The rise of the CMO superhero

What does it take to get there? Hint: It's mostly about the product and product market fit!

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Credit: Thinkstock

Ringing the bell at NASDAQ, the photo opp with the new investors, collecting the Gartner Cool Vendor award, breaking the good news to the team, finally flying business class (or first?).... A CEO may be the center of attention and accolades, but the path to glory is paved by a more-than-average CMO. What does it take to be that CMO?

1. Claim your position

It starts by choosing your startup (and CEO) wisely. Do your due diligence about the company, investors and management. A CMO can only become a superhero and succeed if a) you believe in superheroes to begin with and b) the CEO believes you are a superhero and is willing to give you enough leeway (a.k.a. rope) to fail or succeed.

Will the CEO you are interviewing with let you get on with what you are good at and what you have been hired to do? Or will she bombard you with strategy changes and "pivots," expect unrealistic KPIs and squabble over your measly budget?

2. Product marketing is the driver

This is the art of doing one thing really really well.

Think of these examples: Microsoft — Windows; Apple — Macs; Google — search engine; Checkpoint — firewalls; Ubuntu — free Linux OS; Waze — crowdsourced navigation; Whatsapp — easy group chats; BlazeMeter — agile QA testing (and endless others).

The key to their success was excellent product marketing. They perfected that one thing that they do really really well. Whether it's a product or a service, they excelled at it and then expanded from there.

The CMO superhero can only do that step by step. Launching multiple products and services because of the fear (again) of losing market or being late to market only ever leads to second position at best.

Pulling in different directions is a very good sign of weakness, regardless of how you position your pivot or expansion in the market.

Product marketing defined

What does product marketing mean? First, it means placing the product at the center of the company's attention and not skimping over the Product Market Fit. Conducting very thorough consumer or user research before, during and after launch. This must include speaking and meeting (yes, face to face) users. Lots and lots of users. Make sure you are speaking to the right users, representatives of your target audience. Speaking to small family business owner about a SaaS enterprise product will confuse  more people rather than bringing a sale closer to a close.

Grabbing every detail of the user experience and journey and ensuring that product enhancements are prioritized in order of importance to your users and as enablers for product adoption. Understanding how your target audience uses the product and what annoys them about it is an important part of the process.

Seek quantifiable answers to the following question: Can your customers live without your product? Most probably, yes, but will it have a significant negative impact on their satisfaction?

When you have achieved a score of better than 8 out of 10 in customer satisfaction, you are onto the right path and your product market fit is solid

What does a product marketer do?

Before the product launch: Learn about your beta (and alfa) users. Soak up as much information about them and their usage patterns as possible. Focus on the messaging, positioning, defining the target audience and personas and go-to-market strategy for the product, including a budget.

I often hear that for budget reasons, the CMO does not go to client meetings or conferences to meet with the target audience. My only comment to that is this: Get out now. Your CEO does not believe in the importance of marketing, and you will not be able to claim your position as discussed in point No. 1.

After launch: Enable sales to meet its objectives by delivering a stream of qualified leads, recommending product enhancements based on user feedback (have I said that enough yet?). Focus more on the customer acquisition journey -- where and how do your customers engage and interact with you? What do they do next? At which point in their decision-making do they stop? What are your competitors up to? Are they making it easier or more appealing for your users to work with them?

Don't forget to build KPIs for your marketing activities.

Answer and achieve leadership agreement on this: What would success look like this year?

3. Build your team and tools

All superheroes have a support team. And your success as a CMO will only ever be as good as the team you have recruited.

The marketing budget is always limited regardless of whether you are CMO of a startup or of a Fortune 100 company. And I have yet to meet a CMO who claims to have a team with all Grade A members and ready for world domination. But there is a stark difference between being a team of one expected to do it all alone and having a solid team behind you.

Show the numbers to your CEO. Plan each quarter with the objectives you need to meet and what that requires in terms of the head count, tools and  budget. While you won't get 100% of what you want, go back to point No. 1 -- Claim your position.

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