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How I Got Past the Awkwardness of Self Promotion Without Becoming a Kardashian

Every time I come across one of those “top marketer” lists on Twitter or LinkedIn, a nervous anticipation builds as I quickly scan for my name. Sometimes I’m on them, most of the time I’m not. They are marketers we watch speak at tech conferences, follow on Twitter, subscribe to on Medium, and read about in the press.

People who consistently make these lists deserve all the recognition they get. They are marketing royalty — from brilliant thinkers like Tom Tunguz to high growth marketing leaders like Meg Eisenberg to the Vala Afshar Twitter bot — Wait, he’s a real person?!? 🙂

And every single one of them is exceptionally good at self promotion — and all make it it a priority.

To be honest, self-promotion always seemed like a bit of an ego-serving, distracting waste of time. I really love the GSD grind of marketing; working through something on a whiteboard, writing in a Google Doc, or digging into Google Analytics.

But looking closely at the list above, I realized that nearly every single person in the tech CMO influencer infographic above has directly influenced my career in some way; from the computer science classes I shared with Marc Andreesen (way back in the day), to the actionable advice I read every morning from people like Jason M. Lemkin. Something struck me when I read this particular list of influencers:

Self promotion works when what you have to say could actually materially impact someone’s day-to-day, their life, and their careers.

Think about the ways you’ve been educated or inspired by people on this list. Who hasn’t included the Marketing Technology Landscape from Scott Brinker into a PowerPoint deck? Jon Miller and Sangram Vajre are giving us new ways to think about growth, Rand Fishkin studies everything about SEO so we don’t have to — and then graciously shares it back with us.

[Insert Your Name Here]

There are so many great new marketers I learn about every day, many just a few years into their career. They are wisely making time for self promotion, and while the idea of it turns most people off, there are just too many positives that come from doing it well.

You’ll advance in your career. As you progress in your career, you’ll find that most people are hired through their network. In nearly all cases, your best resume is your network and influence. Both take time to build, so you can’t get started early enough.

You’ll learn to how to communicate results. Many marketers struggle to translate tactical actions into business outcomes.

In particular, the process of writing forces you to step back and think about how to succinctly communicate the impact of your work.

You’ll help build your company brand. Your personal reputation will benefit your company — awareness, hiring, etc.

It reflects on your marketing skills. If we can’t market ourselves, why would a current (or potential employer) think we are the right fit to grow their company?

You’ll feel good for giving back. That single Medium post or conference presentation could become the catalyst for someone else’s career. Seriously, how great is that?

It boosts your confidence. The first post I published to my new Medium publication was advice for aspiring tech CMOs. Between Medium and LinkedIn, it got nearly 10,000 views and over 500 Likes, reaching people well outside of my network.

How to Get Started

Ditch the excuses and start writing. I’ve heard them all: But there’s no time. No one is going to read it. I’ve got nothing important to say. Wrong. The truth is that no matter where you are in your career, someone will benefit from the lessons you have to share.

So create your own Medium publication and get going.

Leverage tech vendors and industry conferences to expand your reach. Tech companies are always looking for customers to speak at their customer conferences, roadshows, and webinars. Nearly all of the “top marketers” you see on those lists use their vendor to increase visibility. They will be thrilled to hear from you. Connect with the account management team at your favorite tech vendor to get started.

Industry conferences take more time, planning, and a bit of luck — but they are a great way to gain recognition among your peers. Conference agendas are often locked many months in advance, so make sure you start researching speaking opportunities 3–6 months in ahead of the conference. Here’s a great list of marketing conferences from Curata as a starting point.

Host or attend a local networking event. Peer groups and networking events are a great way to gain reputation and share knowledge. I’m a member of a small peer group of marketing leaders in Boston, and even though we only meet for a few hours or so a quarter, I’ve found the time incredibly valuable. I always walk away with actionable learning, and it’s helped me build a positive reputation among my Boston marketing peers.

Whatever your role/passion, go see if there is an existing group and join it.

