Top 10 Challenges for Marketing Leaders in a New Role

19 July 2022

This article outlines the most common challenges faced by marketing leaders recently placed at high-growth VC/PE-backed tech companies.

As former CMOs, we know the first 100 days are critical for any marketing leader in a new role, especially at high-growth tech companies. Whether they are the marketing executive running the whole department or in charge of an important part of the marketing function, senior executives expect them to make an impact quickly. However, obstacles and challenges will inevitably stand in their way, and create risk.

To help our newly-placed marketing leaders address their challenges, hit their goals, and execute quickly, we created the RevelUp Success Program, now fully integrated with RevelOne’s executive search services.

We’d like to share what we’ve learned from over 150 marketing leaders who’ve benefited from this program – to help other hiring managers and new hires anticipate these challenges and address them head-on.

Below, we share the 10 most common challenges faced by newly-placed marketing leaders.

Challenge #1: Building their team quickly

CMOs and senior-level marketing leaders are often expected to uplevel executional sophistication, expand into new channels and growth strategies, and evaluate and grow their team. In all these cases, hiring manager or director-level talent to develop and execute against immediate initiatives, and supplement talent or resource gaps become a new marketing leader’s priority. But, finding experienced, top-tier talent (particularly in a hot, candidates’ market) is a significant challenge while also executing your marketing plan. It can take months of calendar time to find and hire the right people, even when leveraging their own networks. Sound org design, effective role scoping, and an efficient search process are critical to addressing this challenge quickly.

Challenge #2: Managing expectations

Newly placed marketing leaders – particularly those in newly-created senior roles – are expected to have a significant impact on the trajectory of an already fast-growing startup. Managing these high expectations is challenging to do while also learning the company and its people, establishing trust in their own ability, showing progress, and persistently tackling resource challenges. Per the first challenge, new marketing leaders often don’t yet have the team to deliver on these expectations, they may not have the tech stack to efficiently build upon, or the data insights to inform decisions. Also, most new growth strategies just take time to develop, execute and gain traction. Marketers need effective expectation management strategies and strong relationships with their leadership team in order to address this challenge.

Challenge #3: Lack of Resources

New marketing leaders often face other resource constraints like lack of HR/talent support in hiring (or even getting approval for headcount), lack of internal resource support like developers, engineers, and data scientists, or budget for technology, media/advertising, and agencies. This challenge, in large part, drives the need to manage expectations (#2 above). Marketers in new roles must effectively evaluate and prioritize these resource requirements, adopt scrappy out-of-the-box execution methods, and just get the job done while securing these resources. The right experience, strategy, and network support are extremely helpful.

Challenge #4: New to an Industry or Target Customer

Every newly-placed marketing leader brings with them experience, skills, and abilities that will help them succeed. But when they are entering an industry that is new to them, or marketing to a target customer segment they have never marketed to before, the learning curve can be steep. For example, if a marketing leader has never had to abide by healthcare advertising restrictions or has never marketed to young adults under 17, they must somehow get up to speed quickly or risk making mistakes that can be costly. Through our RevelUp Success Program, we help these new hires uplevel their knowledge in these areas quickly with the right network and resources to tap into.

Challenge #5: Limited data and analytics

Even at an advanced public company, data and analytics are likely to be far from perfect.  At high-growth VC/PE-backed companies, marketers often inherit limited business intelligence (BI) and analytics resources, incomplete customer data, and a sparse tech stack. As marketing becomes ever more data-driven, the right data and customer tracking are critical for insights and decision-making. But, it doesn’t make sense for most companies to jump right into multi-million dollar tech stacks and full BI teams to support marketing.  There is an art to “rightsizing,” then building out the data science – it’s critical to evaluate your immediate and most impactful insight requirements, identify the most critical resources needed, find the right tech and vendor partners, and implement the optimal roadmap.

Challenge #6: Lack of processes and organization

Early-stage startups need to constantly try new things, pivot quickly, and not be afraid to take chances or lean into change – this is an environment where order and process can sometimes slow things down. However, once they start to gain traction, understand their customer, and discover the most important growth levers, they need to focus on what’s working and build a reliable foundation that can take them through the next 3-5 years of growth. This inflection point is where marketing leaders need to harness what may feel like organized chaos into an agile process and organization that can enable a business to scale. This entails the monumental challenge of changing long-standing behavior, which requires a strategic, insightful, and cross-functional approach.

Challenge #7: Showing impact quickly

Marketing leaders in a new role are expected to deliver results – quickly – or risk losing credibility and future support. Some leaders can deliver at least an initial impact with minimal difficulty, which is why this falls in the second half of our list. For those facing several of the above or below challenges, however, this becomes more difficult. Regardless, marketing leaders can’t fly underneath the radar as they are the single point of accountability for marketing (or their function) and are expected to show how their efforts impact key business KPIs. They need to develop a strategic and effective plan that will allow them to navigate and address challenges, delivering “quick wins” while spinning up initiatives and laying the foundation that will drive medium to long-term impact. Leaders that do this well, leverage relationships with freelancers, agencies, martech vendors, and expert advisers from their network to plan and execute.

Challenge #8: Changing internal thinking and direction

New marketing leaders are often brought in to be a ‘change agent’. This could be expanding your target market and rethinking your product strategy or GTM positioning, changing the brand strategy to compete in an increasingly saturated market, or changing the culture.  Since high-growth businesses have already done well with the approach they’ve been taking, many employees – and even leadership – can be resistant to the idea of substantial ‘change’ even if it is now required to get to the next level of growth. Three-quarters of CMOs and marketing leaders consider driving substantial change in an organization one of their biggest challenges. When this is a core requirement, it is critical for a hiring manager and newly placed marketing leader to make sure they have the right united approach to inspire leadership, cross-functional teams, and the marketing org to ‘change’.

Challenge #9: New to leadership in general

For new managers and superstar ICs stepping into their first leadership position, it can be daunting to manage people, serve on the executive team, and juggle increased responsibility – not to mention accountability – often for the first time. As head of marketing or an important marketing function, they are also expected to shift from mid-level execution experts (with which they are comfortable) to strategic leaders who can still somehow get the execution done. The right internal relationships, outside networks, and mentor support are important to help them navigate this new terrain.

Challenge #10: Launching and testing new channels

While almost every marketing leader in a new role faces this challenge, it falls at the end of our list because good marketing leaders excel at channel expansion, and most have a certain comfort level when addressing it. But no marketer is an expert in every marketing channel – consider PR, social, SEM, partnerships, and influencer marketing as a few examples. Access to the right information  – in order to choose the right testing strategy or the right partner to execute – can result in saved budget, precious calendar time, and greater impact.

Anticipating these challenges is critical.

The RevelUp Success Program is included in all of our executive searches and supports our newly placed marketing leaders in just this way, however, if you or your new marketing leader is struggling with any of the above challenges, please contact us directly, and we would be happy to help.


About RevelOne

RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.

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