When Marketing Meets the New CEO

The old saying goes that the only constant in life is change – every seasoned professional knows the truth of this all too well. Sometimes change can be a welcomed relief within a company, and other times it feels as though it may rip out your beating heart and cast it aside without cause. If your organization recently went through an executive change, one of the above is about to become your reality.

A leadership change as drastic as the institution of a new CEO is no benign occurrence. But in order to help make this tectonic shift at the top a smooth and an effective transition, there are a few keys to keep in mind.  

Back to the Basics

Repeat after me: “CEOs are simple.” This isn’t a dig at them; they’re some of the smartest, savviest and most innovative people in the business world. No one works their way up to their level without an incredible sense of drive and pragmatism. As the air gets thinner in an organization, clarity is actually created and optics often become more black-and-white. This can feel foreign to marketing execs who are used to looking at their efforts through a complex lens of engagement – marketing is after all, largely a function of influence. Despite this, CEOs usually want to know one thing: “What is  ____ yielding?”

If the CEO sits down with the CMO, she’ll want to know how the company’s marketing spend is impacting the bottom line. She’ll want to know what the return is for each dollar spent and how you’re building the company’s brand. You’ll launch into detail around the programs you’re running, your buyer engagement strategy and the nitty-gritty of your content creation plan. Frankly, she doesn’t care. It is either working, or it is not.

When the CEO first comes on board, she’ll have a lot of these very straightforward questions in store for you. Your job – and best bet for getting things started on the right foot – is to prepare simple, concise, results-based messages in response. This is where benchmarking performance will provide critical quarter over quarter context.

You’ve Got to Have Answers to Even More Questions

When a new CEO takes her spot at the helm of the company, they’re going to truly dig in to determine the trees that have gotten lost in the forest. You might even feel like you’re being interrogated. But remember, it’s all for a noble purpose. The job of CEO is to be on a perpetual fact-finding mission in order to align what happens within to the true needs of the market, this alignment will keep the company squarely on the path toward success. This requires questions – and thoughtful, honest, comprehensive answers.

Here are a few more questions you can expect about marketing from your newly-minted CEO:

  • “What is our marketing investment yielding us?”
  • “What’s our brand position within the marketplace?”
  • “How are we creating customer advocates?”
  • “Where are our best customers coming from?”

You should be able to answer each of these, as succinctly and objectively as possible – if there’s a problem, now is the time to expose it. Also, expect the new top dog to really start digging in when the first answer doesn’t give her what she’s looking for. For example, maybe she’s hit on a breakdown between sales and marketing. When asked about why it exists, you might explain that neither department uses the system that’s in place to bridge communication between them.

A likely response from your new CEO? “Okay, well they’re going to start using that – and we’re going to overhaul the process, starting with our shared KPIs, so we can align the two teams.” It could be a simple process tweak but just like that, a day-to-day aspect of marketing and sales’ jobs could change. Be careful not to jump to conclusions that’s a bad thing, though; in fact, it could be the best thing that’s happened to your company in a long time.

…Or Be Prepared to Change your Entire Marketing Strategy

The hardest part about welcoming a new chief to lead your brand is that your answers might not be sufficient for them, and your current strategy might really be broken or poorly translated into process. A good CEO will be buyer-obsessed, zeroed in on the buyer journey and experience. If the results you’re getting are not worth the costs and resources invested in getting them, your new chief will likely want to overhaul your marketing strategy, top to bottom. Yes, this sounds scary. Yes, this sounds like hard work. And it’s probably both.

But even though it may feel like the new kid on the block (your CEO) is working against you, odds are they’re on your team. They might see something you missed or have context that you don’t, and could steer you in rebuilding a marketing machine that really flies. It all starts with open communication, trust and confidence that they have what it takes to lead your company even more effectively than it was run before.

When a new leader enters the scene, the dynamics of your organization will likely shift… your daily workflow might change… and even your marketing strategy might need to be re-tooled. Just understand that the company’s success is at the core of their focus. No one wants to be left pushing a rock uphill, alone. Focus on keeping an open mind, embracing the change, and keep a religious focus on ROI and revenue centric metrics and you’ll find yourself aligned to the most powerful advocate in the company.

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