The Wall St. Journal reported in March that the average tenure of CMOs had fallen six months in just one single year, to an average of 42 months.

If you are a CMO and don’t hear the clock ticking behind you, you aren’t listening hard enough.

Many of my clients and dearest friends find themselves in such a predicament. They have moved into a new company to take the CMO spot. Assume that the reason they are going into the new company is because something is broken – after all, they would not want to hire from the outside if everything was going well!

Here is the typical situation that they find in their new “gig”:

  • Marketing is not considered a revenue driver
  • Other departments have absorbed Marketing roles and responsibilities in the absence of Marketing leadership
  • There is little to no Marketing process or chain of command
  • Marketing is seen as a “support” group to the line business (either Sales in B2B or Sales Operations and Merchants in B2C)
  • No clear metrics are in place to evaluate marketing performance
  • Everyone is scrambling to place blame for the company’s poor performance and most agree that the fault is Marketing
  • The Marketing team is heavy on execution and light on strategy, since execution is all that was promised or delivered previously
  • Marketing offers and communication strategy are generic “one size fits all”
  • The CFO believes that Marketing is pure expense and should be cut to make the budget as much as needed

Given such a situation, it is any wonder that CMOs can last even 42 months!

Yet some do, and then even go beyond to make solid careers in their new companies. There are five steps that a CMO can take when they find themselves in such a situation. These steps improve their chances of surviving and making a difference at the same time.

Over the next several blogs, I will explore approaches and strategies for CMOs to incorporate in order to build credibility and demonstrate value in the organization. It is my intention that this series can make a difference in the length and the quality of experience for new CMOs.

FOCUS #1:  FITTING IN

I often tell my friends who are looking for a CMO position to not look for an organization that runs like a well-oiled machine. “If it wasn’t broken, they wouldn’t want to hire you to fix it,” I say.

But here is the paradox – while the organization is hiring you to fix marketing, the last thing you should do right away is fix marketing. I am not kidding – if you come in and upset the apple cart and challenge assumptions throughout the organization, you run a great risk of other executives ganging up and complaining. Complaining is not the biggest issue. After all, you have tough skin and do not shrink at “an exchange of values”. Rather, the problem is when these other departments begin to withhold their cooperation with you, which can damage the very strategies you are trying to implement across the organization. For example, in a retail organization, if store operations does not agree with your approach, you are very likely to get poor store execution. In many marketing programs, that can be the kiss of death. And it can also be the kiss of death for your career.

While it may be cliché, the first thing you should look to do in an organization, in order to influence new people, is make friends. Now I don’t mean lifelong buddies, but at least gain a sense of their perspective, their experience and their biases before you seek to change their approach to business. The relationships you build in other departments of the organization may very well be the greatest deciding factor in your ability to generate change over the long-term.

So while the temptation will be great to begin making sweeping changes in the marketing organization strategy tactics and approaches on day one, you actually have to “go slow to go fast.”

Remember, in this situation, marketing is not seen as a driver of revenue or a critical player in corporate strategy. These organizations are not “customer-focused” (even though they might say so). Instead, these companies are driven by sales objectives (usually top-line, revenue-based), cost based (from a labor and inventory management perspective) or margin-percentage based (often driven by finance).

While your customer-focused business approach is OBVIOUSLY the right answer, you will not be able to come in, give a sermon and have everyone fall into line. Relationships will be the basis for change – if you have their hearts, their minds will come. The converse is rarely the case.

So build those relationships. Also, make sure to meet the existing requirements for marketing, even if you feel that those requirements are ineffective and a waste of time and money. You cannot build relationships with department heads who feel you and your team have their heads in the sky and are letting them down on what they have come to  expect.

In my next post, we will discuss step #2 for CMO success – Organizing the Chaos.