morph over time. If you have any doubts about the cohesiveness of your team, consider reading “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. It offers great insights and tools you can use to get everyone on the same page.

Agenda. You need to be open about your personal agenda. If you’re planning to build the company for sale, or to become an acquirer, the CMO needs to know. This role is instrumental in shaping public perception and the levers pulled by marketing can be extremely powerful in driving corporate outcomes. At the same time, it’s not unusual for CEOs to use company marketing and PR resources to enhance their public perception and positioning for the next big thing. Make all of this clear early on, so your CMO knows what your ideal outcome is and can help you get there.

Mandate. You need to make clear to your entire executive team what you expect your CMO to accomplish, and how their organizations must work together to help make it happen. I find that aligning organizations sometimes takes a mixture of incentives and disincentives (it’s amazing what this can do to reduce dysfunctional politics). The CMO’s mandate should be negotiated as part of the hiring process and carried through to annual reviews and incentive compensation. 

Measurement. You report KPIs to the board and investors, and the CMO role is critical to achieving many of these, especially for SaaS companies. Put in place an aggressive, yet achievable plan for your CMO to drive outcomes that align with the expectations you’ve established, Better yet, have your CMO help you define what success looks like so you can both win.

Compensation. Make sure that your CMO has a contract that represents all the commitments you’ve made during the hiring process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen great CMOs throw in the towel when a CEO fails to make good on promises made. As resentment increases, effectiveness decreases. This is much more prevalent in closely held companies than those with institutional or public ownership, but it’s a real problem. The other side of the coin is that a CEO who keeps his/her commitments can build loyalty that’s invaluable.

Resources. If the current budget and manpower aren’t adequate to do the job, either adjust the resources or change the goals. Bringing in a new CMO is a good opportunity to reassess investment and objectives. And a good CMO should be able to help you rapidly build a plan, including resources required, during the first 100 days. You should support as much as possible the resource request made by your new CMO; if he/she feels a lack of commitment on your part, you’ll be looking for a new CMO sooner than you’d like.

Endorsement. Your CMO likely came to you with a suggested 100-day plan before starting in the job. Work with him/her to solidify that plan and then give it your full backing – using your political capital to get whatever resources are needed from your direct reports and their organizations. A 100-day plan without your political clout is much less likely to be realized. If you like, feel free to share our 100-day plan template with your new CMO. Bring the CMO into all relevant meetings and planning cycles and integrate his/her planning with yours.

Politics. This organization is likely your creation, so there’s no one more qualified than you to fill your new CMO in on team dynamics. If you have an EA, give him/her permission to debrief the CMO on the landscape, too, as he/she probably has a different and valuable view of the way the politics play out. I’ve met a fair number of CEOs who disdain and disavow politics, but my POV is that companies are social organisms and there is a hierarchy (social and professional) and a set of unwritten rules that also make the business run. Better your CMO gets a handle on this before it has a chance to become a problem.

Immediate issues. You probably didn’t reveal all the challenges your organization faces (or at least not all the gory details), and now it’s time to fess up. Seriously, your CMO needs to know as soon as possible where the challenges lie and what you think can and should be done to address them. 

Sacred cows. Face it, every company has them. Things that can’t be changed even in the face of overwhelming logic. The CMO must be made aware so the impediments these immovable objects create can be minimized and worked around.

Delegate and verify. You and/or other execs likely were picking up the slack due to a lack of a CMO or poorly performing CMO. Now you have a new exec who’s chomping at the bit to show you his/her stuff. Give as much rope as you’re able, and ensure you meet and are reported-to frequently enough to maintain management control while creating space for your new CMO to succeed.

Bringing on a new CMO is important to your success and that of your company. Doing it right, through deep and purposeful engagement, can increase the likelihood that you’ll achieve your goals. If you have suggestions about CMO onboarding, please feel free to add a comment below, and if you want to dig deeper, please email me at kl@austinlawrence.com.

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