CMOs in Transition: Knowing when to leave, where to next, protecting your team and more

Matt Heinz

More than 25 percent of B2B marketing leaders are in or near transition, according to recent research, and that number could rise as companies and leaders come out of COVID. Last Friday's CMO Coffee Talk covered a wide variety of transition-related topics, including:

  • When to know it's time to leave
  • How to find the next gig (including red flags to avoid)
  • How to support your team in transition as well
  • Consulting and other engagement options "in between"

Some great highlights from the chat in both sessions below (in addition to our video recap).

If you are a B2B CMO or head of marketing and want to join this amazing community (live meetings every Friday, robust Slack community with 1K+ participants) let me know!


A friend recently going through transition had an interesting goal he set for himself - 50 1:1 discussions to push himself to explore more options/paths.

If they’ve gone through 4 CMO’s in the past 18 months… a bit of a red flag. I made that mistake once!

Product market fit more important for later stage companies — you can influence this in earlier stage opportunities (with the right founder / exec team + investors). Early stage focus on the people. Later stage focus on product / market fit + people. Always focus on the people.

Pick a company like a VC is great advice: VC’s invest based on market opportunity, unique differentiated value and quality of exec team….and don’t forget quality of exec team.

Don’t forget to check out the board and their relationship in the process. The working relationship with the exec team is make or break as well.

Often CEOs don’t know what they want from their CMO. What “type” pf CMO they need. And this creates misalignment.

I ask CEO or CRO if they will do a mini project with me to see how things fit. Work up a draft GTM program with them to see if we align in the process, goals, and potential activity. The journey of doing this helps align.

Another new gig red flag - how frequently/quickly is the company press release boilerplate changing.  Just want through a search - and dodged a bullet - realized the company changed the boilerplate 3 times in 5 months. Not good.

Not sure if some of you saw this article…it is kind of dated but this summarizes different types of CMO’s and has really helped me define what I wanted in a role and gain alignment with my CEO and leadership team:

Make sure you meet the CFO and discuss/align on 3 key metrics you can bot agree on during interview process. What’s most important to CFO, how do they fund investments, etc.

I walked away from a Head of Marketing role, after I presented to a room with 8 white men. Didn't wait for a decision, I said this isn't a female friendly place.

I go back 6, 12 months later to the list of companies I spoke with - always surprising how many had a fast CMO exit or never hired one.

I got wrapped up in the market opportunity of a new product of a company, because I could see the TAM potential — and I am a goal oriented person. But I missed the red flags about the flaws of the executive team dynamic. I just thought I could rally everyone around the opportunity, but the individual focus versus a team focus overpowered me.

Circle of control vs circle of influence is so key! The universe works in wonderful ways. You are the ride it wants to serve you.

Acknowledging other’s superpowers resonates. People need to know how they are perceived, so they can focus on what makes the most difference.

First time CEOs make me feel very uncomfortable.

First time CEOs learn marketing from (and usually tend to break) the first CMO/VPM… I like to be the second.

I was told by some board members to think of it as building a leader as much as helping to build a company.

Experience has taught me that the previous CMO is probably going to be 70% correct in her/his assessment.

I leave when I don’t respect the CEO. I can’t perform well working under people I don’t respect.

Make sure you are investigating the potential new company's competitors funding levels too. If the CEO is realistic on where they are and what they can do, great. Otherwise, the CEO dreaming that you can make them look the same as the unicorn funded competitor is scary.

No company is ever worth compromising your integrity.

I often feel like the umbrella shielding my team from the storm.

You can only hide so much from your team.

You hire smart people, and lying to them is a devastating vote of no confidence that they totally see.

By leaving a toxic workplace, I was able to better help my team find new positions.

I’ve given my team a framework for creating their “North Star” which is a great exercise to determine if they should stay or go.

Loyalty to the people. The job is about the boss and people that you actually enjoy. Yeah, it's nice to get paid/potentially make a lot $, but that won't get you through your day to day happiness.

I always tell my team I cannot guarantee a job here forever but I can always be there for you to polish your resume, to get your train so you can pivot etc.

Phrases I use a lot with my teams/key players:- you work so that you can live, not live so that you can work- Companies expect loyalty but rarely show it (RIF's, promotions, etc)- the person who cares the most about your career is you

Terrific and timely discussion. We're all in some sort of transition and grateful to be part of this amazing community.

Great discussion today. Nice to have this group to have honest conversation with.

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CMOs in Transition
CMOs in Transition

This week, Matt and Latane discuss transitions - since we're all going through it.

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