If there isn’t, start one. All it takes is great content, some research and networking with your peers on LinkedIn, and a conference room.

But please, don’t become a Kardashian.

The Kardashian empire was built on relentless, shameless, self promotion. Nearly every Instagram or tweet is a carefully calculated statement, designed to build the Kardashian brand or sell whatever product they happen to be endorsing at the moment.

They have turned being famous for being famous into an empire worth tens of millions.

But thats not the kind of self promotion I’m advocating for. There’s a fine line between shameless promotion and the kind that helps build a reputation and career. Gary Vaynerchuk built his business by being a relentless but likable self promoter. He does it the right way, by being authentic, helpful, and having something important to say.

Do that, and you’ll start showing up on all those best-of marketing lists too.


Time for your self-promotion: Click the ❤ to recommend this article, and write a response with even a single lesson you want to share.

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Why I’m Killing the Marketing Qualified Lead

Five years ago, I was sitting at my desk working on a PowerPoint pitch for an upcoming customer visit. My boss stopped by and asked me a question that would change my life.

Hey Tom, can you run marketing?

Prior to that moment, I had spent my entire career in technical sales with a few short stints in product management. I had worked closely with marketing throughout my career, but I had never been a marketer. I had never generated a lead. I had never managed a budget. I had never launched a campaign.

So I of course said yes, but then reality quickly set in. I had to scramble to learn modern marketing, and learn it fast. I started by reading everything I could find from the companies I admired. Marketo’s Definitive Guides. HubSpot’s Blog. Eloqua’s Content Grid. I read these over and over until I could nearly recite them word for word, and recreate the important visuals on a whiteboard.

I was asked to join marketing at a time when growth hacking was just becoming a thing, and it happened fit my background. I’m not a brand guy (a weakness I’m trying to address) but I love technology and math, so the language of marketing automation spoke to me. I implemented Marketo at my first CMO job at Ektron and then again at Acquia, where our team won the 2014 Marketo Revvie award for most dramatic business impact.

There’s no arguing that the MQL, and the broader sales and marketing funnel, transformed marketing. It forced alignment, requiring sales and marketing to agree on the traits and actions that made a good lead. It required a good content strategy to guide prospects through the complex B2B buying journey. It drove a consistent set of lead management processes that made it easy to measure conversions at key points. And maybe most importantly, it let marketing to prove our contribution to revenue.

I loved the MQL. I owe my marketing career to it. But now I’m over it. I’ve learned that more isn’t always better, and I think the MQL treadmill is slowly starting to suck the life out of marketing.

Enter the PQL.

I first heard of the concept of a PQL — or product qualified lead — via Christopher O’Donnell of HubSpot via a post on the excellent OpenView Medium publication. The basic idea is to combine freemium/open source product distribution with an inside-sales model to increase deal velocity. Users qualify themselves by using the product and inside sales exists to support them through the journey and set the stage for a long term relationship with the customer.

https://expand.openviewpartners.com/what-is-a-pql-3d724548ba06#.qh380epfd

RapidMiner is the ideal candidate for a PQL model. We get over 20,000 product downloads a month. While there is some immediate drop-off between the initial product download and first usage, once someone makes it past the up-front learning curve, they absolutely love our product. For example, here’s our NPS score at two usage checkpoints:

Our clear path to growth is to get more people to use the product, guiding them through the product journey from building their first predictive model in RapidMiner to embedding the results into a business process to make or save money.

If someone doesn’t download and use our product, they aren’t a qualified lead.

The MQL + marketing automation playbook simply can’t produce the kind of high velocity leads and conversion rates we’ll get from creating happy, engaged users. If users need additional help or have questions, they can still “raise their hand” to talk to our inside sales team. And we’ll use a RapidMiner predictive lead scoring model to help identify the right free users for our inside sales team to proactively connect with.

We’re going to fully commit resources across the entire company to make this PQL model work, from how we allocate marketing resources and budget to our sales processes to the product roadmap. Everything. Instead of measuring traditional marketing metrics like MQLs, we’ll focus on product usage metrics and customer success.

