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When Taking Risks as a B2B CMO Makes Sense

Posted February 22, 2024
Monique Olan, Founder & Fractional CMO at PivotalPitch, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Monique shares why your first few months in a position are the best time to shake things up, and how to navigate change later at an organization.

Monique Olan, Founder & Fractional CMO at PivotalPitch, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Monique shares why your first few months in a position are the best time to shake things up, and how to navigate change later at an organization.

Let’s talk about when taking risks as CMO makes sense. I mean this in two ways and you can pick which one we go with first. There’s a certain amount of equity we walk with into an organization and sometimes we have to burn a little to make more. The other is when do we make the choice to invest in something that’s hard to measure? You choose where we go first.

“Let’s start with the first one, let’s talk about burning some of that equity.”

I see this happen in two ways. Sometimes, marketers have to invest in long-term tactics and sales ends up feeling neglected and sometimes you have to battle with the executive team on what use cases and ICP are actually making sense. Where do you see this kind of battle taking place?

“Those are places where I see them pretty often. You’re coming in as a CMO, whether it’s a full-time CMO, a Fractional CMO, or whatever the format is these days. An important reminder for us to holistically remember, you’re there for a reason. You are there to make change. You’re there probably to challenge the status quo. Also, if they aren’t challenging their own status quo, where are they going to go when it comes to growth? The constant change we’re seeing in market, anyway, is such an important consideration in the context of whether you are going to even get to constantly growing revenue or scale within the business.

“So, sometimes, it is a matter of you are trying to look at the business and you’re understanding their solution. They have done this lovely work around buyer personas and ICPs and they‘ve aligned that these are pain points they care about and features that matter against it and so forth. It’s important to test that theory when I am coming in as a CMO with a company. I tell them that I appreciate the tribal knowledge that’s coming my way. I would like to run some data that exists already. Then I would also like to see how a couple of things play out in the next couple of months to ensure we truly are aligned to current marketing trends. As long as you are positioning yourself as my goal is your growth, my goal is your greatest potential to revenue, you’re going to win that kind of conversation a little bit more.”

The beginning of your engagement with a company, whether you’re going in fractionally or full-time, is the perfect time to say, hey, this is as close to a neutral party as I will ever get. I want to leverage that to analyze a few things. If you could give me the space to do that and talk to some of your customers, everybody wins.

“There are a lot of things that I’ve seen. For a recent company that I have been working with is even just an understanding around the product offering. It is a fun practice if you’re coming into a business to ask different people across the company what it is they do, what are the solutions they provide and what they solve. And I will tell you you can get a different answer from pretty much every department. You might even get a different answer from the CEO to even his/her right hand man.”

I had one CEO who was very passionate about how everybody needed to learn and understand the company pitch, but you can only do that after you figure out all the table stakes stuff. And, it’s amazing to me how many smaller companies in particular or even larger ones make all these decisions without actually talking to the customers.

“For any CMO coming in, it’s a huge practice to do a secret shopper and understand the journey and experience from the other side. Then, another one is talking to some of your customers across the breadth. Don’t just talk to the one that’s constantly advocating for you as the awesome solution that they have in their business, but try to get that opportunity to understand the perspective of different levels of users. Get to a SaaS company, a service company or any other type of B2B business. Try to understand the different types of customers you have and talk to a few of them as that will give you some good layers that knowledge from the leadership team won’t always be able to give you.”

I love it! Let’s talk about a slightly different scenario. I see this a lot too, especially when a new leader outside of marketing comes in, they’re going to talk about what worked at their past company and push that even if that company was vastly different. How do you recommend navigating those kinds of conversations when you’re already embedded in the organization?

“I find that one of the best opportunities is if you say, okay I know I have seen A, B, C work before is contextualizing it into their business. I’ve done this pretty often as when I do talk to different companies I am working with more than one at a time. This opportunity to say, yes I have seen this thing work, but let me explain how that conceptual thing would work in this business and the potential outcomes and opportunity and play that out in a short to mid or long-term gain too. We’re constantly battling this need to grow for a long-term goal of growing the business while trying to also make short-term impacts.

“If there’s an opportunity to get around that understanding of, yes,  you’ve seen this from company A, but let me tell you how this could work here. We will do A, B, or C, this is ultimately the end goal. Here’s what we could do if we achieve that goal. I think saying what happens after success is such a powerful note too.”

I feel like a part of that should be an exercise of figuring out what your goals should be and putting up some guardrails. I think of the bumper rails of the bowling alley. We’re going to try your thing, but if we aren’t seeing X, Y, and Z, then we are going to pivot away and do this other thing, so you don’t spend too much time trying something new.

