New CMO at your client? We can predict what’ll happen next!

Written by: Karl Sakas

There’s an old joke about executive turnover: “When a new CEO starts, they have three ‘jobs’ to do: Hire someone, fire someone, and rearrange the furniture.

When your client’s boss changes, you may not see all three every time… but don’t be surprised by the nearly-inevitable. And when you’re ready, you boost your chances of making this an opportunity for your agency… versus getting fired or “rearranged.”

This applies regardless of the new hire’s job title—CEO, CMO, VP of Marketing, or any role that leads a team at your client company.

Today, we’ll look at what tends to change when a client gets a new boss, why it happens, and how your agency can make it a win instead of a loss. Recognizing this can be the difference between “opportunity” vs. “downfall.”

What new executives tend to do

When a new CEO or CMO starts at a company, they tend to shake things up. This might include:

  • Personnel: Hire new people, fire current people, or restructure their team.
  • Direction: Set new goals, change the company’s strategic plan, or pursue big initiatives.
  • Communications: Change how their team communicates internally and externally.
  • Speed: Make things happen faster (urgency) or slower (deliberation).
  • Decisionmaking: Shift to meet their preferences—whether dictatorial, consensus, or somewhere in between.
  • Process: Adding or changing processes.
  • Space: Move to a new building, or redecorate the office.
  • Vendors: Replace their agency, or change other vendors.

The exact actions vary by person and by company… but certain patterns are common. Let’s look at why the new leader feels the need to shake things up.

Why new executives tend to “hire, fire, and rearrange”

Your client’s new boss likely won’t have all of these motivations, but you can expect at least a few.

  1. Show their own boss that they’re worth it. They feel the need to prove their six- or seven-figure compensation package is money well spent.
  2. Try to accelerate results. If things were going poorly, they want to fix things fast.
  3. Fill their team with ‘New Rope’ employees they trust. Leaders need to trust their team. The quickest way to get a trustworthy team is to hire people they’ve trusted from past jobs.
  4. Remove the ‘Wet Twine’ employees their predecessor tolerated. The new boss doesn’t have prior attachments to current team members, which means it’s easier to get rid of the “dead weight.”
  5. Fix what they believe is a “broken” team structure. If they don’t like the team structure their predecessor created—or accepted—they have minimal barriers to making it better.
  6. Act on their naturally high sense of urgency. Leaders tend to have a bias for action—so sometimes they take action for action’s sake.
  7. Pursue change for change’s sake. Related to #6, some people think they just need to do something... which often leads to them doing anything.
  8. Fulfill a toxic psychological need. In some cases, the new leader needs therapy they haven’t gotten yet… and your agency bears the consequences.

Few of those motivations have much—or anything—to do with your agency and your agency’s performance. Yet they impact you. Let’s look at how to make this positive instead of negative for your agency.

How to make this an agency “win” instead of a “loss”

You can’t guarantee success—but you can take steps to improve your changes of making the executive change a “win” instead of a “loss.”

  1. Know the phenomenon. When you understand this tends to happen, you can prepare… and take strategic action.
  2. Recognize you can’t control everything. Even if you follow everything in this article—and more—you can’t guarantee the outcome you want. If that’s hard to accept, therapy and/or meditation can help.
  3. Accept that it’s not always about you. If the relationship is at-risk, it’s hard not to blame yourself. But the reality is that it’s usually about them, not you.
  4. Get to know the new boss. This includes understanding their personal and professional goals.
  5. Share relevant institutional knowledge. You can add value by helping the new person get up to speed on what’s happened before—including your work and beyond.
  6. Analyze how the changes impact your current contacts at the client company. Your day-to-day contact is probably worried about what the change means for them; how can you help them?
  7. Decide if you want to work within the ‘new normal.’ Based on what you learn, you may conclude you don’t want to play by the new rules. That’s OK—but you’ll want to bow out sooner than later.
  8. Understand their goals and incentives. What does the new person need to do more of? What do they need to do less of? This helps you find ways to make them look good to their own new boss… which helps you look good. This includes, when possible, understanding the new hire’s personal goals.
  9. Offer solutions to help the new boss meet their goals. Focus on them, to get better results for everyone.
  10. Use the opportunity to ‘reboot’ the relationship. Got a list of things you’ve wished the client company would do? Now’s your chance, if you can make the business case.
  11. Look for Quick Wins you can deliver fast. Build a strong “halo effect” by giving the new person early results.
  12. Offer help on their personnel changes. This might include recommend structural changes, roles to hire, and/or people to fire—and offering “Teach” services around recruiting. This only works if you have trust, but here’s your opportunity to make the client organization better.
  13. Keep your pipeline strong, to avoid a Client Concentration problem. This is always true… but now you have some extra motivation.

Keep selling—a strong sales pipeline helps you feel more confident about any client-related change. Speaking of that… which of your other clients are ripe for executive turnover in the near future? Be prepared!

Question: What will you do differently the next time a client gets a new boss?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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