Okay okay, another day, another interview? Well, you'd be surprised by this one because Neha's professional career and expertise sets her apart from many of the marketing leaders you often meet. I had to fight my colleague at HireCMO to win this interview, so you can probably tell how much I wanted to interview Neha haha. Enjoy it as much as I did!!
Neha goes into extreme detail answering questions that a lot of us bug our marketing colleagues for. And so I encourage you to put aside 20 minutes of your time to solely focus on her responses and read through her experiences. It's very rewarding.
Neha, your career path is one of the more inspiring ones I’ve seen on these CMO interviews haha. I’ll give a quick overview to the audience:
Can I just say “WOW?!” I’m super happy to be here with you today. Do you want to give our audience a quick overview of who you are and your top 3 buckets of expertise in marketing (of course you have more haha).
Thank you for the kind words! It’s been a rewarding journey, and I genuinely believe that every challenge and success have been a stepping stone, teaching me something invaluable.
In a nutshell, I’m someone who’s deeply passionate about the intersections of technology, marketing, and business growth. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with teams that have consistently pushed boundaries, which has resulted in some remarkable milestones.
If I were to distill my expertise into three primary buckets, the would be:
One of the items that you’re passionate about (and great at) is product positioning. I can’t tell you how many landing pages I’ve looked at of even funded startups, where their header and copy is so bad, I’d have to talk to the founder directly to understand what it is their startup does haha.
For an early-stage founder starting out, what advice would you give them to better identify their positioning and tweak it so it clicks with their ICP (Ideal Customer Profile)?
Ah, product positioning - the backbone of effective marketing and yet, so many struggle to get it right. When you’re deeply involved with a product (i.e. every founder), it’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of how to communicate its value succinctly to an outsider.
Your website (and positioning) needs to clearly answer:
What is it? (category)
Who is it for? (target market)
What is the benefit to that market? (value prop)
Half the startup battle is just communicating your own value clearly. For early-stage founders, here’s a streamlined approach:
Finally, stay nimble. As the market evolves, as you gather more data, as you understand your customers better, be ready to tweak and refine your positioning. It’s an ongoing process. The objective is to ensure that when a potential customer lands on your page, within seconds, they should be thinking, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
Damn that's very well-said. I'm taking notes! :)
So Neha, I want to ask you the legendary question that every senior marketer gets bombarded with. Ready? How should an early-stage or growth-stage startup build their GTM Strategy?
More specifically, when you’re hired by a company to come in and build out their GTM, where exactly do you start? And how do you “know” if it’ll work? Curious if there’s any frameworks/best practices you can share with the audience.
I have been asked this question a lot, and every time, I approach it with the same foundational philosophy but tailor it uniquely to the business at hand. A GTM strategy is essentially your plan to deliver a product or solution to the end customer, and it encompasses everything from the product itself to the sales and marketing strategies.
Here’s a high-level framework:
As for “knowing” if it’ll work - the truth is, you never really “know”. You can make informed decisions based on data and experience, but the market is dynamic, and external factors can always throw a curveball. However, with a strong GTM, you’re well-prepared to handle such eventualities.
That... that's actually so valuable. I'll probably take some of your responses and make TikTok videos out of it, since you pack so much value into such short periods of time. Damn..
So tell me this, you’ve been involved in 3 exits in your marketing career. How early on in their company journey did you join? And what would you say your critical contributions were to their marketing/growth roadmap?
So for each one, I joined relatively early in their trajectory. Each journey and exit was unique, with its own set of challenges and opportunities. For example, with Utmost, my primary role was to build a demand generation engine that could be scaled and this involved truly understanding the ICP and nailing positioning. Whereas, at DCR Workforce, my role was more transformative in nature. It was about realigning the marketing strategy, focusing on higher-value segments, and revamping the brand identity.
To distill the essence of my contributions, I would say it was really four things. First, setting a clear strategic vision and roadmap for marketing that aligned with business goals. Second, establishing a strong, differentiated brand identity and value proposition in the market. Third, building scalable engines for demand creation, lead generation, nurturing, and conversion. And finally, being agile and adaptable to recognize market shifts early and realign strategies accordingly.
