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Navigating Your First 100 Days as a Marketing Leader at a New Company: Advice from the Trenches


October 19, 2023


So, you've just stepped into a marketing leadership role at a new company. Congratulations! Now you have an exhilarating—and perhaps slightly daunting—journey ahead of you.

To help you kick things off on the right foot, we’ve collected insights from six seasoned marketing leaders who've been in your shoes and successfully settled into leadership roles. They shared their wisdom on how to approach your first 100 days, strategies for showcasing your value, unexpected lessons learned, and more.

Meet the Marketing Leaders

Adam Fishman. Product and growth advisor, Reforge Partner. Former CPTO at ResortPass, CPGO at Imperfect Foods, VP product and growth at Patreon, and head of growth at Lyft. Find Adam on LinkedIn and subscribe to his newsletter.

Mark Fiske. Operating partner at H.I.G. Capital. Reforge program creator. Former VP of growth and marketing at Credit Karma, VP of global marketing at Ancestry, and director of digital marketing at Gap Inc. Find Mark on LinkedIn.

Meghan Hardy. Fractional marketing leader for growth-stage DTC startups and emerging consumer brands like ZitSticka, Nutrafol, Wile, and Kitsch. Former marketing leader for Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar retail concept. Find Meghan on LinkedIn.

Patrick Moran. Fractional head of growth marketing. Former Reforge partner, head of consumer marketing at Houzz, and global head of growth marketing at Spotify, Find Patrick on LinkedIn.

Rian Long. Growth advisor and fractional marketing leader. Former VP of customer acquisition at GoodRx, VP of user acquisition at Wag Labs, and director of growth at FanDuel. Find Rian on LinkedIn.

Tyler Elliston. Growth advisor and founder/CEO of Right Side Up. Former head of marketing at Clara, director of growth and performance marketing at Eventbrite, and director of marketing at Equifax. Find Tyler on LinkedIn.

We interviewed six marketing leaders to find out how to approach the first 100 days as a new marketing leader at a new company.

Establishing Your Foundation: The First 100 Days

Your first 100 days as a marketing leader at a new organization are crucial. It’s when you’ll lay the foundation to establish yourself and showcase your leadership style, build relationships with your team and other teams cross-functionally, and develop a deeper understanding of the business.

Ultimately, it’s your opportunity to set the stage for your own long-term success at the company. And it requires a strategic approach, adaptability, and the ability to focus on both short-term wins and long-term goals.

Three themes emerged from our conversations with the six marketing leaders we spoke with: 

  • The importance of crafting your own onboarding plan
  • Building relationships and establishing trust
  • Developing an in-depth, holistic understanding of the business

Let’s dig into these themes and hear what the leaders shared.

Learning to SIP from the firehose: Crafting an onboarding plan

To set yourself up for success, Adam Fishman emphasized the importance of creating and organizing your own onboarding game plan.

“The biggest obstacle is that once you accept the job offer and join, you're not the highest priority anymore (not nearly the same way you were when they were recruiting you). You have to be a self-starter and build your own onboarding plan. Building and socializing that plan shows people where you need help. Don't be afraid to ask the dumb questions. Everyone has them.”

—Adam Fishman

And when it comes to actually building that plan, Adam said that he typically outlines a 90–100 day set of objectives using what he called a “SIP” framework: seek, iterate, plan.

  • Seek: Learn and understand everything you can about the organization and your role beyond the pre-reading and research you’ve already done prior to joining the company.
  • Iterate: Iterate and improve on the vision and strategy. This consists of taking what you’ve learned in the previous phase and identifying opportunities for improvement.
  • Plan: Put together a step-by-step plan to achieve success over a set period of time.

Adam shared this incredibly helpful template (which he used at Imperfect Foods) to help bring the SIP framework to life, and you can continue reading about his approach to onboarding here.

