The Startup CMO’s First 100 Days: Advice on Crafting & Launching a Strategic Marketing Plan (Part 5)
This article continues our series on how to handle your first 100 days as a new CMO. So far, we have looked at where to start, nurturing key relationships, how to build a team, and conducting research on your company and market.
Now is the time to start crafting a strategy. In this phase, you will build upon your strategic imperatives and outline the decisions you have made on how to achieve them.
I have no intention of telling you what your strategy should be. That is going to be specific to your business and your ideas. But I can give you a good framework in which to think about all of the factors at play and help you sell it inside your organization.
Telling a Story With Your Marketing Plan
From everything you’ve digested to this point, a narrative should begin to emerge. You are telling a story. It is the way your company will win. You will be placing some large bets on how to direct your energy, team, and money.
A skillful marketing leader does not boil the ocean; instead you determine the core principles that influence customer acquisition and relentlessly peels away attractive, yet extraneous, activities. The winning strategy will be the one that pinpoints the factors that truly move the needle and focuses resources on those activities.
Remember how we created a deck that served as the central dashboard for your data collection? Well, that’s from where your strategy emerges with all of your notes, thoughts, screenshots, and ideas. These rough slides become the basis for the strategy. By the time I start to shape the actual strategy, I will have about 50–100 slides of information from which to start culling down. I start to shape the rough slides into more deliberate, strategic ideas. I print them. Spread them out on the floor. Start moving slides around. And from this, the story and game-plan emerges.
This exercise should result in a 15 to 20-final slide deck that outlines your strategy with a clean version of your note slides as the appendix and strategic imperatives up-front.
Since some of these sections will be long, you are better off linking to a separate document. A buyer persona document is a good example. For your board, CEO, peers, team, and rest of the organization, it is enough to explain each persona in a few key bullets, but this should be supported by detailed analysis on its own.
The Key Elements of a Strategic Marketing Plan
The elements of a strategic marketing plan can vary depending on your market and organization. I will share a framework I have successfully used several times in the past. Each element below could be a book on it’s own so we aren’t going to be going into depth here, but this should get you started.
Sample Marketing Plan:
- Strategic Imperatives
- Metrics for Success
- Organization Chart
- Brand & Positioning
- Market Segmentation
- Key Buyer Personas
- Product & Pricing
- Tech Stack
- The Go-To-Market Funnel (more on this below)
- Marketing Roadmap
The Go-To-Market Funnel
The go-to-market funnel is where the heart of your strategy lies. It is a summation of the tactics you will employ to drive customers from awareness to consideration, to purchase, to satisfaction.
I typically conduct break the funnel down as follows:
- Thought Leadership
- Content Marketing
- Lead Magnets
- Landing Pages
- Inbound Sales
Once again, your plan may vary but most digital marketing plans will be covered with the elements above.
Selling Your Plan
To effectively sell your plan, it is important to begin to socialize your ideas early. You do not just magically unveil your thinking one day. The other stakeholders in your plan, particularly your CEO and executive counterparts, must be given time to provide feedback. This is for two reasons.
First, you do not know what you do not know. You may be overlooking a crucial market factor, competitive situation, or internal albatross that you may want to avoid. Getting early feedback helps you uncover potential stumbling blocks. Do not succumb to dogma — the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” thinking that leads to group-think and stifles innovation. However, there may be legitimate, rational objections to your direction that are useful to bake in early.
Second, it helps you solicit buy-in from other stakeholders. You do not want to be pushing uphill against others in your organization. You want others to feel like their voices were heard, and they had a part in the formulation of the strategy. They will be more likely to support it. If someone has a clear disagreement with your ultimate conclusion, you will have to deal with that. But, I have found that people typically support a plan they helped guide in some way. It’s a psychological effect that you can use to your advantage.
The key is how you present your strategy during its formulation. At every orientation meeting, when I am first developing a relationship with a key stakeholder, I present the outline of the 100-day plan and explain the phases. I explain that this is a process by which I am gathering information, framing a narrative and developing a plan, and that I have not come to any conclusions yet. That helps people give you honest input and refrain from judging your conclusions — because you are not making them. If you tell them, I am “considering” this tactic they are more open to providing honest feedback.
That said, when you have come to conclusions, be confident and present them with conviction, but in this information-gathering stage, be open to considering alternatives.
How to Present the Plan
While the plan’s goal is to guide your team, ultimately, you need to present the plan to your board, CEO, executive peers, and rest of the company. By the time you reach the end of this stage, you will have been honing in on the strategy and formal presentation will feel like an afterthought. However, it’s still a good idea to sit with your CEO, and present, just to make sure the strategy is blessed. You should also make it a point to present to the other executives, and as many other people in the company, as possible. In addition, the board will likely want a presentation. There’s no need to call for a special meeting. Be prepared to present at the next board meeting in a condensed 10–15 minute format with links to the rest of the slides.