Goodbye Lead Forms

The shift away from MQLs also lets me liberate content from the dreaded lead capture forms. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and this post from Dave Gerhardt of Drift Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free pushed me over the edge.

I really don’t care how many leads our content generates. If our content is great, more people will download RapidMiner (we do capture email addresses on downloads) and more importantly, people will use it and see how we can deliver business impact. I’d rather help one user build a predictive model that generates millions in new revenue than add a bunch of poorly qualified “leads” to a database.

For example, people love our webinar content. We consistently get over 2,000 people to register, even though we ask them to fill out a complex form. How many people could we reach if we required nothing? (or maybe just an optional email address to receive the on-demand version for those who can’t make it?). I’m betting on a lot.

We’ve got great content. We’ve got a team of brilliant data scientists and predictive analytics experts. I want to get their knowledge in front of as many people as possible.

If you like this post, please recommend it so others will see it. Thanks!

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Before you agree to widening the top of your lead funnel…

Few things cause CMOs to panic more than hearing the dreaded phrase “we need to widen the lead funnel” from the head of sales. Or the CEO. Or maybe even the board. What they all really want is more qualified opportunities and ultimately more ARR. Maybe that means widening the funnel. Maybe not. But the solution is much more complex than just delivering “more”. Let’s dig into what can go wrong when you try to widen the funnel.

Every CMO has a version of this spreadsheet, that starts with an ARR target and spits out a lead, marketing-qualified lead (MQL), and sales-qualified opportunity (SQO) goal using historical funnel conversion metrics. Here’s a simple example using made-up numbers:

In this case, I’ve taken the next quarters ARR goal of $5,000,000, assumed 75% of it comes from marketing, and that we’ll close 33% of the opportunites we create at an average deal size of $25,000. Based on these assumptions, my model spits out a lead target of 5051 and an MQL target of 1515.

When the next quarter comes along, we do the same exercise. Let’s say we’re shooting for 40% ARR growth, which means we need 40% more leads + MQLs.

Here’s where the problems start happening.

In the early days of a company most MQLs come through inbound sources, but as the MQL target gets higher CMOs feel pressured to try new tactics to hit the goal. At that often means scaling paid programs that guarantee a certain number of leads based on targeted criteria like company size, role, industry etc. The targeted criteria helps ensure these leads become MQLs as they map to the attributes in your lead scoring process.

But not all MQLs are created equal. For example, your lead scoring processes probably overweight fit (think job title, industry, company size, etc) and underweight behavior/interest. So while those new paid leads look great in the spreadsheet you received from the vendor, they aren’t going to convert at the same rate as your primarily inbound funnel did in the past. So inside sales converts less of them into opportunities, and as a result probably loosens their qualification criteria to hit their numbers. Here’s how the funnel math looks now with the less qualified MQLs added in, impacting conversion:

When we lower the SQO conversion rate and the win rate just a little bit, the MQL target starts to spiral out of control. Because we’re not as efficient, our MQL target is now 85% higher than the previous quarter. If we play it out one final quarter, assuming we continue to get slightly less efficient, here’s what the targets looks like:

In this made up example, over four quarters our ARR target increased by 173% while our MQL target went up by 307%! And we had to pay for all those MQLs — and hire inside sales capacity to process them — driving our CAC way up. Of course I’m making a bunch of assumptions here that won’t hold true for everyone, but the point is that scaling the top of the funnel alone won’t lead to growth nirvana, and could be the entirely wrong thing to do.

Some companies like HubSpot rely entirely on widening the funnel to grow. This makes sense, as they sell in the massive SMB market and get most of their leads through low-cost inbound sources. But if your company sells into larger enterprises, has a vertical go-to-market, targets a niche persona, etc. you should be more focused on acquiring, converting, and closing the right leads, which might be measured only in tens or hundreds depending on your market.

