An Inside View of a Year in the Life of a CMO

Imagine you have 30 days to walk into a new company in a relatively unfamiliar industry and produce a plan for reshaping the marketing function’s strategy, structure, process, and people. What would you do? I can—and will—tell you what I’ve done in a similar situation. My first step was to study; my second, book a busy travel schedule.

As the new CMO of Mitel, a global provider of business communications and collaboration software and services, I’m at the beginning of a new journey. I have a considerable challenge ahead to transform the company’s marketing function. I plan to take you along on that adventure. Each month in 2013 we’ll share updates with you on our steps forward—and sometimes backward—as we begin our journey of transformation.

My journal entries will focus on the approaches, progress, and changes required to deliver value to our customers, our channel, and our shareholders. The articles will be experiential and will focus on tangible results; I intend to avoid the trap that many marketers succumb to: trying to look good as opposed to doing good. These dispatches will reflect the real-world changes and challenges that confront nearly everyone within any marketing function today.

The first 100 days

My preparation began after I left my former company and weeks before I started at Mitel. I wanted to be as productive as possible from day one, so I drew upon the framework and insights within Thomas Neff and James Citrin’s book You’re in Charge–Now What?

This book helped me prepare and develop my first 100-day agenda. A key lesson the authors offer up is to listen, question, and absorb yourself in to the business, industry, customers, and partners. The book provides examples and models to use during your first 100 days in a new role to help one home in on the handful of critical areas that require attention. In my first few weeks at Mitel I heeded what I had read and learned like a sponge, while avoiding the temptation to jump to an answer. As with most impatient types, this represented perhaps the toughest and most important aspect of my early tenure.

Mentally prepared and armed with my 100-day agenda I immediately went to Gemba (a Japanese term meaning the point of occurrence or impact), which for me is the front line. Within the first four weeks I visited seven of Mitel’s largest offices across Canada, the U.S., and Europe. I met with my new marketing team and dozens of Mitel employees across all functions. Most important, I met with roughly 20 customers, 30 channel partners, and several industry analysts. I needed to conduct these interactions so that I could deliver my first project: a 30-day assessment of marketing strategy, structure, process, and people along with a plan for improving those elements.

I focused on strategy and structure first:

Strategy: Getting a current view of the external and internal market drivers—from voice of the customer (VOC), primary and secondary research, and interviewing our sales teams and channel partners—was the first step my staff and I took. This work allowed us to document and distill those key external and internal drivers. Once that work was completed we determined what a winner looks like in our market against each driver. We then identified gaps between our current state and our future “winner” state. This gap analysis helped us identify our strategic objectives, which include the following three areas of focus:

1. Define, as well as communicate, a customer-centric brand promise

2. Drive demand for and with our channel partners

3. Improve our customers’ online experience

Our initial VOC research, which involved primary research carried out with Gartner and secondary research from a number of analyst firms in our market space, we gained an in-depth understanding of our customer’s expectations, preferences, and even their aversions. In short, it gave us a better understanding of our number one most important constituency and how we can and should be more relevant to them. This remains a work in progress, as it should: VOC should be ingrained in everything we do as a marketing function and as an enterprise. This VOC, coupled with understanding where our customers go to learn about products, services, and solutions in our space, will help us allocate resources in a way that maximizes the impact we have within our focus areas.

Structure: In parallel we conducted a deep-dive evaluation of how well the marketing function is currently structured and operating. Unfortunately, there is no magic benchmark for the right structure, the right staff size, the ideal ratio of people-to-marketing investment, or, for that matter, the ideal return on investment (ROI) measures.

So, we used a combination of past experiences (I’ve been through similar exercises). We also triangulated with IDC’s 2012 CMO Tech Marketing Barometer Study, which provides high-tech benchmarking data from leading technology brands. Once you have these numbers, areas ripe for improvement present themselves quickly and clearly.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this exercise. Not only do you become familiar with your operation, but this work also equips you with some basic ratios and levers to get to the most efficient model. For example, we quickly discovered that the decentralized nature of our marketing function resulted in the allocations of marketing resources across the organization and throughout many functions.

Our decentralization manifested itself in some duplication of efforts, multiple marketing propositions, and a high degree of frustration. After the benchmarking exercise I proposed a new, more centralized organizational model designed to address our current misalignment, strengthen our focus, and, hopefully, eliminate many frustrations.

Working closely with my regional sales and product line peers, I developed a structure that will focus our resources in a way that aligns much more effectively with our company strategy, while supporting the needs of both the product lines and sales channels. Our new structure also aligns with the markets we sell to: small business, medium/enterprise business, and contact center. We’ll be putting a team of technical segment marketing managers in key positions to ensure that we plan, develop, and execute programs that are relevant to these segments and, ultimately, drive growth.

Once we plowed through the financials, the data, and research and figured out the efficiency model, it was time to address our function’s effectiveness. I’ll report next month on how the new team and structure are adapting and focus on the process and cultural changes we’ll be making to drive greater marketing effectiveness.

About Mitel and Me

Let me introduce myself. My name is Martyn Etherington, recently appointed EVP and CMO of Ottawa-based Mitel. As CMO, I have oversight responsibility for all aspects of our corporate marketing strategy and programs globally. I report to our president and CEO Rich McBee.

Founded in 1973, Mitel is a global provider of business communications and collaboration software and services. It serves more than 100,000 customers in more than 100 countries via a network of more than 1,600 value-added reseller and partners around the world. We have some 1,700 employees and posted revenues of more than $610 million in 2012. We have three lines of business: IP telephony solutions; unified communication and collaboration solutions; and contact center solutions.

We operate in a highly competitive market space against some large brands (e.g., Cisco and Microsoft). As a result, our challenge is to differentiate ourselves as a challenger brand. Fortunately, we have a unique and distinct first market-mover advantage within the virtualization of communications and collaboration software for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

I joined Mitel because, first and foremost, I believe in our products, solutions, and market opportunity. It also appealed to me that Mitel plays in an exciting market sector, one whose providers enable companies and teams to communicate and collaborate more effectively and to do so without a huge investment technology or technical expertise. By delivering this enablement, we help liberate our customers to focus more time, resources, and innovation on their core competencies, as well as on their customers.

With 25 years of high-tech experience I’ve had roles in product marketing, sales, and almost every other marketing discipline. In addition, I’ve been a general manager responsible for sales, service, and marketing with profit-and-loss (P&L) responsibilities.

In those roles I’ve worked internationally for some of the largest high-tech brands (including DEC, IBM, Sequent, and Danaher/Tektronix) along with some startups. I’ll be bringing that breadth of knowledge to my role as CMO of Mitel, transforming and aligning its marketing with its business goals, and rebuilding the marketing organization along the way.

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