How to Launch the Plan
With a plan firmly established, your attention turns to execution. On day 100, you will not be launching everything at once. There is no magic at the 100-day mark that says you are ready to ramp fully and have marketing figured out. But, it’s a good place to insert a goalpost and have confidence that you’re out of planning and now in execution.
I like to ease into a full-scale launch with a ramp-up phase that includes:
- Marketing campaigns
- Paced channel introduction
- Ongoing testing and optimization
I like to make day 100 the launch of a campaign, so it has significance. The marketing campaign helps the team focus, unify, and, with due dates people tend to perform better.
For example, at Talent Inc., I timed the 100-day campaign to launch on January 4th (the first Monday after the New Year’s weekend). The date was relevant to our market because January is a big month for career services because people are getting back into routine after the holidays and start taking the job search seriously. They tend to wait until this time so they can get their year-end bonuses and don’t really want to be working on their career during the holidays.
So, I circled January 4th on the calendar for my team to prepare the “New Year, New Career” campaign, which consisted of activities on multiple channels, including social, PR, content, and paid media. Now, we were just getting started with marketing, and I did not expect this campaign to blow the doors out. I also did not expect us to be profitable and scaled on any channel. Good marketing takes time. We are building a brand and it requires raising our profile with messaging to a value proposition that is meaningful to our market (and resonant with the media).
But, that didn’t stop the team from testing and executing. In the lead-up, we met every week for our team meetings and reviewed the checklist of activities that were underway for the campaign. When January 4th arrived, we released content, generated media coverage, and focused on social media messaging. Additionally, we launched an e-mail promotion that drove record sales.
Campaigns are great because people need this type of focus to perform. Otherwise, things get postponed and nothing seems urgent. There were a lot of growing pains during that first campaign. We made some mistakes and had to work out the kinks of being teammates for the first time. But, it paid off. The team was efficient for the next campaign (timed to Valentine’s Day: Fall in Love with Your Career Again) and there was little stress that time around.
Pacing Channel/Funnel Launch
It is important to set expectations and be realistic about how you will launch various channels and marketing funnels. Most channels/funnels start off with abysmal ROI until they are optimized. Some never work out, but that’s all part of the process. What is clear, though, is that you cannot launch them all at once. Your time is best spent pacing the launch and optimization of different channels and funnels. Lots of effort and expense are required to launch a channel (like SEM) and, once you start to get traction and see the benefits of optimization, you can start focusing on a new channel.
That’s not to say you are not going to utilize each of the other channels or funnels. It’s not as if you are going to launch SEM, but totally ignore social media or content marketing. It’s just that you are going to spend time and money to make each funnel and channel profitable. And, to do that, requires intense focus. So, create a plan that establishes timelines for launch- optimization, scale by each channel/funnel, and then move through them over time. It sets the right expectations and buys you time to do your job right.
Some channels will take longer than others. Organic, including SEO and content marketing, are notoriously slow to deliver results and take months before seeing traction. So, you want to use this time to set a cadence for publishing; start optimizing your site according to SEO standards (in many cases, you will hire SEO consultants for delivering recommendations to your engineering team to implement).
Some channels, such as SEM, can scale more rapidly, but once again, will benefit from a measured pace. Telling your stakeholders that you’re going to spend the first few months in unprofitable territory with Adwords is setting the right expectation. Many times, your peers expect instant results from marketing channels and, when they don’t appear, they grow restless. Head this off by outlining the timelines.
Ongoing Testing and Optimization
You will also want to create an environment of testing where good ideas can flow into your team for consideration and evaluation. At Talent Inc., we use the Sean Ellis ICE framework to decide what to test. ICE stands for impact, confidence, and effort. You take all your test ideas, enter them into a spreadsheet, and then rank each of those attributes. This helps you prioritize your ideas. Some ideas are great, but are hard to execute, while others may be less impactful, but are easy. This gives you a quantifiable way to decide what to do.
Someone needs to own this process or nothing gets done. If you have an analytics or operations person on your team, that is a great candidate. But make sure you put quantifiable goals on this process because the day-to-day work will distract from the longer-term testing plan.
That concludes our view of the first 100 days as a company’s first marketing leader. If you missed any parts of the series, you can view links to other chapters below. There’s no doubt the job will challenge you on a daily basis, but it is an exciting job that can be rewarding. The key is to lay the groundwork for success now. The first 100 days will pass quickly, but they are the most important three months of the job and, if handled right, will enable you to make significant strides after day 100.
The key steps are to determine the upsides and downsides before you accept the job. Vet the opportunity. Ask the questions that will indicate if you will secure the resources you need. Once you join the team, take the time to do your homework. Research, strategize, and plan. At the same time, it helps to score quick wins. Managing your relationships is key. Speak with and get buy-in from your fellow executives. Hire smartly. And, above all, lead with both your head and your heart.
What’s in your 100-day plan as a company’s first CMO? What did you wish you knew then that you know now? I’d love to hear from you. Follow me on Twitter @diego_lomanto and let’s connect.