Guide to finding your Outsourced Chief Marketing Officer [2024]

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

Before I begin, I want to set the stage. I've spent the last 3 months speaking with CEOs, founders and other recruitment organizations to truly find out everything one has to know when finding their outsourced Chief Marketing Officer. This meant sending 30+ emails, having 10+ Zoom calls and a few 10-min conversations with executives who've taken their organizations from 6 to 8 figures in annual revenue. Cool stuff!

Long story short, it took a lot of research to write this piece for you, so I sincerely hope you enjoy this article.

Why an outsourced Chief Marketing Officer may be "misleading"

My colleague at HireCMO thinks it's the latest shiny object syndrome (he writes about it here) and he's partially correct. The words fractional CMO, interim CMO, outsourced CMO, etc. have been tossed around a lot and sadly, by many marketing agencies who're aiming to sell you their services cloaked under these titles.

The reason it can be misguiding (as my colleague mentions in his article) is because ultimately, the agencies' marketing efforts and marketing strategy will (sub)consciously align with their own offerings. It's like going to a beef butcher and asking if meat is a great source of protein. What? You think they'll ask you to go vegan? No, lol.

Although it's true that some of our outsourced chief marketing officers at HireCMO do have their own marketing agencies/freelance marketers, we're extremely careful not to push our own agencies down a company's throat. That's one of the advantages of working with an experienced platform like ours, so we can filter for misaligned incentives (aka marketers selling you things you don't need) before matching you with a CMO who can truly, truly be helpful. But anyway, back to our story.

What even is an outsourced CMO?

Great question.

It's honestly a fancy word for "part-time" + "remote". That's it. It's nothing that different from hiring a remote developer for your company for a project spanning 6 months. The main uniqueness about the CMO position is that it's an executive role, and often will lead you marketing department and own the roadmap and outcomes of your marketing team.

Which is why (and rightfully so) a lot of first-time founders and CEOs have an anxiety when hiring an outsourced CMO - given the large amount of negative impact that misplaced marketing leadership can have on your business growth.

I totally get it. Really. We even wrote an article around how to decide between hiring an outsourced CMO (also called fractional CMO sometimes) vs. a full time CMO here. It's a long article, but it's packed with bullet points you can forward to your recruitment lead.

Must-have responsibilities you can hold them accountable to

And so an outsourced CMO is someone from outside your in-house team, that you're bringing in on a temporary or interim basis, to help you with your marketing efforts across the organization. This can include and is not limited to:

Building, refining and executing your comprehensive marketing strategy

The ultimate goal for any marketer (from C-suite to the interns) is to drive more customer acquisition profitably. And so a digital marketing strategy must be designed and optimized over time to better understand your company's ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and finding ways to be omnipresent on the channels/platforms/places where they actively look for solutions to their core problems, so they consider you to be the prime solution to their problems. This is what every marketing strategy should aim to accomplish.

But of course it doesn't just stop there. Other elements of your digital marketing strategy include understanding your current market climate, investigating the current marketing landscape (aka which channels are most expensive vs. more likely to be profitable to acquire customers), how to automate inbound digital marketing efforts to qualify prospects, etc. And of course a sound marketing strategy must be built off continuous market research - this means having frequent conversations with customers, finding creative ways to grow through partnerships, inbound and outbound efforts, etc.

And if you haven't already figured these things out (say you're a pre-PMF startup) then your outsourced chief marketing officer's job is to help you build these things out! Like a partner in crime for your founding/CXO team.

Hiring and training your current marketing team

This one's my personal favorite because it's honestly such an easy trick that companies can use to instantly upgrade their marketing leadership/marketing team. I'll lead with an example.

We recently interviewed Nancy (an outsourced CMO on our platform HireCMO) to learn more about her marketing expertise and background. Here's some of the cool things she's accomplished in her career:

  • Marketing Instructor at Stanford teaching a course she developed called “Sales-Focused Marketing in High Technology”
  • For one client, led a 6-month sales qualification campaign that increased a B2B client’s sales pipeline by $2.5M.
  • For a second client, increased their North America's sales revenue consistently year over year by 20%-300%.
  • And for another client, rebuilt their entire marketing function from the ground up and was recognized by the CEO for the impact she drove in less than 60 days upon joining.

Now here's the fun part. When she joins your company, you can easily set aside the first two weeks for her to mentor your marketing team. And I'm not using the word "mentor" lightly. I mean really sitting down with them in the same room or virtually over Zoom, to dig into the what, why and how of the top priority marketing efforts that your employees at working on.