Instead of just arbitrarily widening the funnel, what happens if we focus on scaling higher converting lead sources and targeting the right buyers? Magic. We generate higher quality leads, convert more of them, and win bigger deals. Much more efficiently. Going back to our prior example, hitting our Q2 target now only requires 84% more leads vs. 307% in the inefficent model.

If this sounds like I’m advocating for account-based marketing, you’re absolutely right. ABM is a great way to reach the prospects who are most likely to buy from you, improving funnel metrics. I also recommend products like Captora that help you grow the top of the funnel by scaling higher converting channels like organic search.

The net is that more isn’t always better. Often narrowing the top of the funnel is exactly what it takes to widen what really matters — the “Closed Won” funnel stage.

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Is Specialization Bad for Startup Marketing?

We’re starting to run a Scrumban process in RapidMiner marketing. Scrumban is a great way accelerate output by creating more transparency around priorities in the hectic world of startup marketing. We’ve got our Scrumban board, with all colorful kanbans beautifully laid out into various columns.

RapidMiner’s Scrumban board, blurred

As we get into Scrumban, we often find outselves blocked by kanbans that require specialized expertise. For example, our product marketing team is swamped with important messaging and enablement work. They can quickly become a blocker for the demand generation and events teams who require messaging for campaigns and tradeshow booths.

Our team structure is pretty typical of tech marketing. We’re a team of 7, and as our CMO I’m still pretty hands on with things. While I’m not particularly great at anything, I’m pretty good at lots of things. And I’m certainly not afraid to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn new things. In the Scrumban process I’m able to pickup any kanban and do my best to move it forward.

In a startup like RapidMiner, versatility is really important. Marcelo Calbucci coined the term Full-Stack Marketer, a reference to the full-stack developer who is equally comfortable working on back-end and front-end development projects. The full-stack marketer needs to be equally comfortable with writing content, optimizing for SEO, executing a campaign, expanding reach with PR, enabling the sales team, review metrics, etc.

Now it’s really hard to be great at everything, but maybe that’s not the point? Functional specialization becomes more important as companies scale, but for startups marketers being locked into the job description you were hired for limits your ability to impact the business. And maybe more importantly develop your own skills, especially if you’d like to run marketing someday.

The path to CMO is paved by versatility.

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You’ve been asked to cut your marketing budget. Now what?

Unicorpses. Layoffs. Bursting bubbles. Winter is coming. Every day there’s a new story on the 2016 techpocalypse.

Having lived through the 2000 dot com crash, this is nothing like it. But something has changed, so let’s start with a quick recap of how we got here. Starting in late 2012, tech companies began to raise massive funding rounds to chase growth. Here’s a chart put together by Tom Tunguz showing how the stock market once rewarded high growth tech companies:

http://tomtunguz.com/2013-ipo-characteristics/

Most of these companies are SaaS, which requires access to a huge amount of funding to run the business. Back in 2013 and 2014, money was plentiful. Private SaaS companies were able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars on the back of business plans that promised huge growth. And the market was so hot that non traditional investors — people like Wellington Management and Fidelity — jumped into the private company financing mix, often at much higher valuations than traditional venture investors were paying.

The most publicized example is Box, who grew revenue 110% in the year prior to their IPO but famously spent about 137% of its revenue in sales in marketing (over $170m!) to fuel the massive growth. The idea was that the SaaS unit economics of Box would eventually lead to a highly profitable business, where Box would a) “Land and expand” to keep net renewal rates well above 100% b) Lower sales and marketing costs to a more reasonable 35–40% of revenue range. While Box had to delay their IPO, ultimately they spun a compelling enough story to close nearly 70% higher on their first day of trading at close to a $3b valuation. But as we’ve learned in early 2016, markets go up, and markets go down. Box now trades at less than its IPO price, even though it continues to grow.

