How an Interim Chief Marketing Officer can Improve Your Company
Although every organization relies on a wide range of skilled labor to be effective, key leaders will play an outsized role in your company’s overall success. Your Chief Operating Officer or Chief Financial Officer might drive operational effectiveness or keep costs in control. However, the loss of a successful Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Marketing Officer could dramatically impact your business’ revenue projections either immediately or in the long run.
In my role, I’ve spoken with hundreds of CEOs and investors on how to best deal with the unexpected departure of a CMO for the long term and the interim. In that process, I’ve developed five key points to help aid in this process for an easier transition period.
1. Stay Calm
Although you wouldn’t normally expect a veteran CEO or investor to panic, the pressures of high revenue targets, the increased work-loads, and in some cases, Wall Street can put a lot of pressure on the rest of the leadership team. On the other hand, the CEO may not have true insight on how their team is feeling with the void and they don’t have the bandwidth to gauge this. Regardless, the instantaneous spike of adrenaline that comes with losing a key player and the unawareness can cause a leader to make quick decisions, frequently opting for a familiar option.
I think it’s always a good idea to discuss possible paths forward with the management team and other internal staff. However, be careful about changing indicators with your internal marketing team, since they’ll be understandably concerned about the road ahead. Try to maintain transparency and make sure they know you’re developing a plan to keep them as calm as possible. Be inclusive and have frequent interaction with the team. The only thing worse than you panicking is them panicking.
2. Assess Your Internal Team
When possible, I believe you should always look to your internal team for your next leadership promotion. The reality is, especially in smaller organizations, that this person may not exist within the organization. Most truly great leaders, in this hyper-competitive market, are being given opportunities to lead. For that reason, they’re being poached from and placed in Chief Marketing Officer roles in new organizations.
Take this moment to understand how your CMO designed their department. In many cases, your CMO will have picked the reports that help fill gaps in their own capability set. Once your CMO is gone, will these direct reports guide you to select someone who is a direct replacement for your prior Chief Marketing Officer? Or will you use this opportunity to go in a new direction?
Moreover, be sure to gauge the internal team’s morale and use this opportunity for feedback on how the department is running. You will never get a more honest answer on what’s working and what’s not than when a team knows there won’t be repercussions from their former boss.
3. Reflect On Your Leadership
While it’s easier to asses the rest of your extended team, it may not be as easy to reflect on your leadership. You may assume that your former marketing leader is being offered more money, better stock, a fancier office, or a better product or service to market. You may also assume that this is their main reason for leaving and it gives you a clearer conscience. But honestly assessing if your leadership style could have been improved in any way to retain the employee may save you a lot of frustration down the road.
It’s not just about the company you work for, the product or service you market, or your compensation package. There are critical reasons for a leader moving on. These include being offered opportunities to experiment with new channels, having a voice in the leadership of the company, or having a sense of ongoing professional development. Just like asking your internal team for feedback, ask them what you could have done, or can do, differently.
4. Update & Document Marketing Plans
Whether you’ve got two weeks or two months’ notice, take advantage of that time. Have your Chief Marketing Officer update any internal marketing plans or strategy documents. Have them create a hand-over document with links to any key documents to give to your next marketing leader. Assuming they’re leaving on good terms, this is an excellent time to remind them that their legacy within your organization isn’t just about what they did while they were there. It’s also about how successful what they implemented during their tenure is in the long run.
5. Consider Your Short Term and Long Term Needs
Although another permanent long term solution is imperative, finding the genuinely right person will not happen overnight. Finding another great CMO in a competitive market can take 3 to 9 months on average. But even a 3-month absence can hurt the productivity of a high-performing company.
We recommend leveraging an interim CMO to fill the gap. Losing a great leader is very disruptive to any plans that you have. But I encourage people to see an opportunity within the challenge. Interim leaders don’t need to be a stop-gap. Frequently the needs you may have in the next 3-6 months don’t reflect what you need in the long term. If done strategically, you can hire an interim Chief Marketing Officer who has the experience, seniority, and specialized skills that a long term hire may not need. They solve short term and pressing challenges that go beyond the scope of the long term role.
We’ve seen companies bring in interim CMOs who have experience in different areas. That includes organization re-designs, advanced revenue modeling, or even experience around implementing new marketing technologies. These experiences can make a candidate expensive. In the short term, this can be very useful. However, in the long-term, it may not make sense to pay the premium for these skills when you need a Chief Marketing Officer who can execute an aggressive marketing plan flawlessly.
Final Thoughts on an Interim Chief Marketing Officer
I have now been an interim marketing leader at least five times. The work is challenging but rewarding. Working on constrained timelines without the benefit of accumulated knowledge from within the business can be difficult. But in most cases, the fresh perspective is greatly appreciated by my peers within the company. I’ve been able to approach this challenge through the eyes of a business owner, a CEO, and an interim Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and have found the five tips outlined above to be a useful guiding set of principles for success.