Why are CEOs perennially frustrated with their marketing leads? 

We’ve all heard the David Packard quip, “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” Typically, CEOs don’t come from a marketing background, so it's up to the head of marketing (be that a CMO or VP) to demonstrate both their core charter and the value they add. 

CEOs: Brush Up on Your Marketing Know-How

But CEOs ought to meet marketers halfway and learn the basics. Because increasingly, in a “buyer’s world,” the fate of your business hangs on the success of your marketing team.

We think the primary driver of CEO dissatisfaction with their marketing leads is two-fold: First, not understanding what modern marketing is or what it does. And second, not understanding what type of marketer your company needs at its current stage of growth.

So if you’re a CEO, how do you find the right partner for growth and help her succeed?  

The following three steps will help you choose the best marketing lead for you: 1) understand the true scope of the modern marketing organization, 2) know when to go big and scale, and 3) synthesize 1 and 2 to find the right person your company needs now and be prepared to help guide your new partner as your company scales.

1. Understand Today’s Core Marketing Specialties 

We’re not saying CEOs need to know everything there is to know about marketing. But we are saying that it’s advantageous to be as fluent as possible about five core marketing specialties: 

  1. Demand Creation: Educating the market about why they need your service or product, and driving qualified pipeline to your sales team.
  2. Field and Channel Operations: Working on site and through social and communications platforms to connect to markets. 
  3. Systems and Operations: Developing the technology platforms that allow decision makers to benchmark performance, measure results and gain insight into customer relationships — in addition to managing all the data involved. 
  4. Corporate Marketing: Strengthening the brand through analyst relations, public relations and other traditional marketing methods. 
  5. Product Marketing: Telling the story of your product, and positioning your product — and, by extension, your company — to lead a larger conversation. 

While understanding how to execute in each of these areas is the reason to hire a CMO in the first place, CEOs still need to understand when to deploy them. 

2. Know When to Go Big with Marketing

There’s no sense focusing on demand creation before you really know the market fit for your product. 

You’ll want to emphasize different forms of marketing at different stages of your company’s growth. 

The infographic below offers guidelines for the typical startup (your results may vary) of how important a given specialty is at a given stage, with 1 being the least important and 5 being the most. 

marketing specialties and stages when you need them
                

A few key takeaways:

  • From pre-launch to $2 million annual recurring revenue milestones per year, product market fit and corporate marketing require outsized attention. You need to get the story right and test it with real customers
  • When a company passes the $2 million annual recurring revenue milestone, it is typically ready to scale pipeline creation and turn those seemingly random customer wins into a repeatable customer acquisition machine
  • From $10 million to $20 million, demand generation remains crucial, but systems and operational excellence becomes critical as well. Visibility is key to measuring ROI on increased spend and making the right business decisions. Knowing how to build the right marketing and sales tech stack is key
  • Finally, in the $20 million to $50 million stage, field and channel marketing becomes a high priority. The law of big numbers applies here and maintaining those great growth percentages requires scale. Systems and operations become less important because, by this point, teams and processes should be thoroughly established. 

3. Find the Right Leader

Clearly CEOs can’t know everything about marketing, but these days, even marketers have a primary core discipline. 

While a top CMO needs fluency in the five marketing specialties, there is hardly ever a case where a CMO will be an expert in all. 

At a practical level, CEOs can expect a good head of marketing to specialize in two or three — which puts the onus on the CEO to choose a marketing chief who has the right two or three for what their company needs at a particular time.

But even though the chief marketer’s skills must match the demands of the moment, certain immutable leadership traits separate the best from the rest. 

First and foremost, the best marketing chiefs are also “doers.” Marketing is an active discipline, and it takes leaders who are willing to do the work themselves to steer a department. 

Your marketing chief should also be able to strike a balance between gut instincts and careful data analysis. Relying too much on either means they’re liable to miss critical red flags and warning signs. 

Finally, CEOs should avoid candidates who come in with a set playbook, trying to sell you on the same plan that’s worked for them before. 

Any chief marketer worth her salt knows that each company is different, and demands their own specialized plan tailored to their situation and needs. If your potential VP of marketing can’t offer you that, then they aren’t the right person to lead your team. 

Marketers and CEOs Can Meet in the Middle

There’s another way of thinking about Packard’s “too important to be left to the marketing department” line. 

Perhaps, rather than attacking marketers, he was ahead of his time in encouraging CEOs to take a special interest in marketing — to get to know the basic marketing specialties, to understand when to deploy them and why, and to choose the right person to lead the team that will put it all into action. 

So to Packard’s line, we’d simply add one word — that marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department alone. CEOs should take their marketing operation seriously, and marketers can do a better job of helping them do just that. To that end, we hope that these three steps help repair some CEO and CMO relationships — or start some new ones.

Title image "Help wanted sign" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by andjohan