Nearly all of the tech IPOs from the past couple of years are currently trading below their IPO price. Private company valuation have taken an even bigger hit as they had further to fall due to the unusually high multiples they received in the recent past. Today, investors are no longer funding the grow-at-all-costs mentality of the past few years. They now expect companies to actually make money, or at least be able to paint a clear path to cash flow breakeven. While well funded public and private companies can hunker down and invest for the long term, not every company has a war chest of cash on the balance sheet.

So CEOs who once had access to unlimited private financing and/or a welcoming IPO market now must operate within the constraint of a reasonable burn rate… slowing hiring, cutting expenses, increasing gross margins, selling more…

And yes, cutting marketing programs.

Marketing programs are one of the few levers CEOs can quickly scale up and down. If you’ve been asked to look at cutting your marketing budget, here’s where’s to start:

Thank your CEO. CEOs are constantly faced with impossibly difficult decisions. Telling a high performing organization that they need to scale back can damage team morale. But as Heidi Roizen of venture firm DJF puts it:

You know what hurts morale even more than cost- cutting and layoffs? Going out of business.

Be transparent with your team. You can’t hide smaller budgets from your team, so include them in the budgeting process and help them understand the new constraints.

And maybe send them this post 🙂

Scale with brainpower, not budget. Rapidly growing marketing budgets creates bad behavior. People begin to equate their value to the company with the size of their budget, and makes it easier to spend on programs with questionable ROI. Pragmatic cuts to the marketing budget will help bring great clarity and focus back to your team, and eliminate the fiefdoms that sometimes form around budgets.

Most importantly, reduced budgets are a chance for your team to apply their brainpower, through developing new approaches, responsibilities and skills that might have been hidden by a bloated budget.

Eliminate the stuff you won’t measure. Marketing has gotten much better at measuring our impact on the business, and we’re pretty good at looking at how marketing spend across different channels drives leads, pipeline, and bookings. But there are still questionable “brand” investments we make that we’re not great at measuring — like PR. Jason Lemkin of Storm Ventures wrote a great post on how he measured PR at Echosign.

If you can’t commit to measuring your brand investments, then scale them way back. Or put much more effort into assessing their impact on the business and hold yourself accountable.

Stop buying leads. Joe Chernov of InsightSquared recently published a fantastic article on the rise of account-based marketing and marketing’s unhealthy obsession with the MQL. Many marketing departments operate on a spreadsheet model that sets MQL targets based on revenue goals and historical conversion metrics. That’s great, you should absolutely create that model. But your spreadsheet model is going to show that you need to create an unsustainable number of MQLs each quarter. This puts pressure on marketing to run expensive cost-per-lead programs to hit the lead commit. These less qualified leads then make your conversion rates worse, leading to your spreadsheet model telling you that you need even more leads next quarter.

This approach is broken. As Joe puts it:

Sales teams don’t need a torrent of minimally qualified leads; they need air cover.

Investing in account-based marketing is potentially a much more effective way for you to reach the companies who can actually buy your product. And it will help you better align sales and marketing by focusing efforts on a specific set of companies.

Take a hard look at events. Events can be difficult to scale back because they are often planned months or years in advance. But if you look closely, I bet you’ll find ways to cut back 10–20% from your budget without impacting the quality. People come to events to learn and network, so focus on the quality of your content and assembling the right people.

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Some Practical Advice for Aspiring Tech CMOs

In no particular order, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned running marketing at three tech companies.

Your most important job is to recruit and retain exceptional people

Never forget that people are your most important asset. As a CMO, you’ll be in endless meetings: the weekly leadership meeting, the executive offsite, QBRs, territory reviews, weekly pipeline reviews, product strategy sessions. Endless. Meetings.

Your calendar may be a mess, but you have to still find time to hire and develop your team. Make hiring your top priority, and personally review every candidate as long as you possibly can. Create and enforce a consistent hiring process for every candidate, to minimize the risk of hiring poorly. When I’ve hired poorly, it’s been because I broke process; ignoring obvious warning signs.