Building trust and relationships by listening

As a leader, you want your team to want to follow you. And you need your fellow leaders to trust you. To make that happen, your earliest days must convey the right signals about your leadership style and values. Everyone we spoke with mentioned the importance of asking insightful questions, and listening—really listening—to the answers.

“As a leader stepping into a new role, it is important to set the tone for your tenure right from the start. Meet with everyone on your team individually, ideally in the first week. Get to know people personally and, more than anything, just listen. Usually the team knows what the opportunities and blockers are, but they might not be raising these to leadership. These conversations can be a formality if done poorly, but if done well and continued, they can build trust and relationships that make your job easier and help the entire team function better. Ultimately people work for people and not companies. Your goal should be to be someone that people want to work with, and your earliest days will give your team important signals into what type of leader you will be.”

—Rian Long
Quote from Rian Long, growth advisor and fractional marketing leader about how new marketing leaders can set the tone for their tenure with a new team.

“It feels like there's always this temptation to go in, find a lot of low-hanging fruit, and start quickly making changes. But what I have found is that if you can avoid that temptation and start with a listening tour instead, you’ll gather a lot of helpful context to better inform your plans. You may uncover problems that might not be so obvious at first, for example having a team that feels completely disconnected from the marketing strategy. You’ll also get a better understanding of how to build trust with different people and teams. I was on a team at Amazon where trust was earned through driving results, but when I moved to a new team, trust on that team was earned by building good relationships. And finally, I like to talk to finance before I even move into a new role. As a marketer, and particularly in the growth space, it's really critical to understand up front as early as possible, where leadership and the business fall in terms of prioritizing growth versus efficiency.”

—Meghan Hardy

“I’m a big fan of the book, The First 90 Days, and understanding expectations, level setting, and building relationships are critical. I really like to be in ‘listening mode’ and ask lots of questions. What’s working? What isn’t working? If you were in my shoes, what would you see as opportunities or focus areas? How does change happen in this company? In general, the people that have been working in an organization for months or years before you will have incredible perspective. Listening to them and asking a lot of ‘why’ questions can really help to avoid stumbling blocks, better understand the culture, and understand how you’re going to have an impact.”

—Mark Fiske

“There is huge pressure to do something RIGHT AWAY. But the best piece of leadership advice I’ve ever received is to listen and build stakeholder relationships. Most leaders don't do enough of this and fill up the room with their own opinions. Figure out who the important, trusted people are at the new company and connect with them. There are likely lots of good ideas and opportunities that exist at the company and have existed for a long time. Your job is to uncover and amplify them. Also, start talking to customers ASAP.”

—Adam Fishman

Gain a deep understanding of the business

All of the leaders cited the importance of developing a deep understanding of how the business operates. This includes: 

  • Digging into the underlying business model, unit economics, and budget
  • Learning more about the target customer by reading through personas, ideal customer profiles, and research, as well as conducting your own conversations with customers
  • Identifying the constraints that exist in the business
  • Gaining context into why things are being done the way they are
  • Wading through data in order to assess which strategies and tactics are working vs. which ones aren’t
  • Figuring out which metrics matter to which stakeholders
  • Determining who the key players are on your team, across the organization, and externally, as well as where there are gaps that need to be filled
  • Developing an understanding of how change happens in an organization (e.g. top down vs. bottoms up, cross-functional consensus building vs. functions making their own decisions independently, etc.)

Each of the leaders shared insights into how they achieve that understanding at a new company.

“During the earliest days of a new role, I focus on understanding the basics inside and out. What are the unit economics and LTV? Who are your core consumers and what needs is your product solving for them? Where are there unmet opportunities that can be exploited? What constraints exist in the business (capital, time, people, etc.)? The answers to these questions will give you the information you need to create a roadmap to achieving company goals.”

