Whether you’re a seasoned chief marketing officer (CMO) or have just taken on this role for the first time, the role brings with it many challenges. Some CMO challenges are typical of all management-level positions, while others are uniquely marketing-based challenges. Being prepared for these emergent issues will help you cope with them as soon as they arise, and knowing how to spot the warning signs can help you intervene as soon as possible before problems worsen.

1. A Difference of Opinion on Creative Ideas

  • Problem: Marketing is a creative field. While you have specific objectives, how you accomplish them is often left up to you and the team you lead. During meetings, when you discuss your strategy, you’ll encounter heated debates on creative ideas.
  • Warning Signs: If you’re checking in on your team members’ progress, you’ll likely see many of them working hard on competitive ideas. If some of the ideas are similar, that could increase the amount of competition.
  • Solution: Democratize. If your team presents several winning ideas, have the group discuss the merits and faults of each solution, and then put it to a vote. Alternatively, think of a way to combine multiple creative ideas in a better campaign than anyone could have come up with independently.

However, you choose to solve the issue of creative differences on your team, make sure you follow up with team members individually to soothe bruised egos and reassure team members. After all, everyone’s contributions are valid.

2. Conflicting Instructions from Upper Management

  • Problem: You get different instructions from the top. Perhaps they’ve decided to change from a flat management structure to something more experimental like holacracy; maybe two higher-ups disagree on your budget or how it’s spent. Either way, you’re caught in the middle, and you have the wellbeing and success of your department to consider.
  • Warning Signs: You’re hearing gossip or receiving direct questions from those you report to. Your own team seems uncertain and worried. You feel put in the middle by the upper management.
  • Solution: Propose a meeting with both executives. You and your team can’t be expected to handle conflicting instructions. Communication is the solution here. Once everyone sits down together and comes up with a solution that works for everyone’s interests, including your teams.

Conflicting instructions from upper management are one of the most difficult challenges you can face as a marketing department manager. Be careful not to waste too much time on this, but make sure to diplomatically intervene before this problem gets out of hand.

3. Lack of Communication in Your Department

  • Problem: Members of the marketing department aren’t communicating with each other effectively. As a result, processes become more difficult, and other departments (and potentially the public) received mixed messages from the marketing department.
  • Warning Signs: People remain isolated, even in an open office environment.
  • Solution: Schedule formal meetings to discuss issues. You may have to structure the meetings for your team to get them in the habit of cross-communicating. Chat with team members individually to ensure there aren’t any interpersonal conflicts on your team, preventing better communication habits. Suggesting commonalities and cross-references with other team members’ ideas and processes can also facilitate better cooperation and communication on your team.

You may also wish to lead some offsite activities if there’s room in a budget. Even taking the team out for pizza once per month can help improve communication and get your team to learn about one another and what they have in common.

4. Marketing Metrics and Return on Investment (ROI)

  • Problem: Management wants to see a return on investment for your department. Unfortunately, many marketing activities do not offer an immediate return. Upper management still needs to deliver good news to investors, however, and they want answers in the form of cold, hard numbers―or they may consider cutting team members.
  • Warning Signs: You’re not told what specific metrics you need to provide, but you know you have to prove your value. Upper management seems impatient with long-term marketing strategies, such as inbound marketing.
  • Solution: Ensure your marketing campaigns and long-term strategies involve a hefty amount of short-term wins. Embrace PPC (pay per click) campaigns and use metrics beyond sales, such as newsletter signups, to prove your success. These are, after all, technically conversions of another type, simply capturing people at a different place in the marketing funnel than someone who is already ready to buy.

If companies are families, the marketing department often feels like a bad kid or black sheep. Marketing is necessary, and everyone knows it, but few have the tolerance or patience to see ROI as a long-term objective rather than something that works immediately.

5. Bad Communication Habits from Other Departments

  • Problem: New things are happening in the company. Maybe it’s a software update, new product or service, or something newsworthy. It could be a process change. Ultimately, either you haven’t found out about it or for whatever reason, you’ve interpreted it differently than the rest of the leadership. If you’re the last to know, that’s not a good sign―as you know, external marketing campaigns take lengthy amounts of preparation.
  • Warning Signs: Everyone has a different take on the latest news or on what’s actually going on.
  • Solution: Ask for written communication about leadership. Let your higher-ups know that it’s important for you to know about marketing-related matters ASAP―the more time you have to craft a marketing campaign, the better, especially if it involves budgeting.

Marketing often gets left out since marketers handle the end of the process. You do the last bit of work before the actual sales process. What others might not understand is that inbound marketing, in particular, takes a fair amount of planning and preparation. Fixing communication between departments will help, and it will help keep things running smoothly in your department.