Every exit is a blend of strategy, execution, timing, and sometimes a bit of luck. But above all, its about having a stellar team and a shared vision.
You’ve worked as a brand coach and partner to the C-suite and senior leaders at several B2B organizations. Walk us through the critical marketing elements that you supported them through!
When working closely with C-suite leaders, my primary focus is to elevate the strategic impact of marketing. This begins by ensuring the marketing strategy harmoniously aligns with the business vision, and that anticipated returns justify the budget allocations.
While I support several key areas such as brand narrative development, content strategy, talent development, and sales/marketing alignment, there are a couple I’ll dive into with a bit more detail. First is truly embracing being customer-centric. I always emphasize understanding the entire customer journey, ensuring that marketing touchpoints resonate. Creating mechanisms to receive and act upon customer feedback is also crucial. Second, is understanding that today’s market demands a sophisticated approach to marketing. I help organizations navigate the complex world of marketing technology, ensuring they adopt tools that genuinely benefit them. This also means optimizing their digital marketing strategies and transitioning from traditional methods when necessary.
In essence, my partnership with senior leaders is about ingraining a marketing-centric mindset throughout the organization, positioning it as a pivotal driver of business growth. I cringe when I see a marketing department that’s primary role is to just create sales collateral.
Mhm, got it. What’s impressive also, is that you’ve worked with both early-stage startups and mature orgs who got acquired. Could you tell us how a marketer’s role and accountability varies in both kinds of environments?
The variance between early-stage startup and mature organization is definitely stark. At a startup, you’re a jack of all trades, wearing multiple marketing hats - content creation, social media management, PR, events, etc. You’re also dealing with limited resources and budget constraints, which necessitates creativity and resourcefulness. Startups are inherently risky, so there’s an imperative to rapidly iterate, frequently experiment, and sometimes strategically pivot. However, one silver lining in this dynamic landscape is the proximity to early users, which facilitates direct feedback and better narrative building.
Contrast this with the environment in a mature organization. Here, the marketer’s role is more defined, often funneled into specialized avenues. While you do have bigger budgets, that comes with heightened scrutiny. Every initiative, campaign, or strategy is analyzed for its ROI. The landscape is also more process-driven and there’s now an intricate web of stakeholder management that needs to be considered.
Lots of notes there for the audience. You’ve led leadership roles at so many organizations, Neha. You’ve been a CMO, Senior Vice President of Marketing and even Director! If there’s a marketer reading this who wants to climb up the ladder, what are 3 un-intuitive pieces of advice you’d give them?
Consider that the reader is in their late 20s, been in marketing for 3-5 years and is struggling to move from a tactical to a strategic role in this economic climate (bad, because 2023).
Here are my top three pieces of advice for the budding marketing leader:
Just remember that the trajectory to leadership is seldom a straight line.
Building off your last question, how would you say the core roles/responsibilities differ between a CMO vs. VP of Marketing vs. Director of Marketing?
To be fair, I think the responsibility of these titles blur a lot when you’re talking about early-stage companies. For many startups, their VP of Marketing is their CMO because of the many hats they wear and the outcomes they drive for the business. They seamlessly combine both strategy and execution.
However, more generally speaking, the CMO often holds a holistic view, shaping and aligning the company’s overarching strategy with its vision. The VP of Marketing bridges strategy with execution, ensuring collaboration across marketing sub-departments and focusing on both the macro goals and specific campaign oversight. Meanwhile, the Director of Marketing, is more operational in nature, leading specific marketing segments, managing teams for tactical execution, tackling KPIs, and ensuring alignment with the broader marketing vision.
When I was on your LinkedIn, what I found impressive was that at Utmost, you built and led the global marketing organization and SDR team. And the result was 500% revenue growth with a pipeline over 70% driven by Marketing leads. That’s insane.
Talk to us about how you managed to do that!