—Rian Long

“For growth-centric roles, I tend to initially focus on building conviction about growth levers. False starts, uninformed bets, and too many failed hypotheses obviously waste time and damage credibility. I want to construct the business model and deeply understand the customer and their motivations. From there, I want to start progressing strategy, organization design, and tactical excellence in parallel. Strategy is the growth vision, organizational design to make sure we have the right roles and incentive structures, and tactical capabilities evolve towards excellence using the optimal mix of FTEs, agencies, and freelancers.”

—Tyler Elliston

“It’s critical to first understand the existing metrics, then understand what different leadership stakeholders value. Your CFO might primarily value precision, while your CEO may be more focused on topline. First, ‘win’ on their turf. Demonstrate a project plan that will measurably impact what they care about. In my opinion, after you do that, you can and should revisit to understand if the organization is optimizing to the appropriate metrics and collaborate with leadership to shift measurement if needed.”

—Mark Fiske

“There tends to be a lot of ambiguity when moving into a leadership role at a new organization, in terms of process, priorities, and roles and responsibilities. There are also typically a million things to do, and it’s hard to know where to start. In those situations, I lean into data as much as I can to help drive prioritization. I also find it helpful to prioritize opportunities by building out a matrix of impact vs. effort, figuring out which opportunities will be low effort, high impact, quick wins. And then from there, it’s breaking things down into manageable next steps.”

—Meghan Hardy
Quote from Meghan Hardy, fractional marketing leader about how to navigate ambiguity when moving into a new leadership role at a new organization.

“One really important thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of trying to get some contextual understanding of why things are the way that they are. It’s easy for me to come in and say, ‘the person who was here before me wasn’t competent or didn’t understand the things I understand.’ But you know, at some point, I was that person. I was the person who left things the way they are and for better or worse, they were left the way they were for reasons that could be important for the new person coming in. Because if context isn't fully understood, the previous ways and results will tend to repeat themselves after some time albeit with a new leader. There’s a certain level of humility to it. You might find that they were rushed, their team was overly OKR’d, they were not properly resourced, or clear expectations were not set from the start. Having a firm grasp of this context helps you start to understand what is required to make changes as well as the broader implications those changes might have. It also helps you gauge and triangulate commonalities in what teams and leaders across the organization are saying and want to accomplish.”

—Patrick Moran

Adding and Showcasing Value

There’s no denying the importance of driving business outcomes in a new position. And you’ll get there. But when you’re stepping into a marketing leadership role, there are many other ways to showcase your value that will also help you set yourself up for long-term success within the organization:

  • Building trust with your colleagues
  • Gaining a solid understanding of the business
  • Leveraging your fresh perspective to ask questions about why things are the way they are
  • Focusing on high-quality inputs

By tackling the above, you’ll be able to develop and progress your strategy much faster since you’ll have the relationships and contextual knowledge required for success in the new organization. In their own words, here’s what each of our leaders shared about adding value.

“There’s a common misconception that quick wins must involve moving a metric right away. A quick win can be many, many things and doesn't need to be some monumental revenue impact on Day 1. Making a change to a process, uncovering new data, solving a debate, etc. can all be impactful and early wins.”

—Adam Fishman
Quote from Adam Fishman, product and growth advisor about a common misconception about new marketing leaders and quick wins.

“I think the most obvious thing that many people get wrong is thinking that you need to drive business outcomes right away. Maybe that’s true in Director level roles and below. But once you step into VP roles and above, the most important value that indicates your progression in the role is your ability to influence and build trust. And so that requires a significant level of maturity and discipline, because everybody you're dealing with at the leadership level can easily smell BS. They can easily suss out who's for real. And so to me, those are the wins that you want to establish—starting to build trust, being logical with your approach, providing very thoughtful perspectives on things relative to what you know and to what’s important to the business.”

