3 lessons in building commercial acumen from CMOs of fast-growth companies

CrowdStrike, ShowPo and Mydeal.com.au marketing leaders share their advice on bolstering commercial acumen from being at the coalface of rapid growth


Marketing leaders are under more pressure than ever to deliver results that can be clearly demonstrated as contributing to company growth.

Yet with a remit that’s arguably more fluid and fast-moving than ever before, finding ways to deliver on those growing - and often hyperbolic - executive demands must also be supported by the right resources, strategy, data and team capability. Problem is, too many marketers still haven’t built the skills or approach to effectively articulate these needs to their CEOs and peers.

And you only have to look at the short tenure of CMOs in the c-suite today to realise this is quite the issue.  

To glean some of the secrets to delivering on rapid growth, CMO reached out to marketing leaders from some of the world’s fastest-growing organisations to ask them what lessons they’ve learnt in how to ask and channel what they need in order to deliver on expectations.

CrowdStrike global CMO, Johanna Flower

You can’t be shy on your needs. As marketers, we don’t necessarily ask enough for help or resources, we tend to wait until we’re at breaking point. A lesson learnt for me is if the company has the trajectory and growth plans to really become a big player very quickly, you have to look at what it will take then go with your business plan, resource allocation and dollar value. You can say: ‘I can make it happen, but this is what I need to get there’.

Johanna Flower
Johanna Flower


I’ve been fortunate at Crowdstrike that every time I’ve done that, it’s been a yes. It’s not just asking for resources of course, it needs to be well thought through.

An example is the launch of our product trial. We built it, and there are high expectations. To get there, we created a trial as a route to market, and we added the paid component, so it is an ecommerce route to market. I had to go and say this is what it will take to make this truly successfully, to grow and scale, and grow 100 per cent quarter-over-quarter, which is ambitious.

My advice to other CMOs is to put your business cases forward. If it’s clear what the goal is and you know what you need to get there, don’t be shy of asking. But do it in the way that a CFO and CEO look at it and see it as a valued investment to get to the end goal.

In any business, it’s sometimes hard to do that when you’re running as fast as you are and catches up on you. It’s also hard when you’re going into so many customer segments and markets like we are, as you know they’ll all require separate strategies.

This again comes back to business plans. In the world of marketing, we have all our statistics, but it’s about building a true business case. You may not necessarily know exact outcomes, but you can base it on previous experience, or early-stage data you’re collecting. Take a bit of a chance, pick your battles and areas, and go for it.

Another thing as a CMO in a growing business is the importance of looking at your marketing function and understanding what the make-up and skills of those people are. My background is field marketing, campaigns and channel marketing. Early on, one of the big things I needed to hire was more technical, product marketing skills to complement those.

Some heads of marketing will build too narrow; you do need to consider what the full end-to-end marketing mix is you need to create inside your own team and make sure you hire in those skillsets.

The biggest challenge for me at CrowdStrike is scaling. As we add more people inside marketing as well as rest of organisation, how we continue to keep the culture we created and that consistent message in market is key. To do that, we must make sure people understand our processes so they can become productive quickly.

Mark Baartse, CMO, ShowPo

While it’s true in most business functions that there’s more work to do than time to do it, it’s doubly true in a fast-growing company.

One of the tricks I’ve found is actually doing less. We’ve all been in the position of trying to do 20 things at once and failing at all of them, or half of them falling by the wayside. Having a clear plan of where you want to be – even if that’s only a few months in advance – can help distinguish between real growth drivers and the pointless busy work we so easily get caught up in.

Mark Baartse
Mark Baartse


You need to put on your commercial hat and figure out which of these activities will really drive growth and which just sound good. For example, we are often approached to collaborate on joint marketing with different companies. It’s the sort of thing that sounds like ‘good marketing’, but when we look at the numbers, 90 per cent of the time they don’t move the needle at all. They also take a lot of energy, which distracts us from real growth activities.

As always, having the right people is critical. Finding people who aren’t precious about job titles and can roll their sleeves up and do whatever is needed is essential in a fast-growing company.

Having a solid foundation of accurate data is also essential. Time spent arguing about the quality and accuracy of data is highly damaging and undermines the fundamental basis of data-driven marketing. If you aren’t confident, fixing your data should be your top priority.

Related: Mark Baartse joins the luminaries in the 2018 CMO50 list of Australia's most innovative and effetcive marketers

It's very common for your Web tracking (usually Google Analytics) to be inaccurate or incomplete, for example. A good start is checking your revenue/leads in the source of truth (ERP, ecommerce engine, CRM and so on) and comparing the two. A discrepancy of more than 5 per cent should raise alarm bells.

We are always looking for more nuanced data to make better business decisions on. How many people land on a product page which is out of stock in their size, but then go onto buy another product which is available in their size? Having that data helps us optimise our media partner feeds, as well as our upsell and cross sell opportunities. 

John Barkle, marketing manager, Mydeal.com.au

Rapid-growth is always a blessing for any business. It can be the outcome of a winning formula that opens up enormous opportunities for a business or validation of an improved business model.

John Barkle
John Barkle


Regardless of the circumstances, CMOs and wider management should view it as a vital time to start future-proofing the business with an expectation that the good times will not last forever. Always be questioning the merits of current marketing strategies – an ongoing SWOT analysis is always a good place to start. Identify successes that can be enhanced further, weaknesses that need to be addressed, opportunities yet untapped and minimise threats that are on the horizon (this aligns with planning for the unexpected).

The benefit of rapid-growth means CMOs can focus on new opportunities and partnerships. This might be identifying new revenue streams, embarking on new ventures or commercialising new assets with an organisation.

Data is the lifeblood of business, and there could never be a more important time to capture more valuable data than when an organisation is on a fast-growth trajectory. The learnings and experiences extracted during these periods will prove vital during leaner times. Unfortunately, however, during these times many businesses ignore the need to further invest in data, insights and talent.

Rapid-growth can occasionally be an enemy of best-in-class marketing practices and good strategy. CMOs should always be weary of falling into the trap of complacency. Marketing strategy must always remain flexible, too. As the data and numbers change, the strategy must change with it. Be prepared to walk into a room and admit something has not worked or something needs to change.

And finally, every employee should be able to revise what the business’s mission, vision and goals are in a few sentences. It is a good test to use to see whether or not your strategy is clear and coherent. If it is not comprehensible to the people who work within the organisation every day, customers or clients may be getting a completely different message to what you intended them to understand.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu  



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