For CEOs

Signs Your CMO Isn’t Scaling

Post 3 of 4 in the Startup Series for CMOs.

In Startup CXO, I wrote that I always think the French Fry Theory can be applied to many things, usually other food items. The French Fry Theory is the idea that you always have room to eat one more fry, and in my case, I always do.

The same idea applies to marketing, because you can always do “one more thing.” One more press release. One more piece of collateral. One more page on the corporate web site. One more newsletter. Trade show. Webinar. Research study. Ad. Search engine placement. Vendor. System. Speech. Take your pick.

The world we operate in is so dynamic that marketing (when done well) is nearly impossible to ever feel like you’re completely on top of, and it’s near impossible to get closure. There’s always more to be done, and the trick to doing it well is knowing when to say “no” as much as when to charge into something. In my experience, CMOs who aren’t scaling well past the startup stage are the ones who typically do one or all of the following.

First, they’re stuck in “french fry mode” and treat all tasks like french fries. They focus on task execution (eating the next fry) and can’t pull up to think about whether they’re doing the right thing (should they really be ordering another plate of fries?) and they are simply not scaling. If your CMO is constantly putting out fires, that’s a sign that they may be too task-oriented and not strategic enough.

Another sign your CMO isn’t scaling is if they report on activity as opposed to outcomes. This is related to my prior point. When all the world is a task list, then report-outs are just volumes of tasks. But, tasks are not the same as productivity or results. I’m not sure why marketing ended up like this, but it’s frequently the only function in a company that spends time producing beautiful reports about all the stuff they do. It probably comes from years of working with agencies who report like that to justify client spend. Regardless, can you imagine seeing reports on activity instead of outcomes from other departments? Do you really need the report from the CFO that talks about how many collections calls the team made as opposed to reporting on bad debt? Or a report from the CRO talking about how many meetings a rep had with no mention of pipeline or closes - seriously? No, thank you. CMOs who can’t link activity to outcome with a focus on outcome are not scaling with the job, and for all you know they may be rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

A final sign your CMO isn’t scaling is if they spend disproportionate amounts of time on creative or agency work. That’s the glamorous and fun part of marketing, for sure. Having made TV commercials as a head of marketing when I was at MovieFone, I can attest to that. But even if you’re a big B2C marketer with a lot of agency and creative spend, you should be supervising that work, but spending all your time on it is a sign you’re not interested in all the other, well, french fries.

Marketing is becoming increasingly complex and differentiated, and it can easily be a service center as opposed to a strategic function. I don’t think that’s ideal, but that may be how some companies decide to run it. Even if it is a service function, your CMO needs the ability to create space in their day for thinking and analysis, they need to be strategic, and they need to be able to stop doing “one more thing.”

-Matt Blumberg, December 1, 2022.