Tech product marketers drive a company’s positioning, so we “punch above our weight” in relevance to the CEO.

Often, even a fairly junior PMM works with the CEO, an unusual requirement for that stage of career, and nothing they teach you in school. 

I see examples of it going well, and of it working badly.

There’s one bad approach I’ll talk about today: trying to control the CEO.

When the CEO Cares

The desire to control or ‘manage’ the CEO is almost never effective, and can turn a great PMM opportunity into frustrating fiasco – for the CEO, the PMM leader, and her team.

When the CEO is engaged in what you’re doing, that’s great for you. It tells you the CEO ‘gets’ the importance of positioning – and understands it’s the PMM’s job. Your job.

With CEOs under pressure from the economic slowdown, the good ones are diving in to make the positioning and the story sharper, more compelling, more different than the competition.

What a great opportunity.

The Urge to Ctrl+CEO: Putting Your Priorities above the CEO’s

Most good PMMs are ambitious, goal-oriented, and passionate about having impact. From this comes a focus on “we need to get this website, event script, demo, slide deck done.” 

Because we want to control execution, we worry about the CEO getting involved: 

  • she’s not going to like it
  • she doesn’t appreciate all the work/thinking/versions we’ve done
  • she’ll misunderstand what this is for, or what we’re trying to do
  • she’s going to make us start over
  • it’ll take another month

But pause for a second: isn’t the CEO your ally? 

Isn’t she likely to have at the least a *different* set of facts and insights, and likely a broader one?

Isn’t she much more accountable for the company’s success than you are? So aren’t her priorities due some deference?


If the CEO thinks the positioning isn’t as good as it could be, and prioritizes getting it right – over getting it out the door – and she’s willing to invest her scarcest resource (her time) to help get it right… Shouldn’t you welcome that? Shouldn’t you trust her?

Even if she’s a first-time CEO, and isn’t from marketingland, her brain is probably pretty good 🙂

Finally, she’s done a ton of thinking on different ways the business could play out over different time frames, how the market is changing, how customers’ attitudes are changing.

Use this. Put it to work for you. The positioning will be more successful.

Sidebar: a Story of Influence

A team I know spent the two weeks with the CEO before a big event. 3 PMMs worked 1 or 2 hours with the CEO every day. 

Every day brought conversations and rewrites of the structure, the flow, and specific sections of the story & script. Back and forth. Discussion. Debate.

Then, the CEO re-wrote half of the script the day before the event.

The team took this hard.

“Were we just wasting our time? Did he not hear us? Why did we bother?” The answer is that they bothered because they made the final script better. 

Having helped him talk through, debate, and iterate on the story, its structure, and its pieces, the PMMs made what he rewrote the day before *much better* than what he would have written if PMM hadn’t led this process. 

The PMMs influenced how he thought about the story, helped him start thinking about it much earlier, and in a more structured way. And what he wrote turned out great. 

That’s influence.

Influence > Control

Instead of control and getting sh*t done, make your goal to influence the CEO with all the good stuff in your head. 

Because on your piece of the business, you *have* done different research & thinking than the CEO has. If you put this to work collaboratively, you can help influence and evolve the CEO’s thinking about the positioning – and yours – to the company’s good. And for your own success

From the front porch in Moss Beach,


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