How CMOs Should Approach a New CEO Hire with Acoustic’s Norman Guadagno

The past several months have undoubtedly created a new normal for B2B SaaS marketing. Now imagine, on top of everything else, a new CEO joins your company.

That’s the level of disruption facing Norman Guadagno, CMO at Acoustic, an independent marketing cloud platform born out of IBM. On this episode of SaaS Half Full, host Lindsey Groepper chats with Norman about how marketing executives can navigate the first 30 days with a new CEO, including preparation for the first meeting and what to do if your views on marketing differ.

Pandemic unseats SaaS marketing plans

While the current pandemic has altered many marketing plans, it’s also triggered a transformation in the SaaS business model itself, according to Norman. “Smart executives and certainly smart marketers need to be highly sensitive to the introduction of new variants and new drivers for the SaaS business model,” he said.

For his team at Acoustic, it’s meant all marketing tactics go back under the microscope for careful examination. For example, his team increased their webinar frequency at the pandemic’s onset. But, after examining outcomes, Norman realized the quality of content mattered more than the number of webinars. His team reduced webinar frequency but delivered stronger, more-relevant content.

“What matters are the outcomes that you’re trying to drive and the results you’re trying to create,” he said. “And I think another outcome that we’ve seen from this time has been that we can focus even more on those outcomes and perhaps a little bit less on the ephemera of it all.”

Common language builds common ground with new CEO

As Norman and his team have contented with a disrupted SaaS business model, he also began working with a new CEO: Dennis Self joined Acoustic as CEO in June of this year.

Fortunately, Norman found his new CEO wanted to hear new ideas and get up to speed in the midst of the rapid transformation marketing spearheaded. He says he wanted to provide as many answers as he could upfront to help Dennis connect quickly with Acoustic’s goals.

“We approached it at first where I just wanted to get to know him a little bit and I wanted to ask him what was important to him,” Norman said. “Fortunately, Dennis is the type of leader that has a very clear and well-articulated philosophy on what’s important to him and where he wants to focus. And he was able to articulate that very quickly with me. I found that to be really useful.”

In particular, Norman cited their shared passion for reading. As they talked, they discovered they’d read several of the same business books, which lent them a common language to share ideas. Norman believes that significantly helped with the transition. “A lot of our mutual discussions were on big themes and making sure that he could come in and be able to impact the business in a way that makes sense and was also an opportunity for him to learn who I was,” he said. “And that, I think, was really rewarding for both of us.”

Over time, Norman found conversations shift from deep dives to more high-level strategy. He feels that arose after showing that marketing understood its business value. “I think when [Dennis] felt that there was a sense of ownership and excellence and knowledge around the topic, he’d spend less time going deep and more time making sure there was alignment,” said Norman.

Different marketing views create opportunities

Some SaaS marketing executives, however, have different experiences when a new CEO comes aboard. For CMOs finding they have different — or even conflicting — opinions about marketing with their new chief executive, Norman cautions marketers to take a slow and steady approach.

“I think for someone coming into one of these situations, honestly, you want to make sure that you don’t jump to conclusions too quickly,” he said. “You can start to figure out: Is the disagreement, if there’s any that might exist, going to be detrimental to your ability as a CMO to do your job?”

After analyzing potential hurdles, Norman then believes you should consider your role more holistically. “Focus on the bigger picture of your job. As a CMO, it’s to drive the business, to grow the business, to engage with customers, to create innovative ways of telling the company’s story and differentiating in the marketplace,” he said. “Can you do that or not? And if you can’t, why?”

Some of it relates to an executive’s ability to explain concepts clearly to those less well-versed. In SaaS marketing specifically, Norman points to demand and brand. Oftentimes, CEOs and other non-marketing executives try to use one to drive the other, but Norman says it’s not so simple. “They don’t always realize that demand and brand are really two sides of one coin and that you can’t really successfully over the long term have one without the other,” he said.

So, the onus is on marketers to consider how they can better demonstrate the value marketing drives. While marketers can’t measure every metric with crystal clarity, Norman says the power lies in proxy measurements and how you weave those together to tell the marketing story. 

“I’m going to do an amazing job on measuring and reporting and showing you the increase in value for the business of the things marketing can measure,” he said. “And I’m going to continue to focus on investing in and helping you see the impact of the things that we can’t necessarily correctly measure. Marketers have to get better at that.”

For more insights from Norman, listen to Episode 206 of SaaS Half Full.