Surviving a New CEO Transition with Paige O’Neill

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You’re a SaaS CMO and have received news that you are getting a new CEO. Super! Super? Super, right?! In this episode, Paige O’Neill, CMO of Seismic, shares her story of transitioning to a new CEO in her previous role.

From what the first meeting should entail to the pressures of balancing old and new, Paige gives an honest account of what she learned in the transition and the two years that followed. Bottom line? A new CEO means starting over, which can simultaneously be extremely positive and challenging for the incumbent CMO.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question.

So you’ve just been hit with the news about your new CEO. More likely than not, your brain is firing on all cylinders. Who is this new CEO? What does this transition mean for the company and my role? Is marketing going to be valued moving forward?

These are fruitful questions. But Paige advises CMOs to reverse the paradigm and ask themselves what their new CEO is thinking, too.

“Spend a fair amount of time thinking… ‘What’s gonna be top of mind for the CEO coming in? What’s the charter that they’re gonna have? What are some of their initial priorities gonna be in the first couple of months that they’re in the business?'” Paige said. “Trying to get in on the ground floor of those priorities as early as possible… is one of the most crucial things you can do.”

Finally, consider what your marketing colleagues and reports are asking each other. They’re probably equally anxious about the new CEO and will look to you for answers. Paige said that providing a professional level of transparency during these uncertain times is the best way to enable a successful transition.

Never stop — evolve.

Most marketing campaigns have significant lead time, with many activations not bearing fruit until nine months to a year down the pipe.

With long-term results at stake, facing a new CEO is nerve-wracking. Paige’s advice? Don’t allow a shakeup in the C-suite to derail your department’s progress. If anything, use the shift to build momentum.

“You’ve gotta really go in and balance and say [to the CEO], ‘Look, I understand that you might have strategic levers that you wanna pull. This is what we’re doing now, and this is what it’s generating from a pipeline perspective,'” said Paige. “‘Let’s make sure that as we make these decisions, we’re making them in a way that’s not going to cut off pipeline in mid-flight.'”

If your new CEO isn’t sold on the utility of current campaigns, Paige suggested using data to your advantage. Every CEO approaches marketing differently, but cold, hard data is difficult to argue with.

Treat every day like your first

You’ve heard of treating every day like it’s your last — but what about the reverse?

“I used to do an exercise with my team. If I’d been there a couple of years, I would pretend like I just started, and I would say, ‘All right, pretend I’m walking in the door as your new CMO.
What would you tell me that you probably aren’t saying to my face right now?’… [Getting a new CEO is] kind of a similar exercise,” said Paige.

With a new CEO, CMOs (and their teams) have the opportunity to re-align around revised objectives and brainstorm new ideas. This degree of change can be scary, sure. But it can also be incredibly freeing and productive.

Listen to episode 365 of SaaS Half Full for more of Paige’s insights.