—Patrick Moran

“​​I always start by asking, what are the priority business metrics? What are the things that the people I'm reporting into care most about? You're not always going to be able to move the needle on those metrics in a huge way during your early days. It requires stepping back and figuring out the metrics that can prove I'm making traction against goals. The leadership team generally cares about the output metrics. But it's often the input metrics that you're going to have the biggest impact on in those first 100 days. How are you moving the needle on team productivity? How about efficiency? Can I somehow quantify that I have reduced the time spent on manual tasks by X percent to enable the team to focus on higher value activities that better align with business priorities?"

—Meghan Hardy

“I continue to be surprised at how much ‘organizational inertia’ drives operations, and the ‘It’s always been this way’ culture can be incredibly counterproductive. It’s rare to go into an organization—even a relatively mature one—and not find something that is done in a pretty suboptimal manner. Oftentimes leadership is blind to what they don’t know. This reinforces why it’s important to ask the ‘why’ questions often. For example, I once worked with a company that effectively built a high maintenance, custom, in-house ad server that required several engineers to maintain. At an earlier point in the company’s evolution, they didn’t realize that low cost, standard, turnkey solutions existed for this. These surprises can often turn into ‘quick wins’ that demonstrate gains or efficiency improvements. In this case, reallocating those engineers to true value creation activities was a big win!”

—Mark Fiske

Facing Challenges Head-On

No role or organization is without its challenges. And because every business is unique, there’s rarely an out-of-the-box solution that fits perfectly. However, our leaders had many words of wisdom and lessons learned that can help you navigate anything that comes your way.

Expecting the unexpected

“Most companies don't tell you everything you need to know during the interview process. Be prepared for plenty of "gotchas" and for something to not be nearly as rosy as it was positioned to you during the process.”

—Adam Fishman

“If you go through just the standard interview process, it's very likely you will learn that product/market fit, traction, retention or LTV health was somehow overstated. And there will be previously undisclosed challenges. Though it's quite hard to avoid this, I try to document how I could have done better due diligence in the interviewing process, something I've had to get much better at.”

—Tyler Elliston
Quote from Tyler Elliston, founder and CEO at Right Side Up, about the challenges new marketing leaders in a new role will face.

“Expectations surrounding the impact you’re to have can be surprising—and I definitely learned to get ahead of that in the interview process! In one past life, I joined to lead a marketing function and joined a functional leads standup on the first day. A finance leader announced to the entire crew, “This is Mark, and he’s going to turnaround our current miss to budget.” I laughed thinking he was joking. He wasn’t! I didn’t have access to email yet but was already expected to be the budget savior. I wish I had captured expectations before joining the organization!”

—Mark Fiske

“For most leaders hired, there's a decision point in the first 6 months when they either fully commit, this time with complete information, or they harbor doubts and treat it as a 9-5 while dreaming up side hustles. I would strongly advise leaders to fully commit or step aside quickly.”

—Tyler Elliston

Navigating the organization

“A lot of companies don’t have standardized processes or ways of getting things done. I’ve definitely been in roles where I don’t quite know who to talk to, and proposed initiatives without recognizing other influential people I needed to ‘sell’ first. I’ve found every company has a person (or two, or three) who are just incredibly well connected and know the lifeblood of the org: Who to talk to, who can help, etc. Sometimes that person is just a long-timer that has sat across many functions, sometimes it’s a rockstar project/program manager, and sometimes it’s a well connected EA. I make it a point to find that person and be their best friend. Finding and partnering with them can be incredibly valuable in navigating how to get things done; they can help guide you to those other critical people, share historical context, etc.”

—Mark Fiske

Insights gained from lessons learned

“I’ve assumed that the communication method that worked at my previous company would be the right communication method at my new company. For example, at Spotify, we were very much into longer term thinking, and the best way to communicate was by being thoughtful about the infrastructure that needed to be built and the people required to build it over the course of a couple of quarters. Whereas at Houzz, a much earlier stage, privately held company, the perspective on things was much shorter. The executives didn’t want to know what we’d be doing in two quarters; they needed to know what we’d be doing next week and next month, and how we planned to optimize for those efforts. It requires a level of maturity to understand the right way to communicate and drive conviction in a new environment. Figure out what their motivations are and what’s important to them to glean communication best practices. The short hack is to understand the personality of the founder, because that usually weaves through the culture and works its way through the leadership team and down to everybody else.”

