For CEOs

How To Engage With The CMO

Post 4 of 4 in the Startup Series for CMOs.

How should you engage with your CMO? Similar to interactions with all CXOs, you’ll have to capitalize on your moments, but there are a few ways I’ve typically spent the most time or gotten the most value out of CMOs over the years.

One of the key ways to engage with the CMO is to include them in meetings with the rest of the go-to-market (GTM) executives as a group, not in a silo. While of course I have always had 1:1 meetings with my CMO, I find the most valuable conversations are the ones with the GTM group as a whole, talking about shared objectives and the underlying drivers and coordination points to get there.

You might say, “Well, Matt, that’s true of all the GTM executives,” but I disagree. It’s even more important to have the CMO in the same room as the other GTM roles like Sales, Account Management, and Partnerships. Marketing needs to be on the leading edge of GTM, not just a function working in a silo at the direction of the other GTM leaders. A lot of what happens in the GTM meetings is nuanced. Since Marketing has to somehow make everything tangible, the earlier they hear about plans and can start thinking about execution, the better off the whole company is.

On the other end of the spectrum, I find it very useful to create a thinking session with the CMO. Together, we take time away from the day-to-day to dive deep on strategic topics like the company’s positioning, voice, or brand. Sometimes I like to do these in the context of something that piqued my interest, like a relevant marketing book or business journal article, or something I ran across on the internet, or something I learned at a conference. Sometimes I don’t come with a specific perspective or idea, but the thinking session is valuable either way.

I find the most creative thinking and interesting ideas occur in some of these longer form, unstructured conversations. The sessions are not limited to ideas, positioning, or branding, because even the quantitative part of marketing involves a lot of creativity. The thinking session can be wide open in terms of agenda, but it needs to be scheduled and prioritized, otherwise all these ideas just ramble around and we don’t make as much progress.

Finally, a lot of my engagement with the CMO is actually a continuation of a longer relationship, before they become the CMO. Let me explain what I mean. For years at Return Path, we went through CMOs at the same clip as other companies: every 1-2 years we’d make a change and bring in the new flavor-of-the-month CMO, and we had a pattern of hiring them from the outside.

Over time, though, we realized we would be much better served by having more continuity in marketing. This means investing in our own people and promoting them from within. The last few CMOs we had at Return Path were all promoted into the role—so I got to know them pretty extensively ahead of time. I was not only thrilled to give them a shot at the top job, but I was in a great place to understand their strengths and weaknesses coming into the role so I could most effectively mentor them. Of course, you can say the same thing for the other functional departments, but marketing is more acute, based on the average tenure of CMOs.

Did you miss the other CMO Startup Series posts? Click to read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

-Matt Blumberg, December 8, 2022.