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Diary of a first-time CMO - Put yourself in their shoes

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

Put yourself in their shoes

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Alright, starting us off here with some behind-the-scenes info that provides a bit of context to this post.

At this time, we were still running e-book downloads as a huge part of our strategy; we were very much still on the MQL hamster wheel.

We had dedicated MDRs following up on content downloads and we were running extensive cold calling blitzes on a regular basis.

At this stage, our marketing team was only about 3 people and the company was maybe only 40 people in total. I was keen to drive alignment between each of the small pods, so I suggested that we join sales and made some cold calls ourselves.

We decided we’d call the content leads that we’d ordinarily send to sales - after all, we should put our money where our mouth is and see what quality we were driving. Plus we knew we could hold our own in those conversations.

Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly didn’t take to it like a duck to water… but it was such a valuable experience. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

Here are a few of the responses we got:

“Did I download something? I don’t remember.”

“Cognism… Who’s that? What content are you talking about?”


“Oh yeah, I’ve got that open on my desktop but I haven’t actually read it.”

And they weren’t terribly warm conversations either, which was a misconception we had I think.

We had expected a more friendly reception because we had thought, ‘well, they’ve downloaded some of our content, they know who we are and must have some level of interest’.

But in reality, the reception was pretty cold. And in some cases, they may even have been more antagonistic because they didn’t remember taking the action to download content that you’re telling them they did.

They therefore didn’t understand why you’d be calling which made it near impossible to pitch to them afterwards.

So that was a massive learning opportunity for us, and it really was the moment that sparked that ‘there must be a better way’.

We could, fortunately, still get some really valuable data from this exercise. Once we were able to get people talking.

Less about selling Cognism, but more about what our prospects cared about. What problems were they facing? What content did they find interesting? 

And this really helped us shape what we did next by:

  • Learning what language they use.
  • What their views and opinions on various subjects were.
  • Getting to grips with our core personas.
  • Validating any messaging we wanted to test out.

We used this information to lead the way when creating website copy, building our messaging and positioning and ultimately putting together the content plan that allowed us to scale.

Because of the size of the B2B marketing team at this time, I was pretty hands-on with each of these processes, so feeling like I had that insight into our prospects was super valuable.

2 key takeaways I gained from this experience

1: Don’t be afraid of getting involved, get your hands dirty and get on the phone with your target personas.

It’s really not as scary or hard as it might seem. They don’t need to be customers either, prospects can give really great insights. You just need to block out time in your calendar to do it.

2: Some of the best things you can do as a CMO to move the needle, you can do for free.

For example, using the insights you’ve learned on the phones to rework website copy or redesign high-intent pages. These things can make a massive difference to numbers versus spending more on ads with messaging that doesn’t resonate.

Honestly? I wish I’d spent more time calling prospects. It can lead to such quick wins and costs no money.

Any first-time CMO who comes in saying I think I can improve xyz figures and do it without spending any money… just using your own time, well, that’s a massive win.

Again, I won’t lie to you. When I started as a CMO, I felt like I was blagging it. So I decided I’m just going to try to be the cheapest, hardest working CMO out there and bring the best value I can offer.

So that was my mentality. And as you can imagine, that went down well with finance and the CEO. If you’re able to make an impact without spending anything… of course they’re going to be happy!

This is one area where you can definitely do that. 

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