Thanks for recognizing that. Building and leading the global marketing organization and SDR team at Utmost was one of the most transformative experiences in my career. How did I manage to do it? Well, first of all, I had an incredible team with really smart people who all believed in the vision and mission. The team dynamics played such a significant role, where our culture of collaboration ensured that every member felt valued and empowered. This resulted in high levels of ownership, innovative solutions to challenges, and a collective drive towards our shared ambitious goals.
I think other things that were important in that story is that we strived to deeply understand the market. Before any strategies were formulated, we made sure we understood our audience, the competitive landscape, and the unique value prop we could bring to the table. This foundational knowledge informed every subsequent decision, from branding to content creation.
Also, aligning the SDR team with the marketing unit was crucial. This is synergy that’s often overlooked. By integrating the efforts of our SDRs with the broader marketing strategies, we ensured a seamless transition for leads from the top of the funnel down to sales-qualified opportunities. This alignment meant our messaging was consistent, our targeting was precise, and our follow-ups were timely.
Finally, we embraced a data-drive approach. Every campaign, every initiative, every piece of content was measured against key performance metrics. This not only allowed for real-time adjustments but fostered a culture of continuous learning and optimization. If a particular initiative wasn’t yielding results, we pivoted quickly, informed by data.
I noticed you’ve received over 40 recommendations on your LinkedIn from your past clients and colleagues which speak to the high caliber of your work.
How do you consistently make others feel excited working with you? And looking back, what are the top 2 career pitfalls that you (wish to have) avoided which helped you become the executive marketer you are today?
I appreciate those kind words and observations about my LinkedIn profile. Building relationships has always been about genuinely connecting with people. I’ve found that when you approach others with real respect and a curious mind, everyone’s more excited to work together. On the flip side, looking back, I sometimes tried to juggle too many things at once, thinking I’d miss out if I didn’t (classic FOMO). Spoiler: that doesn’t always work out well. Also, I’ve had moments when I put my job before everything else, even my own well-being. I’ve since realized that looking after and out for myself isn’t selfish - it’.
Given that you’ve worked in several managerial/executive marketing roles, I’m curious – how should founders today decide on the ideal chief marketing officer salary for fractional roles? And what criteria should CXOs use to determine the ideal range you’d say?
So this is a nuanced question. Deciding on the right compensation for a fractional CMO (or any executive role) can be challenging, especially with the evolving nature of the market and the specific demands of startups.
First, it’s essential to understand the market rate and get benchmarks for CMO compensation within your industry and region. But it’s not just about the market rate. Here are some other things to consider:
Lastly, don’t forget about non-monetary incentives. Many senior executives value growth opportunities, equity, or the chance to work on impactful projects. Sometimes, these can be as enticing as a high salary.In terms of actual figures, company size and stage makes a big difference, as does geography, specific company needs, industry, and even current economic climate. I’ve seen monthly retainers that range from $5,000 to $25,000. The one thing I’d advise any founder to do is to have an open dialogue with potential CXO candidates to find the best fit for both.
Love that you added that additional context. Most people I know just blurt out numbers, without adding some background to it. So Neha since you’ve literally built and trained marketing teams from scratch, I’ve got a big question for you!
If a founder today is hiring, what are the chief marketing officer interview questions that they should 100% ask? I imagine it’s hard for founders who haven’t had to do this before.
And are there any red flags they should look out for in a part-time or full-time CMO resume?
Hiring a CMO, whether fractional or full-time, is a critical decision that can shape a company’s trajectory. Here are some of my favorite interview questions (that I’ve asked and been asked):
As far as red flags, there are a few. For example, be wary of resumes that lack metrics. Effective CMOs should be able to demonstrate their impact on growth, revenue, customer acquisition, and other key metrics. Another red flag for higher-level roles if the candidate has only handled tactical, execution-level tasks. Ensure they have strategic leadership experience suitable for a CMO role.
Ultimately, of course, the hiring process is also about gut feel, cultural fit, and mutual respect. Trusting your instincts and ensuring a good vetting process will help in making the right choice.
Neha, this has been such an honour and privilege to have you on. Thank you for spending so much time going into detail about these topics. Your clients must be so, so lucky to have you.