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Diary of a first-time CMO - CMO of a startup

Hey B2B marketers

Here it is. Four years, $50m+ ARR and 200 pages later… My journey as a first-time CMO.

Covering the key learnings I've gathered in four years of leadership. This diary reveals the lessons that helped me scale Cognism from $3m to $50m ARR, build a team from 3 to 39, and transform our set-up from a classic lead gen function to a demand gen engine.

It’s my handbook for B2B marketers looking to thrive in leadership.

(especially if you’re as daunted as I was when I started out!) 

Diary of a first-time CMO by Alice De Courcy
By: Alice de Courcy
1 minute read

CMO of a startup

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We were definitely punching above our weight, and I think that goes to show even at this relatively early stage into my tenure as CMO, we were making the right bets and starting to get noticed.

When you envision a B2B marketing career, you might think becoming a Head of Marketing is where that journey ends, but that just isn’t true.

Even when you become a CMO, it doesn’t end. Because then you can become a Global CMO, or if you acquire multiple businesses, then you become a CMO of multiple business units.

It’s a continuously evolving role that has the potential to expand. I had never thought about that before becoming one myself.

So a piece of advice I’d give to any aspiring or first-time marketing leader is to put yourself in the best position for opportunities.

For example:

There’s always the chance that a company will hire above you when marketing requirements expand. But you can limit that chance by doing everything in your power to do the best you can in the role you’re in today, and thinking about how that role could evolve moving forwards.

That was a big lesson for me, and luckily I had the benefit of watching some of my mentors go through this process ahead of me - so I had an idea of what to expect.

I could learn from them, prepare myself and think about the opportunities before they presented themselves. And ultimately I put myself in a strong position when the company required a global CMO, and a CMO spanning multiple business units.

The key difference in this for me was developing an ability to strategise:

  • What’s the Cognism marketing strategy?
  • How does this change when we acquire a new brand, how do they come together or not come together?
  • What are the road rules, how do we scale these two brands together or separately?

Then present all of these ideas and strategies to the CEO and the board in a way that can showcase you have covered all of your bases and you are capable of thinking outside of your current remit.

As of a few months ago, Cognism and Mailtastic added a third brand into the group mix - Kaspr. Which is all very exciting, and I’m sure I’ll get a little more into that later on in this diary.

Taking things back a little first:

To when Cognism first ‘met’ Mailtastic, and how that acquisition all came about.

(insert twinkling storytelling music here…)

Once upon a time, in my early days at Cognism, James (CEO) asked me to find him an email signature management tool.

I didn’t have a lot of budget, so I went out and did my due diligence, researching the market to find what we needed.

Mailtastic was a German company, it was relatively young and hadn’t yet really started translating into English, but they had a brilliant product. In my opinion, it was years ahead of some of its competitors but for a fraction of the price - so it was an easy choice.

And we were super-happy with our experience using it once we’d been onboarded. It was really easy to use and did everything we needed it to.

So when it came to discussing possible acquisitions, James already knew we were happy customers. It fit into the marketing side of our product offering and it felt like it made a lot of sense as an acquisition play.

So Mailtastic became part of the Cognism family, and that was my first chance at stepping into that CMO role at such a strategic level.

I had to:

  • Decide whether we would integrate the brands or keep them separate.
  • Build a whole go-to-market function for Mailtastic (which was a very interesting part of the journey).
  • All at the same time as continuing to scale Cognism (because the targets there don’t stop either!).

But that’s what I’ve loved about this role. Rapid growth, constant new challenges and opportunities, plus I’m learning new things all of the time.

And I feel very grateful for the opportunity to do this. We’re very lucky to have an amazing CEO who:

  • Understands marketing and is willing to invest in it.
  • Willing to invest in talent internally before looking externally.

If he can see you working hard, believes you have potential and you have a track record of getting results, then you will get invested in.

There’s really no end to that journey either, and I suppose I’m living proof of that. I feel you can see that throughout the marketing team, in the sales org and throughout the whole company.

For example, some people might feel like the people at Cognism are quite young for the roles they hold, but actually that’s the unique vision from our CEO.

He wanted to build a team with a lot of energy.

I believe it’s beneficial to give people who have never done a role like this before a chance because as long as they have the skills and willingness to do it, they’ll work harder to prove that they can.

Also… just because you’ve held that role before, doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. Experience doesn’t always = better.

Anyway, back to my LinkedIn post.

We won a place on this list in 2020, and 2021.

This is huge kudos to the marketing team, how we have gone about building a brand and sharing what it’s like working at Cognism.

Meaning it’s not just about how we look to our prospects, but also how we’re perceived as an employer. How we foster our talent and how that talent grows.

So being included in LinkedIn’s top startup list is great recognition for all the hard work we put in! Especially as when we were first named on that list, we were much smaller than the majority of the other brands.

Want to keep up with Alice's latest CMO advice?

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