—Patrick Moran
Quote from Patrick Moran, fractional head of growth marketing, about how communication styles differ from organization to organization, and how new marketing leaders can adapt.

“A list of some of the things I’ve learned over the years:

- Perks don't make a company a good place to work at.

- Product is more fundamental to growth than marketing. Choose products to promote carefully. 

- Sexy businesses aren't necessarily good businesses. Many great businesses are not sexy businesses. 

- A+ teams are defined by how they function, not by the past logos of their individuals. 

- Most companies want managers, not leaders. Make sure you know which you are signing up for.”

—Tyler Elliston

“Start building the brand from day one. Many startups are, understandably so, focused only on transactions and revenue in the early days. But don't lose sight of setting up a brand that you can own with consistent and memorable marks. Many companies make this mistake when naming the company and selecting their URL by going with a name that they can never fully own as it is too close to other names or is generic.”

—Rian Long

Creating a culture of curiosity

“A piece of advice I disagree with: ‘Don’t come with problems, come with solutions.’ Oftentimes your team members won’t know the answer, and they need you to help them think through how to best overcome an obstacle. Creating a culture where premature solutions are valued can lead to a lot of mistakes and inefficiencies. Let people be comfortable with what they don’t know and create a culture where people aren’t afraid to ask questions!”

—Mark Fiske
Quote from Mark Fiske, operating partner at H.I.G. Capital, about how to navigate working with new team members in the first 100 days at a new company.

Valuable Communities and Resources

Several of the leaders mentioned the value of having informal advisors and mentors as well as trusted resources you can turn to when you run into challenges or need inspiration. They also emphasized the importance of staying informed through industry news sources.

“I believe everyone should have a ‘personal board’ to run life decisions by. You should have a small group of friends who ‘get’ you and can pressure test how you’re thinking about decisions that extend beyond your professional life!”

—Mark Fiske

“I've built a network of informal advisors and mentors over the years. Many people would be surprised at how responsive and willing people are to help when asked.”

—Tyler Elliston

“I've found Ken Blanchard’s concept of situational leadership works well in the real world and is a great tool for understanding how best to support people as a leader.”

—Rian Long

“The Reforge community and now their new Artifacts product have always been trusted resources. Some of the brightest minds in product, growth, and leadership.”

—Adam Fishman

“In a space that’s rapidly changing, I’m always consuming industry news. I have over a dozen newsletters I subscribe to, and I maintain an RSS feed of a variety of Substacks, blogs, and other resources to stay on top of the news.”

—Mark Fiske

Together, these recommendations and insights underscore the value of mentorship, community, and continuous learning that are required to succeed in a rapidly changing professional landscape.

You’ve Got This

As you step into your leadership role at a new organization, remember you're not alone. We hope the advice provided by our seasoned marketing leaders will help you hone your 100-day plan. Don’t forget to embrace challenges, navigate with curiosity, and seek mentorship and community support when needed. You’ve got this; go show your new colleagues what you’re made of!

Stepping into a new leadership role? Whether you’re looking for a strategic advisor to serve as a sounding board, advice on how to structure and build your team, or best-in-class marketers to help you make an impact fast, we’ve got you covered. Reach out to growth@rightsideup.co—we’d love to chat.

Katie Kearsey is a marketer, storyteller, and people person with more than a decade of experience building consumer and B2B brands with data-driven programs rooted in content, SEO, social, lifecycle, events, community, and more. She's worked with early stage startups and global brands, and enjoys building relationships with colleagues, clients, and partners alike. She has dual citizenship (US/EU) and currently calls Chicago home.

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Let's talk growth

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Let's talk growth

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