I’ve said it once.

But I’ll say it again: Career paths are not linear. That’s true for most. And that’s especially true for CMOs.

That said, there is a similarity that will define your success as a CMO: The people that help you along the way.

The further you get on the path to CMO 3.0, the more important it is to establish a group of external peers – or personal board of directors – to grow in your career.

As a VP of Marketing, you have co-workers with similar experiences you can lean on for guidance. As a CMO, you are often the only one solving your team’s unique business problems.

That’s why it’s crucial to connect with peers outside your work – because no one else in your organization does what you do. Doing this means reaching out, making connections, being vulnerable, and leaving yourself open to the opinions of others.

On my podcast, I’ve been lucky to talk to some incredible marketing leaders. And below, you’ll get to learn from two of them – and how collaboration has played a key role in their success.

From Interviews to Category Creation – Collaboration is Key with Jennifer Johnson, CMO of Amplitude

Interviewing is a two-way street. You’re assessing the state of a business just as much as they’re assessing whether you’ll be a great fit.

In this two-part episode, Amplitude CMO, Jennifer Johnson, shares the questions – and answers – CMOs should ask and look for when joining a company. She then digs into the career-defining task of creating a new category.

Key Questions & Red Flags During Interviews

[In] every role, especially this role, you need to have the CEO’s support and backing. So my interview cycle is actually interviewing the CEO.”

– Jennifer Johnson

The alignment between a CEO and CMO is everything. CMOs that lack this alignment rarely last long. So establishing whether this alignment is even possible during your interview is necessary. That’s why Jennifer often asks about the history of marketing at a company, how a CEO measures marketing’s value, and then reaches out to the board to get their perspective as well.

If she hears things like “I measure marketing based on leads,” it’s an instant red flag. However, if the vision is bigger – for example, focusing on revenue and a go-to-market strategy – Jennifer sees the potential. This same tactic of “interviewing your boss” can be applied to almost any position.

The Legwork Before, During, and After Launching a Category

What category design actually does is put the company and the leadership team on a set of decisions to [determine] who the company is and what the vision is going forward.”

– Jennifer Johnson

Category design is a hot topic in B2B tech. Personally, I love nerding out about category creation, especially because I’m passionate about product marketing. And in this episode with Jennifer, who is also a former product marketer, I went full nerd.

She shared not only the steps for launching a category, but the legwork for maintaining that category. As part of this process, Jen builds a tribe of people: “I go through each stakeholder, press, analysts, customers, partners, and investors.” Each person, she says, offers a wholly unique perspective.

In other words, category creation isn’t a one-and-done exercise. You need to stay aligned with your experts and company to be successful.

Building Support During a Crisis with Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, CMO of FullStory 

All of us had to adapt, pivot, and drive change quickly to keep our businesses afloat during the height of the pandemic.

So imagine diving headfirst into all that change – willingly. That’s exactly what Kirsten Newbold-Knipp did. Discover what she’s learned in her first eight months as FullStory’s CMO about empathy, alignment, and building a personal board of directors.

Making Empathy Your Superpower

I have done everything from prospecting to closing six-figure deals to helping my teams close six-figure deals. That builds a lot of empathy for sellers who are putting their paychecks on the line.”

– Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

I’ve discussed empathy in leadership and marketing before. But we often don’t talk about the role of empathy in marketing and sales alignment.

The relationship you build with sales leaders can make or break your role. According to Kirsten, this relationship-building starts during the interview process – from asking the right questions to understanding how you can support sales early on.

I couldn’t agree more.

Kirsten reminded me just how important empathy is to this alignment – especially during times of volatility and change.

2020 forced a lot of marketing and sales teams to come together like never before. What did your marketing and sales relationship look like during the pandemic? How did you stay aligned?

Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors

The way that you should think about building your board of directors should be based on where you’re at [in your career]. What are your weaknesses? What do you not know? Sometimes it’s finding someone who’s in the role that you aspire to. Sometimes it’s understanding what your two or three biggest weaknesses are.”

– Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

A personal board of directors isn’t about reaching out to people that look just like you. The idea is to identify where you need help. Not just from a hard skills standpoint, but soft skills as well. In fact, Kirsten still considers her dad on her personal board. (I just love that.)

To start building your board, consider where you want to go in your career, what areas of development you need outside the work you’re doing now, and then tap into your network.

Who would you consider part of your personal board? Who’s on your wishlist? I challenge you to reach out to someone on that list this month.

Keep sending questions for my upcoming guests! Send me a note on LinkedIn, tweet to @triciagellman, or reply to this email.

Enjoy the rest of June,


P.S. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and father figures out there!

Straight To Your Inbox

Get the customer-centric, data-driven and barrier-breaking marketing headlines delivered straight to your inbox.

Sign Up Now