Imagine 6 power sessions in 2 weeks with your marketing, sales and product teams to align them on what the company's #1 goals should be, the challenges the teams are facing in understanding/meeting those outcomes and (this one's important) educating them on how they can achieve those outcomes faster and more sustainably. I mean, she's a marketing instructor at Stanford and having her teach your team just sounds dreamy haha.

And it doesn't just stop with training. A great outsourced Chief Marketing Officer will also help you find, vet and hire your next marketing and sales leaders, so that you're fully set up to grow even without her presence. That's kind of the whole point of bringing in a great CMO, to be frank! They're either:

  • Fixing up what's broken, OR
  • Creating what was missing, OR
  • Optimizing what was not operating at 100%

so that you can keep growing faster (and relatively low/acceptable burn) for the following 6-12 months. Let's keep moving!

Creating, optimizing and implementing your marketing campaigns

This applies to both your organic and paid marketing efforts across all your inbound marketing channels. As mentioned just now, the CMO must be fixing, creating or optimizing the systems you already have in place for the channels that are (most likely to be) working the best for acquiring your customers inexpensively. Let's lead with some examples.

Say you're advertising on TikTok and Facebook. But the last marketer who set them up wasn't really delivering a decent ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) and couldn't give you complete answers for why/how he could improve it further. And then, out of the blue, he put in his 2 week notice before jumping to another company similar to yours, in the same city. Before leaving, he didn't give you or the other marketers in the team a sign-off/overview on what to do with the ads accounts. Now what?

So in this case, your superhero would be a vetted, honest outsourced Chief Marketing Officer (hint: we know a few at HireCMO) who has managed advertising campaigns with similar marketing budget to yours (very underrated point) and has successfully driven MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) through the door before. This person, say Nancy or Brad, would come in and investigate what your current marketing campaigns are truly "accomplishing" for your business, figure out what could be fixed up to bring in better numbers and then help you scale your paid channels to continue bringing in more customers at a lower CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost). Easier said than done, and will take time, but that's what great CMOs do.

And by the way, the same applies to organic channels like search engine optimization. An example here would be investigating if the content creation efforts by the in house marketing team is being as effective as it can be.

Setting up and fixing your marketing technology

This one's my favorite and we have 2 absolute nerds on our team who're great at this. And we happen to have interviewed both: Roger & Brayden. Both comes from an agency background. Brayden is actually managing paid media (aka bringing in customers through running ads) for one of Canada's largest brands. And one of the companies that Roger served as a CMO for, was private equity backed - which I personally found super interesting. But I digress.

Looking into your marketing technology (often called MarTech) to understand how to patch everything together in a formalized, clean way is essential to getting accurate marketing analytics - which, btw, is the backbone of your growth program. Any marketing efforts are completely worthless, if your comprehensive marketing strategy isn't built on the foundation of accurate analytics from the most critical channels of your business. If you haven't yet checked in with your marketing department on this point, ping them right now! Haha.

Generally, the more complex and large your organization is, and the more outsourced services you're using, the more grey/shady/closed off things tend to be in the MarTech arena. Meaning, it's harder to get a top-down view of what's happening, who's doing and and more importantly, who's head's on the cutting board i.e., who's accountable. So check in with your team to get a "feel" for this.

How to hire a part time CMO (outsourced CMO)

Great, now that you know what responsibilities a Chief Marketing Officer could have, let's dive into where you can find one. We talk about the key things recruiters, CXOs and founders need to look for when hiring for this role (full-time or part-time) in our article here - 14 minute read if you like to go slow.

Let's assume you're completely new to this and need someone to handhold you through the whole process. Not a problem, because that's what I'm here for:

Step 1: Understand what you truly need. Be real.

I'll be a bit brutally honest in the next few paragraphs so you understand what exactly you have to do. If you're the founder, then you probably already have a decent idea of what you're missing. But frankly, that's not enough. Needing a "marketing strategy to get more customers" isn't really... enough for you to make an outsourced CMO excited to join your team.