Don’t miss your weekly 1–1s with your direct reports. No excuses (wrote that for myself; I made too many excuses). Just don’t let anyone schedule over this time with your team. Make sure these meetings aren’t just a tactical review of todo items; instead focus them on strategic objectives and career development. If you’ve hired well, your team will insist on this. If you aren’t providing strategic coaching, they will leave and get it elsewhere.

Find the right balance between potential, passion, and experience in hiring

When I interviewed with Acquia in late 2012, they were one of the fastest growing tech companies on the planet. So why were they were considering me — and my measly 3 prior years of CMO experience — to run marketing?

Well, during my interview with Acquia CEO Tom Erickson, I was introduced to his P2 I3 philosophy — Passion, Potential, Integrity, Initiative, and Intelligence (sorry Tom if I got the order wrong). Tom explained these were more important predictors of success than experience alone (on a whiteboard, no less) and on that basis hired me as CMO of Acquia.

Experience is often really important, especially in roles like product marketing where domain expertise is beneficial. But don’t hire solely on experience, because experience alone is a poor predictor of success.

You won’t know how well aligned sales and marketing are until you miss a quarter

Every CMO chases the dream of sales and marketing alignment, but the true test is when you miss a quarter. At some point, you will. It happens to everyone. Then all your hard work and the conviction you had around your funnel in those weekly pipeline meetings is suddenly put into question.

The reality is that an aligned sales and marketing organization should have known about the miss many months in advance, and already have been working on the mitigation plan for the next quarter. If the miss triggers finger pointing then you probably weren’t as aligned as you thought.

Start by reviewing a key set of metrics each week that help you assess the health of the entire funnel. Make sure everyone agrees on the metrics, and that you keep them as consistent as possible quarter to quarter so you can learn and adapt from them. And don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on the top of the funnel just because it’s easier to measure. Often the most difficult challenges (with the greatest potential impact) happen well after a lead has become a qualified opportunity.

Messaging is much more important than you think

Companies that absolutely nail compelling differentiated messaging crush their competitors. Think HubSpot. Splunk. Slack. New Relic. etc. Messaging is bounded by brainpower and creativity (not budget) so it can truly level the playing field against much bigger competitors when done right.

But messaging is hard. You’ve got to get buy-in from everyone. You’ve got to validate it with customers and analysts. You have to enable + certify your entire field organization on it. You’ve got to test it via your website, paid search, email, etc. Don’t underestimate how difficult and time consuming that’s going to be. But when done right, a compelling message cuts through the noise and amplifies everything else you’ll want to do.

Write more, read more.

I told friend + former Acquia colleague Jess Iandiorio in her annual review that she was the best product marketer in Boston that no one had heard of — and that needed to change. So Jess started blogging, which ultimately led to her getting connected with the excellent team at Drift where she now runs marketing. Through writing, Jess raised her visibility as one of Boston’s smartest marketers but more importantly, said writing gave her a tremendous confidence boost. So create an account on Medium like I’m doing right now, and get writing.

Of course you should read more too. I’m about to get into the latest from Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue. Most of my actionable reading comes from Flipboard, where I’ve spent a bunch of time following publishers, people, and topics so my stream has become highly relevant to me. It’s a time investment worth making, and Flipboard is usually the first and last thing I look at every day.

Don’t immediately propose a rebrand when you start at a new company

Updating the logo and/or redesigning the website might feel like a quick, highly visible win, but in the end you’ll be much better off focusing on the hard work of sales + marketing alignment, creating remarkable content, differentiated messaging, etc.

There are exceptions: For example, Jess Iandiorio just led Drift through a rebrand from Driftt. That was smart, because I just had to Google whether it was Drift with two t’s or two f’s. But unless there’s a well thought out compelling business reason for a rebrand, don’t do it. Or risk suffering the same fate as Uber.

Don’t chase shiny new #martec toys

BDRs pitch me on all sorts of new products every day. Most of the pitches are pretty forgettable, like this “breakup” email I just received:

Please stop it w/ the meme-laden breakup emails, they were cute for 15 minutes

The best way to pitch me is with FOMO, making me feel out of the loop for being the only CMO not using the latest and greatest marketing tech. Give me a slick demo and a spreadsheet that promises massive growth and ROI and I’m sold!