“That’s a good point. Since we came out of 2024 planning at the end of last year and going into this year, if this isn’t something you already do, it’s worth a consideration. You should have overarching business goals. I’ve had clients who decide, okay, I want to set all these different objectives for the team. And I reply, cool! That’s 27 things for them to focus on and that is not feasible to prioritize. I worked with Gannon O’Reilly at another company I was at. He always enforced in us this ideal of relentless prioritization and I’m such an advocate of that. It sits in my head as one of my top few little points. It’s the concept that there’s no such thing as more than one number one and I’ve lived by that with each team member. I help them prioritize with the team, holistically prioritizing them as marketing across the year prioritizes.

“Nevertheless, what you should look at is whether the business has key objectives and growth goals. From those goals, can you set one to probably three key objectives for marketing in that year. And, then off those objectives, which are ultimately your department’s goals, what are a handful you should be looking at. Depending on how big the company is, it should be anywhere from one to three initiatives each to achieve those goals within the business. And, then how do you align that across your quarters? That’s being able to piggyback off of the business goals and understand how to break that down smaller. But, then also how to pair it back up and prioritize them against each other will help you keep the team focused. Keep this idea of long-term gain with short-term initiatives in scope.”

It’s perfect! So save the hardest for last. It’s the hardest for me anyway. How do we navigate pushing through things we invest in that don’t necessarily show a one-to-one highly traceable return?

“It’s the ever-growing issue of the unmeasurable spaces. I think as part of leaders in marketing, holistically we need to be doing our best in market to constantly educate on the shifts in marketing. It’s funny. I always think that history repeats itself. I think back to the days before having the ability to track data and buyer journeys and we’re wondering how did we measure the eyeballs that hit that billboard?”

Incremental lift.

“I find it to be this way of finding alternative ways to measure, inform, or to that point, track the trend adjustments and what you’re doing in market against what you’re seeing on perhaps the next stage of areas where you can measure.”

I’m thinking of things like podcasts, community activities, and thought leadership. Often as a leader, I had to figure out when to let people shoot themselves in the foot, but give them those bumper rails I mentioned earlier so it didn’t get too far. Therefore, if we don’t believe in the podcast, and we’re having a hard time proving measurement, because we don’t have call automation. We can’t pick up when people are mentioning it, whatever the case might be, if you start seeing pipeline, everything else is constant. If we see pipeline drop by X percent, we are going to hit the rip cord and we’re going to start doing it again. So if you can have some kind of, we’re going to watch this thing, we are going to try to keep these other things stable so we know whether that’s what’s causing us to fall off the rails.

“Standard science fields have constants so that you can test a theory. I think that is so true to say here. That is what I was trying to hint at a little bit there is trying to measure the later metrics. If they aren’t measurable at that point, keep some constants in place, figure out how you let that either play out or stop to what your idea was there. And then does that impact the next layers of metrics that we can get to, which could be pipeline impact. It could be another stage of impact.

“I think that’s an important way to look at that. Interestingly, this is such an odd place for each business to determine how they want to do this, but are there other ways that you can get to some of that information too? How did you find us questions later on. They feel so old and dated, but they are so relevant today. No one is going to be against sharing that if they honestly remember.”

It’s still helpful. It’s a point.

“That gets to where understanding the impact of what data points matter against a person. I’m saying a person since they could be a pre-prospect. They could be in the buying stages. They could be a customer. They could be an old customer, not continued, whatever it is, against a contact. Understanding what data points matter to your business and then scoping them and setting them up and then how do you use them across teams. There have been powerful times when we’ve been able to say, this solution here, we have these as the three top pain points.

“We are under the assumption based on recent demand that pain point A is going to be the most powerful; so we are going to scope some campaigns and initiatives up front to drive pipeline against that. Other things stay the same. The great opportunity to have that metric, have that understanding against the contact, be able to weigh that into the sales process, asking the question in the sales process to the salesperson, what ultimately closed for them? 

“Is it pain point A or was it a different one? At the end of the day, looking at your customers, how are they using your solution? Is that still a driving factor? And then, feedback looping that to the front. You can learn a lot about your solution, what matters to the buying audience, and where you can get a lot better ROI out of your spend in marketing too. If you really know the sticky points later on, maybe people do close more on pain point B, but they stay as customers because of pain point C. 

“So you then figure out how do you change your go-to-market at the beginning to get more people who are already struggling with B and then how do you consider your post-customer closing marketing and improving that so that you can ensure they’re also solving for C. It’s having that understanding of data theory in your buyer journey, applying actual ways to measure that both quantitatively with that person and then within your teams, then feedback and looping it to each team can create some great efficiency.”

It’s wonderful. I mean I don’t think you can over-communicate a lot of these things and having those feedback loops open is great.

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.