6. Upper Management Moves Goalposts

  • Problem: Upper management sets goals, then they move the goalposts. In other words, you get to where they wanted you to go, in terms of reach, revenue, conversions, or other KPIs (key performance indicators), but they set another goal for you to reach. Then they tell you that you’ve failed. This can be a major detriment to your team’s morale, especially when the company focuses it entirely on marketing.
  • Warning Signs: If you’re presented with undefined goals, it’s a good indication that the c-suite doesn’t exactly know what they want. This is an invitation for them to move the goalposts.
  • Solution: Combat undefined goals by creating KPIs of your own if upper management doesn’t present them to you. You can ask for your goals to be defined in writing to get a better idea about what others expect of your department. Additionally, to combat low morale, you can create your own departmental goals and reward your team members for success.

The goalpost example shows how upper management decisions can directly affect your team. As the buffer between the two, it’s up to you to minimize the negative impact on your team and to communicate effectively to both sides.

7. Interpersonal Conflict Within Your Marketing Department

  • Problem: Two or more people within the marketing department have major conflicts. It’s up to you to settle these conflicts. Others know about it, and it makes your department look bad. Furthermore, it creates a stressful environment for everyone in marketing, especially if you have an open floor plan. If anyone feels threatened, human resources may become involved, drawing the wrong kind of attention to your department.
  • Warning Signs: You’ll notice behavioural cues from the team members having a conflict. As a manager, you’ll need to be a little removed from the situation, but you should try to gain an understanding of what’s going on. Sometimes you won’t get a warning or a cue―on occasion; there could be an outright verbal or physical altercation.
  • Solution: You need to do what’s best for your team, and safety comes first. If the situation could become unsafe, make sure to document it and to tell human resources, even if you can take steps on your own. You can try mediating the issues, but if the conflict has escalated too extensively or if the reason for the conflict is too intense, it would be wise to go to HR for intervention.

While it would be ideal if everyone could remain professional, that’s not always how it happens at work. We spend 40 hours per week with our teams if we’re working in-office―that’s often more time than we even get to spend with our families. There’s no wonder conflict will arise. Keeping an open door policy for your team will also help you catch conflicts before they grow.

8. Major Marketing Mistakes

  • Problem: Your department has made a major mistake, such as posting something inappropriate or offensive, running an ad with a big typo, or releasing information too early. You get that sinking feeling in your gut―a major mistake has happened, and you and your team are responsible.
  • Warning Signs: Unfortunately, there usually aren’t any warnings for this. If you could spot them, then you’d surely prevent the mistakes.
  • Solution: The best thing you can do is have a plan for a marketing disaster. How will you handle it? Work with your team to organize a disaster plan, and make sure more than one person has the social media passwords in the event of an emergency.

One thing you can also do: let your company’s president know all about your disaster policy. While no one likes to think about the disaster as a real possibility, at least they’ll know that you have a plan should something bad happen.

9. Changes in Team or Office Structure

  • Problem: Upper management imposes a major change in your team or office structure. Examples could include moving to or from an open office layout, “restructuring,” layoffs, new hires, or combining teams or team spaces. (Some places love “smarketing,” which combines sales and marketing on one team.)
  • Warning Signs: Your boss starts floating around some experimental ideas, your employees are trepidatious about their employment situation, and your team has high turnover.
  • Solution: If you notice the warning signs, have an honest conversation with your boss about why you disagree with proposed changes. If your boss has issues with the way things are going, perhaps there’s another way. See what you can suggest instead. Ask your team for feedback, as well. If high turnover is an issue, talk to HR about employees’ exit interviews. What’s missing? Try to approach it from a space of improvement. Present data, facts, statistics, and team opinions when opposing changes. If change does occur, chances are there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Figure out a way to minimize the negative impact on your team and work hard to mitigate the damage.

Major changes in office structure can feel like the worst. Whatever you do, make sure you’re genuine with your team. If they’re not enthusiastic about a change, let them know you understand and that you’ll get through this difficult transition together.

As you can see, handling difficulties as a marketing manager is often about leveraging your interpersonal communications skills―and understand that people with different roles in your company may not have the same skill set. Additionally, you can rely on the tools that you have to make a commitment to your team and see them through.

When you’re managing marketing, you’re expected to be constantly creative, communicative, and thorough. Marketing is one of the most adaptable departments in most companies, and others often take that for granted. Make sure your team knows you appreciate them, do your best for them, and charge through challenges.

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