Let's face it. It is becoming more and more obvious how vital a competent chief marketing officer is for your organization. Your investors and company leaders want to slash marketing expenses, yet somehow magically 10x your growth rate every quarter. Which brings in a constant tug of war between hiring for cheap vs. hiring for supreme execution - a chief marketing officer executive search firm makes this process a bit easier.
It's tough and our team at HireCMO understands this pain absurdly well. FYI, although we are a chief marketing officer executive search firm, this blog considers you going out on your own and helps you prepare for your own journey without our help! :)
We asked this question to CXOs who made successful (or terrible) CMO hires in the past. And here's what we found out.
Whether to find your own chief marketing officers to interview or go through a CMO executive search firm, there's 3 very critical elements you should look out for:
Sadly our marketing industry is full of charlatans. Jenny, Stephanie and their moms are all fractional CXOs who'll "bring innovative solutions" to your marketing strategy and blow your competition out of the water, all for just $1999/month. I have to filter and vet a lot of our applicants and some of their LinkedIn profiles and claims are outright criminal. But I digress.
The point here is that you should only interview a vetted marketing leader if they've delivered outstanding results in the domains you need them for. No one else should even have the right to book time on your calendar or send you their resume.
Pardon my directness, but this is a C-suite role you're looking for. Not an intern. And you must be ruthless in your search for hiring the best marketing talent.
CMO tenure has fallen to the lowest level in more than a decade. Don't worry, I won't trick you into thinking that hiring a CMO executive search firm is the magic bullet to solve this (lol). But jokes aside, the truth is that if your candidates do not align with how your C-suite and leaders across the company think about growth, the chances of them sticking around for the long haul is significantly low!
Doesn't matter if they gave you 10 good reference letters that speak to their calibre - if they're mentally not convinced from the get go, it may be hard to agree on budgets, priorities and so on, after they join.
We open-source some of our fractional CMO jobs (and others) on our page here. And the other day, I saw a job posting that said their interview process is 5 weeks, and includes conversations with their entire CXO team, VP of Growth and President. There's a reason why!
This reminds me of Roger (one of our CMOs) who had a similar interview process with a private equity backed startup. You must be thorough with this. You're bringing on someone you'll pay 6-figures for, and hand over the reins of your demand generation engine... you don't want to look silly by rushing through this.
Being in the middle of both startup and corporate worlds, I can tell you that there's been many embarrassing instances of companies mistakenly hiring chief marketing officers without prior experience in their KIND of company. Recruiting marketing executives is hard!
The marketing team of a startup under $5M annual revenue functions very differently from a corporation making $50M in annual revenue - if you hire a corporate CMO for your small startup, the marketing strategy that they envision (before joining your team) will be crushed by a wall when they realize your budgets are half the size in reality.
So when hiring a chief marketing officer, always ask for context to their successes/failures. 3 examples:
How many bodies/resources did she have to support her / report up to her at previous roles? How experienced were these individuals and what exactly did her day-to-day look like when guiding and training them?
Ask her to walk you through how she managed her budgets across internal projects, along with organic and paid campaigns to attract customers. Dig into the specifics, ask why she failed or exceeded expectations in specific scenarios and how she recovered from her worst.
Ask about the reporting structure at her previous companies, and the diffusion of information between her teams. Seek to understand how she handled team-specific priorities versus company-wide goals to drive revenue, and how she aligned the product, marketing and sales teams.
Considering that you do not engage CMO executive recruiters and go out on your own, I recommend you leave the marketing strategy interview Qs for your SMEs. But the Qs around managing people, training marketers, aligning between departments, etc. should be brought up by your leadership team.
You must seek to understand the mindset and thinking pattern of your chief marketing officer. You don't need them to have the correct answer for everything, but it's how they guide their thoughts, defend their responses and walk you through their thinking that matters.
And remember, the only true end-game metric that a CMO must focus on is revenue growth. For every executive search you do, keep your ears open for whether they imply that the success of their work is measured by how much revenue they can bring in! Everything else is vanity.
Oh and beware of fast talkers - always ask to clarify if you're unclear.
My team launched HireCMO only after talking with 50+ CXOs, CMOs, recruiters and founders on the challenges of executive search and hiring decent a chief marketing officer. Finding the "right" marketing leader from a mixed pool of top tier marketing executives is easier said than done!
We want to become one of the best CMO executive search firms and that starts by having honest conversations with teams like yours to bring you our pre-vetted candidates that align with your team.
If you're open to learning some unintuitive "do's and dont's" of your next executive search, feel free to drop us your email on the homepage (we reply in 2 mins) or just book a discovery call here! I wish you the best of luck on your journey :)