Knowing the Ecosystem Is Everything: Advice for Hiring a CMORooted in Revenue Podcast

Hiring a CMO is about more than snagging a superstar marketer from a big-name company. Trust, ecosystem knowledge, and collaboration are also essential. On an episode of the Rooted in Revenue podcast, I discuss why many companies stumble in the CMO hiring process and why CMOs need to be part of corporate strategy. I also share two effective paths for early-stage companies looking to make their first marketing hire.

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Leadership experts often spout advice that goes something like this: An executive team should always row in the same direction.  There’s a lot of truth to that statement, but it’s an oversimplification.

It’s not enough to merely ensure you’re on the same page with the rest of your C-level leaders; you’ve got to dig in and share your hopes and dreams. If you want to actualize your vision for your company, your CMO must be in the loop. 

Too often, founders and CEOs leave their CMOs out of strategic planning. It’s an error that can lead to many misunderstandings and missteps, resulting in marketing ineffectiveness. 

Today, marketing is the tip of the spear in far more than just brand awareness and demand growth — it’s an essential lever for ensuring a company moves in the right direction. 

Marketers aren’t just selling a product or service; they’re selling a vision — your vision. And when you fail to let your CMO into the big-picture corporate strategy conversation, you’re likely setting your marketing team up for failure. 

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Effective marketing requires more than just industry knowledge. Ecosystem domain experts have their finger on the pulse of direct and indirect players.

When CEOs fail to communicate vision and strategic planning, they set their CMO up for failure. Open and honest communication channels are essential for marketers to develop and implement successful marketing strategies.” 

Visionary marketing plans aren’t a luxury exclusive to large, late-stage companies. It is possible for small to mid-sized companies to design and implement effective marketing campaigns on a budget — but who you hire matters.

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You may want a ‘yes-man,’ but you need a CMO who understands the ecosystem (especially when you don’t). 

 

Let me start with a story:

Fifteen years ago, I was offered a sales leadership role for a high-profile venture-backed company. After the usual rounds of interviews and negotiations, the CEO asked to meet in person to make it official and sign my contract. So, naturally, I obliged and hopped on a plane. 

After signing the dotted line, he said to me, “OK, so now, let’s really talk about goals, objectives and the next 90 days.” He proceeded to outline shockingly unrealistic performance expectations that didn’t align with the current realities of the market. 

 

Because we had established trust and because he recognized my ecosystem domain expertise, he was able to hear what I had to say. 

 

“Wow, those are steep,” I replied. “Maybe it’d be helpful if I modeled a few things for you.” I proceeded to outline high-level metrics for the company and the broader market, demonstrating that for his company to meet his expectations, sales would need to capture 30% of the entire industry in just 90 days. 

 

He leaned back with a look of exasperation and said, “I know what you say to be true.”

 

My modeling exercise put a kink in his revenue plan, but I’d also helped him see why his current assumptions wouldn’t pan out. 

A big part of what allowed us to hear one another was my understanding of the ecosystem. It’s not enough to understand marketing; CMOs must also be ecosystem domain experts. CMOs need to understand marketing strategy, their specific industry but also the broader network in which the company lives. Ecosystem domain experts know the players that directly and indirectly interface with the industry. 

 

Imagine if I’d simply nodded my head and agreed to his 90-day expectations. Or imagine if I didn’t have the prior knowledge to understand the unrealistic standards that would be used to measure my performance. I don’t know if I would’ve been fired after 90 days, but it certainly would’ve been a difficult three months.

 

When companies talk (and listen), that’s when success can emerge. 

 

If your CMO doesn’t know the vision, how can they be expected to sell the vision?

I’ve noticed a common trend: Heavy hitters in marketing aren’t always knocking it out of the park when they move from one organization to another. Why is that? 

 

They may simply be applying the same playbook to their new company, but I believe something else is going on. 

 

Often, high-profile CMOs are brought in and expected to focus on execution — developing an understanding of the company and its industry is placed on the back burner. 

 

Even if a CMO has a good understanding of the industry, if they lack knowledge of their employer’s strategy, they’re set up to fail. 

 

How can you expect your marketing team to sell your vision if you haven’t articulated your vision to your CMO? Yes, much of marketing is tactical, but your marketing experts will be limited in their capabilities without insight into the big picture — the strategy. As a result, they may even lead your company in the wrong direction. 

 

Your pie in the sky dreams? Your CMO needs to know them. It’s the only way they can develop a marketing plan that will ensure your company gets there. 

 

CEOs and CMOs should be joined at the hip. 

 

Your CMO must understand the business. A tactical understanding of best practices in marketing is not enough. 

When your resources are limited you have 2 hiring paths. 

Not all businesses are positioned to bring on a highly-esteemed (and highly-paid) CMO. So what do you do if you’re an early-stage startup looking to amp up your marketing efforts? Small to mid-sized businesses with limited resources have two viable paths — both come with upsides and downsides. 

1. Hire a doer.

When your company is in the early rapid growth stage, you need someone who can execute. A generalist can be a really good fit. You need a practitioner, someone who is still used to doing on a regular basis. They may even already work for your company. 

A doer may not be the best writer, but they will be able to write reasonably well. They may not be a graphic designer, but they have a design sense. They know the basics of email marketing, including Pardot and HubSpot. They’re not an expert. They’re not an “administrator,” but they know enough to get things done and partner with freelancers to fill in their knowledge and skill gaps. 

 

In the early stages, you need a doer. However, doers come with a downside: They’re often taskmasters, not in tune with the ecosystem, and not thinking about the long play.  

 

This is a viable path but probably not the best route if you’re looking to make a single hire. You’ll likely need to also engage a virtual CMO to help with strategic thinking, which can then be passed off to your doer for implementation. 

2. Look for a conductor.

Another option is to seek out a strategist. This is a senior-level hire in terms of ecosystem knowledge. They may not roll up their sleeves and dive into a project headfirst, but they’ll thoughtfully develop a plan and coordinate the implementation efforts. 

Conductors can generate big ideas. They have a strong understanding of the ecosystem. They can speak to the market and are likely comfortable hopping on a sales call. 

A conductor has the strategy but not the inclination to also carry things out, so a conductor must build a low-cost virtual team around them to produce their vision, including graphic designers, content writers and event planners. It’s a relatively inexpensive approach to covering your marketing bases while also bringing in someone who can see the bigger picture. 

Regardless of the path, you need to keep communication channels open. 

Whether you land on a doer or a conductor, your vision can only come to fruition if you value the role of your marketing team (however big or small) and keep them in your inner circle.

 

CMOs and first hires in marketing need to understand not just what the company does but also where the company’s headed. 

Talk, trust, and together you can transform. 

The time is now for legendary marketing. Let's talk.

I knew that Mark could help us based on his background and high standing in the video streaming ecosystem, but I was not prepared for the depth of his contribution. Working closely with our marketing and sales leadership, Mark expertly guided us in creating a new category called ‘Video Experience Automation Platform.’ This was a missing component to our previous efforts where we strived to clearly define how what we did was different and, better. As a scientist and technologist, it is rare to find a business and marketing leader with the command of a market and technology, which is why I can recommend Mark highly.

Abdul Rehman image
Abdul Rehman
CEO & Co-Founder, SSIMWAVE

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