Let me list some thinking points for you to go over in your spare time:

  • You need to get into the nitty gritty details personally to understand what elements are missing from the "marketing strategies" that you've tried in the past (if any). If you haven't had one before, draw an outline of what the ideal one would look like, what realistic goals you're looking to achieve in the next 3-6-9 months, what your hypothesis is on what inbound channels are most likely to be effective for driving qualified customers through the door, how much revenue/your VC's funds you're aiming to spend on your marketing efforts, etc. Some niches here to think about are search engine optimization, content marketing, social media management, branding strategy, etc.
  • Ask yourself if there were other outsourced CMO services that you've used recently that didn't work out - why/how come? And what are the top 2-3 things that you'd want your next CMO to have? Just email me your problems honestly at [email protected] and you can rant to me haha.
  • Do you have a current marketing team already? What qualifications/experience does that team not have which you sincerely think that your next outsourced CMO should? Are you expecting this person to train and hire more marketers? Why? And by the way, this one's important - if a fractional CMO joined your company tomorrow, do you have someone ready to execute on the marketing strategies that she builds for you? So many times, I've seen founders be eager to hire an outsourced CMO, only for me to later on find out that they don't even have someone to execute on the work that the marketing officer is creating. Congratulations, I just saved you 3 hours of discovery calls haha.

Step 2: Write it down. Be explicit.

If you're struggling to write the job description for this by the way, that's totally normal - we discuss some guidelines for this on this article here. It's a bit detailed, but I think you'd benefit from spending the time there. And also, if you want to see good examples of live job descriptions, then just head on over to our Jobs page. My intern's supposed to update that every week, so if you see outdated jobs, just message me at [email protected] and we can fire him together haha. Kidding, kinda.

One thing that'll help here though is talking to marketers in your network who are your friends or have known you for a while. Ask for 20 mins of their time after sending them your draft job description (so they can have time to review it.) Ask them if they understand what it is that you're looking for, and if there's ways you can improve the job description so it's more explicit or obvious to your outsourced CMO candidate. That's it really for this step. This will take time, but it's a good way to make sure you're not getting unfiltered candidates show up to interview you. Waste of your time, let's be honest.

Step 3: Tap into your network and past-life recruiters.

Okay, you're at step 3 already damn look at you go! Okay, so now you know what kind of marketing strategies you've tried out in the past, you know what worked/didn't, and you have a high-level idea of what you need in your next CMO. Great!

The reason I recommend tapping your older colleagues on their shoulder is because it's always easier to get candidate introductions through referrals. You wouldn't believe it but every CMO I spoke to when building out team said that inbound referrals was how they all got their jobs! Because it's a thing.

When you reach out through, be extremely honest about the scope of their role, the current status of your marketing team, the size/marketing expertise of your marketing department, what you/your investors expect from your marketing leadership for the next 3-6-9 months, to what extent you need help when trying to implement marketing strategies and of course, your past experience working with a strategic marketing leader.

Step 4: Interview, test and be thorough before you hire.

This one's obvious but you must never assume that the first chief marketing officer candidate that comes your way with a shiny resume is going to be THE ONE for you. Unless of course you bring us in to help you (wink wink). And so my recommendation is to interview 3-4 individuals that come your way, within a 2 week max timeframe. And jokes aside, this also applies if you're working only with outsourced CMO services like ours where we'll send you vetted candidate to interview you, who is a 90% fit for what you need. Be diligent regardless of where you find your job interviewees.

One trick that we've personally used at HireCMO to grow our team is to ask for help from other CMOs to vet new hires. Meaning, if you have a friend that's been a Chief Marketing Officer at a startup before and really understands what skillsets you need, ask him to sit in on an interview with you and your candidate for 30 minutes. It really helps when you have another trustworthy person in the room with you! And btw, at HireCMO, our founder leads the vetting and matching process, and he even conducts check-ins every 2 weeks with you and the CMO to make sure nothing is going badly - dedication! :)

Bonus: Don't be stuck with the same person!

So this only applies if you're working with a platform like ours where we have 5+ CMOs on our roster, but the idea here is that if you're having trouble working with the first person you hire as your fractional CMO, that's fine. A good fractional CMO company will assist you in resolving issues with your current hire, or help switch them out for a new one. It's hard to have that luxury when you're hiring without a third-party's help - but it's not impossible to do great! :)

Wrapping up!

I sincerely hope I was able to help you understand what to expect from an outsourced CMO, what their primary responsibilities should be and how to find the right candidate step-by-step. I would love to plug in HireCMO now and I'm super excited.

So we're a Fractional CMO company where we place vetted CMOs in your startup/company to help you grow. Our founder personally spent months finding ex-CMOs who've served at large organizations like Cisco, Flexport, Salesforce, Disney, MLB, etc. and also at fast-growing startups in their early days - which helps them bring a ton of perspective to your team, regardless of your stage.

If I or my team can be helpful to you in any way, even if it's just to rant about your current hiring woes, just give us a shout at [email protected] or just book a call with us directly! I hope you had a great time reading this, and I wish you happy hiring! :)

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