Top Five Lessons Learned from My 16 Years as an “Interim VP Marketing”

:: Since founding my consulting company in 2001, I’ve been serving Silicon Valley CEOs as an interim VP marketing. Usually they are running smallish companies and either haven’t yet brought a full-time VP marketing on board or they just lost their VP marketing for some reason. Either way, my clients are wise enough to realize that they’re operating under a handicap – likely losing both mindshare and market share — if this role is vacant. After serving 12 companies in the last 16 years, I took this Labor Day weekend to reflect on the key takeaways from my work.

1. Competition is a good thing.

If you have competitors, then you have a market. If you’re tempted to say that no one else offers the same product or service that you do, then there’s a good chance that either you’re kidding yourself or there is no market for what you want to sell. A healthy market, with enough customers to make for a sustainable business, has several competitors already out there. If that’s the case, you’re in business because you add to that offering, or improve upon it, in some significantly desirable way. The only case in which you really don’t have competitors is when you’ve come up with a truly disruptive technology, but even then, people have an alternative solution to what you’re offering.

2. Disruptive technologies call for a unique marketing strategy.

Bringing truly new technologies to market is disruptive: different groups of people adopt new technologies according to identifiable patterns. For example, early adopters think and act a certain way, and place value on data and input differently than later adopters do. I learned about this early in my career, working at Regis McKenna. Geoff Moore’s Crossing the Chasm detailed the concept of the ‘Technology Adoption Lifecycle’ which provided guidelines for marketing disruptive technologies; aligning messaging and marketing strategies with target audience profiles, from early adopters and early majority through late majority markets and technology adoption laggards. It’s a solid approach that has become a cornerstone of B2B technology marketing and messaging strategy because it works.

3. The most important opinion in the entire organization is that of the customer.

I actually worked for a company once which thought they had acquired winning product. It was a piece of capital equipment that combined several functional steps into one machine. I conducted a focus group that said, across the board, their customer hated that idea because if one process goes down, the whole production line goes down. Upon hearing the results of the focus group, the CEO yelled, “Our customers don’t know what they’re talking about!” The company could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars invested in a cluster tool that customers didn’t want, if only they had listened to the customer research.

4. The top team is KEY:  CEO, the VP sales, and VP marketing.

This “trifecta partnership” of the CEO, and his/her VPs of marketing and sales must be locked arm in arm, and operating in lock step together. Anything less is going to produce less. Most often in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the VP Engineering on this team in place of one of the other VPs, but that means the company’s focus shifts to the technology, and adding new technical capabilities (features) at the expense of keeping the focus on customer needs and the value we offer. In one company, we were preparing to launch a hardware-based virtual private network (VPN) appliance into the market where 8-10 competitors already offered their hardware VPNs for sale. Ours was going to be late AND much more expensive than the others. The VP Engineering was very reluctant to abandon the effort because so many engineers had put so many hours into the product … a poor justification for further investment. The trio I’m recommending will enable the company to keep its focus where it belongs — on the market and on the customer.

5. Anyone is coachable.

Often (for whatever reason!) my client companies have staffed their marketing departments with young, inexperienced people. Their enthusiasm is refreshing but their background in marketing is lacking. If they are willing and eager to learn, take direction and suggestions, all goes pretty well. On-the-job training and coaching can impart good strategic marketing skills quickly. If the company wants to invest in a few people who are showing leadership potential early in their careers, this is one great way to do that. It creates a win-win.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts.

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I would love to talk with you about your business objectives and how strategic marketing can help you achieve them. To see my upcoming posts in your LinkedIn® news feed, click the “Follow” button at the top right of the page. For more information about working with me as your part-time or interim CMO, please contact me: Theresa Marcroft, Interim CMO, MarketSavvy, Tele:(408) 656.1876

About Theresa Marcroft

Theresa Marcroft founded MarketSavvy in 2001 to offer practical and effective marketing advice and implementation. Theresa serves as an interim VP marketing for start-up to medium-sized companies, setting them on a high-growth path. Her clients reap the benefits of her expertise honed at Regis McKenna, working directly for Geoff Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm.


  1.' Ellen Grace Henson says

    Great article. Succinct and high-value. Thanks Theresa!

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