What if you were judged on how much improvement a marketing team could make in just three months? That’s right, three months to join the team, figure it out, make changes, and see results.
That’s about the scenario I’ve experienced in several gigs as an interim marketing director, or, as they call it, a fractional CMO. As I reflect on these assignments, I realize that my approach might have useful tips for anyone managing a marketing team, even if they have more than three months to deliver results.
Focus Narrowly on the Best Opportunities
Focus is critical for fast impact. The whole team has to zero in on just a few areas that will deliver business results right away. Step one is to identify where to get those wins.
I try to identify these high-opportunity areas through conversation with the person that hires me as the fractional CMO- usually the CEO. I want to understand what business results they are trying to deliver so I can plan marketing strategies to get there the fastest. Usually, this means doubling down on strategies that are already working. If email marketing is moving the needle, do it even better by testing list segmentation. If online sales are working, then move marketing dollars there to drive more traffic. You get the idea.
Of course, focus means pausing strategies that are not working well and this is not always a popular decision. But the gain is worth it if fast progress is the goal.
Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
Right away I seek to understand each team member’s current roles and responsibilities so I can see if they’re in the right role. Teams that have experienced turnover or mismanagement don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing so clarity improves morale immediately.
Sometimes I make role changes right away and other times I make note of what changes I’m going to recommend to the permanent CMO who follows me. And I create an org chart of the ideal marketing team configuration. This org chart is the first thing I hand off to my replacement. In all cases though, I clarify roles and help people focus on activities that will have an impact.
Create Reassuring Routines
Disrupted teams feel anxious because they don’t know what to expect week in and week out. “Who’s going to still be on staff? Will my job change? Will I be blamed for something outside of my control?” All these thoughts create worry. And one of the antidotes is a predictable routine of meetings, systems, and expectations. Here are some that have worked for me.
Have a team meeting once per week at the same time.
Discuss deadlines; ensure everyone has clear direction and priorities.
Agree on where and how documents are saved and shared on the network.
Discuss how the team will communicate- when to use email vs. Slack, for example.
These might sound obvious but I’ve seen teams that lacked even simple processes and it hurt performance a lot.
Implement a Project Management Platform
If the team is not using a project management platform, I implement one right away. Basecamp is my favorite, but Asana, Click-Up, or Monday.com are also good choices. Each has its pros and cons but any of them create a shared view of projects, priorities, and assignments.
I use the implementation of one of these platforms to build a project management and communications process within the team and among internal company stakeholders. This creates visibility for all projects, makes priorities clear, and ultimately reassures the team that there’s a logical system to work within.
Get Quick Wins with a Few Internal Customers
I like to identify one or two internal customers who I am committed to serving with excellence- ones that “own” the areas of opportunities we’re focusing on. I name these people and rally the team around meeting their needs. “We have to make sure Olivia gets the ad campaign she needs on time. We want her to succeed big time!”
Teams respond to doing good for specific individuals and it’s fun to get quick wins and celebrate those. These wins create positive news inside the company and the team starts to build momentum.
The reality, of course, is that there are other internal customers who may not get what they need from the department at first. For them, it’s a matter of communicating what’s happening with the department- “We’re short-staffed and we’re committed to your needs, but we need time to get back to full strength. Please know we haven’t forgotten about you.” Hearing this is not going to make them happy, but at least they know there’s a plan.
Bring in Expert Contractors to Expand Capacity
I have a few trusted colleagues who can come in on a freelance basis to do great ad design, digital marketing promotions, or social media management. This can expand the marketing team’s capacity, deliver excellence right away and enable us to get quick wins- all without having to hire any new full-time employees.
Focus on the Future, not the Past
Teams in turmoil feel trauma and frustration. And there may be anger. These negative emotions are natural and understandable, but processing the emotions takes focus away from the mission at hand and makes it hard to move forward.
I use one-on-one conversations with team members to discuss these emotions. I listen to what they’ve experienced and show empathy for their frustration. Then I ask them to move on. And when we meet as a team, I keep the focus on how we’re going to improve in the future and how they can help us get some quick wins. Once the wins start coming, we celebrate those and the frustration of the past starts to recede.
As a business leader who has just joined an organization, one who is trying to make improvements in a distressed area of the business, frequent and clear communication is critical up, down, and all around. Here are the major themes for my communications.
We’re striving for progress, not perfection. Stay focused on making positive progress.
Talk about the core values of the company to create an idea to rally around.
Articulate current shortcomings and talk about how to improve.
Celebrate wins. When someone on the team takes initiative, delivers a project successfully, or pleases a customer, celebrate it. Small wins lead to confidence which leads to bigger wins.
Reiterate the areas of focus over and over.
A Note on Gratitude
My last thought on this is a desire to thank the clients who have entrusted me with this role during challenging times. And I’d also like to thank the marketing team members I’ve worked with who have used their positive energy and ingenuity to make success possible. Thanks for welcoming me into your teams; working with you has been a privilege!