Credit: http://chiefmartec.com/2016/02/valentines-day-ode-marketing-tech-entrepreneurs/

Turning that spreadsheet into reality takes a lot more than any product alone can deliver. SaaS makes it easy and cost effective to deploy new products, but SaaS doesn’t account for the resources and organizational commitment you’ll need to make them successful. Where I’ve been able to align the organization with the technology, it’s worked great (for example, Acquia’s work with Captora). Where technology has failed, it’s not because I picked the wrong product; it’s because I didn’t commit the right resources.

In the end, remember that just because Box, Slack, Zendesk, or whoever is adopting that fancy du-jour SaaS product doesn’t mean that your team is ready for it.

Operate on a monthly marketing plan

Starting in early October, you’ll be asked to start thinking about your plan for the next year. Sales will ask how you are going to help them hit their pipeline + ARR targets for the upcoming year. Finance will ask you for a budget plan. Your head of products will want to understand your demand generation strategy.

You absolutely need a strategy for the upcoming year. You’ll need to plan ahead for events like product launches, conferences, big campaigns, etc. But don’t pretend that you have any idea on the specific tactics you are going to employ outside of the next few months.

I’d suggest running a simplified agile process, defining “epics” to represent your 3–5 objectives for the year (hopefully these won’t change, but they might). Then define a three month plan each month, but treat everything beyond the upcoming month as backlog. Then run monthly sprints, including a retrospective to review prior results, and creation of a plan for the next sprint.

This way you’ll have a rolling view of the next few months, with the flexibility to quickly adjust strategies and tactics as needed.

Say no more often

It’s far too easy for marketing to become relegated to service bureau status or worse, the arts and crafts department. We often get asked to do stuff that has little to with our real mission to accelerate growth. Carefully consider the impact of saying yes to requests that don’t align with your strategic initiatives, no matter how hard sales argues for that one-off campaign, or the CEO demands that you update that one page on the website that no one visits (note: both of these examples are fictional, they would *never* happen!)

Saying no comes down to having a clear list of priorities. It’s much easier to say no to anyone if you can easily help them understand the associated opportunity cost. This is where running an agile-like marketing process works, because you can capture these requests in a backlog and constantly revisit priorities every month.

Your budgeting process is probably broken

Finance desperately wants CMOs to build a budget solely based on an Excel model that starts with revenue targets and spits out a marketing programs budget based on conversion rates, ASP, CPL, product mix goals, etc.

You should absolutely build that model for finance, but don’t trust it completely, and certainly revisit your assumptions often. The model won’t account for so many things — product improvements, a successful PR campaign, fundraising, changes in your deal qualification processes, sales restructuring, and so on.

The truth is that budgeting is mostly science, part art; and it gets easier with experience.

Listen to your board, but trust your own experience

Board members are an invaluable asset. They have exposure to other high performing companies, and often have direct experience building and scaling companies.

When NEA invested in Acquia, they encouraged us to simplify our complex multi-product strategy into a single offering that became the Acquia Platform. NEA portfolio company Mulesoft had successfully gone through a similar transformation. This was a brilliant idea, and led to Acquia getting into much bigger deals than before.

But your board doesn’t know your business as well as you do. They will provide many great suggestions, but what worked at one of their portfolio companies may or may not work well for you. Listen carefully, but always remember the board is there to advise, not dictate.

It’s okay to feel like you are in over your head

It happens to all of us. Eat better. Get some exercise. Obsessively watch house-flipping shows and go to bed every night at 9pm (wait, is that me?).

Whatever helps you de-stress.

Seek advice from others

I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Boston CMO royalty — like Mike Volpe, Carol Myers, and Brian Kardon — and I’ve learned something actionable from all of them. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help if you ask nicely (and are patient).

And when you ascend to CMO, please pay it forward to the next generation.