This article was published on July 27, 2021

The 8 best and worst decisions I made in my first year as a CMO

It's always a challenge to take on a new role, but you learn a lot

The 8 best and worst decisions I made in my first year as a CMO
Hanna Yatel
Story by

Hanna Yatel

CMO, Admixer

Hanna is a marketing enthusiast focusing on adtech, martech, and programmatic advertising. Hanna organizes conferences, meetups, and educati Hanna is a marketing enthusiast focusing on adtech, martech, and programmatic advertising. Hanna organizes conferences, meetups, and educational programs for marketers and media in Eastern Europe.

On average, CMOs have 40 months to prove their effectiveness. When it comes to startups, the figure is half that: you either bring explosive growth or get replaced.

CMOs in SaaS companies must understand both the market and the audience, shape positioning, and support unit economics. They are also responsible for brand awareness, acquisition and retention, product launches, customer loyalty, and about a million other things.

The story of Admixer’s marketing department is an unconventional one: I had to staff a team of 17 people for a mature adtech company from scratch. We had a year to relaunch the marketing of a company that had nearly 300 employees in five countries, an established image in the market, and many inside stereotypes about B2B marketing.  

In this article, I have collected eight of the best and worst decisions I made during the first year as a CMO of a large B2B corporation. Let’s begin with my four best ones.

1. No micromanagement 

Some might think it’s crazy, but the only person on the team, besides me, who had a background in adtech industry before, was a PR manager. I didn’t have a choice as there are not many adtech companies or specialists in Ukraine. Yet, I had a clear hiring strategy in mind: fill every position with overqualified specialists. 

I selected them based on two criteria: a clear specialization and the ability to work autonomously. Since I had to provide product onboarding for a bunch of people and establish communication between offices simultaneously, I didn’t have much time to work on my team’s hard skills.

As a result, I never had to solve any problems for my employees and could focus on strategy and vision instead. We hired the first junior specialist a year later when we’d already achieved significant results.  

2. Honesty in communication with С-suite

When you start a team from scratch, you will incur some losses: after all, they don’t know all the business specifics or fully understand customers’ pain points yet. 

Our company has a line of complex products and solutions so when I didn’t understand something, I admitted it right away. We didn’t pretend that we were 100% sure that there was no inaccuracy in our blog post or that we could predict how our message would resonate with the audience. 

Despite the constant criticism, I repeatedly asked the stakeholders not to expect our department to become adtech experts in a short period of time. The world didn’t fall apart because of this, and people from other departments began to help us more willingly.

Thanks to honest communication, we managed to generate 10% of all leads in a year with the help of our company blog.

3. Multi-touch funnels for big clients 

The Power Law Distribution works well for us — we get the majority of inbound leads from SEO. Yet, we needed a different approach to attract larger clients. 

That’s how we got three divisions working together: the event department organizes an online conference, the content team publishes interviews with the speakers, and our online education platform invites conference speakers to present lectures. 

After several rounds of nurturing, part of the speakers or their companies become leads for the Business Development department. By doing this, our number of leads grew by 70% in the first year.

4. Open reporting within the company 

Our team turned out to be in charge of introducing sophisticated analytics for marketing itself, the sales department, and other business units. All the reports were publicly available for employees. 

We created easy-to-digest reports on incoming leads, which made it possible to see which clients the company should focus on, and which requests aren’t worth the time of the business development or support teams. Our marketing report has become a decision-making tool for the department heads.

The company is now simplifying its product line so that marketing can focus on the most revenue-generating products.

Now it’s time to move on to my worst decisions — all the things I wished I would have done differently.

1. Putting off thorough product onboarding

On average, it takes six to 12 months to understand an adtech product. I wanted to hack the system and relied on speed rather than depth or expertise… which resulted in tons of negative feedback from product owners who expected high-quality marketing materials.

Processing numerous edits and comments took ages and was exhausting for the team. Eventually, we had to pause and delve into the details of each product. But even to this day, each content piece goes through several stages of validation. 

My lesson here is that it’s better to organize a quality product onboarding process at the beginning and invest enough time in it rather than learning on the go. 

2. Failing to hire a marketer with a development background

Over the year, we launched a content site, a platform for e-learning, landing pages for three conferences, redesigned our blog, and moved our main website to WordPress. I outsourced the development so as not to distract the main team from product development. 

However, six months later, I realized that my team was ineffective in setting development tasks. They didn’t always know what could be automated or how to implement certain features easily, while the outsourcing team didn’t have enough involvement in our projects. 

As a result, we spent more time and money on task clarification than on technical implementation. I wish I hired a strong marketer with experience in development earlier.

3. Underestimating PR

Over the first year, we reached more than 80 earned publications in the media. I underestimated this channel before, as it’s difficult to measure and assess with the right metrics.

Yet, the effect of PR was dramatic: our brand search traffic increased 11 times, and now, during negotiations, we often hear that someone has read an article about us. If I had realized earlier that PR could bring such results, I would have invested a lot more resources into it.

4. Lack of explanation of my decisions 

Everyone likes to tell marketers how to do their jobs. Unlike development or support, everyone seems to know how to “do marketing right” despite hardly understanding how it works nowadays. 

While I was annoyed that everyone was telling me how to do my job, I missed one crucial thing: not everyone understands the true meaning of certain metrics. People with no marketing background tended to measure our team’s effectiveness by vanity indicators, like the number of followers on LinkedIn. 

So, I should’ve explained in more detail how I set KPIs to the team so that all departments could use a unified system to assess efficiency. Unfortunately, marketing is often about long-term investment and not all activities give positive ROI although they may be the key drivers of growth later on.

Wrap  Up

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. We live in the era of MVP marketing even when it comes to B2B enterprises. The flexibility and willingness to take risks is what determines who will be the leaders of the next decade. 

The shift in paradigm and organizational culture requires CMOs to transform their expertise significantly and adapt to a new “accelerated” reality. Now, it’s vital to be well-versed in technical aspects and quickly launch and test multiple activities. 

Meanwhile, I think the main challenge of CMO within any organization remains the same — to be at the forefront of a customer-centric approach in product development.

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