startups

Evergreen difficulties when hunting for an interim CMO for hire

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

This is probably my 5th article this week on this very topic. Every month I see several fractional/part-time/interim CMO roles pop up across the internet, and I think it's becoming an epidemic... I've been told that some individuals are commoditizing the role, making organizations think in "hours bought from CMO" as opposed to "results driven by CMO's initiatives."

There's just so much going on in the scene, and almost no one is putting all the pieces together to eloquently guide companies how to scout good interim CMO services and hire someone they'll love. And so I'm here to change that! :)

What your interim CMO can be expected to do

I explain this in a lot of detail on my other article if you're looking for in-depth perspective on this topic. But I'll explain this in high-level here so you get a good grip on the roles your future Chief Marketing Officer can be expected to play:

  1. A CMO whether they are part-time or full-time is expected to lead your marketing department, oversee your marketing operations and ensure that your existing/new marketing strategies are created to drive your revenue higher. Period. And this one's important. Their mission is to use their marketing leadership to drive - your - revenue - higher.

  2. Train your existing marketing team members so they can sharpen their skillsets on marketing trends, customer interviews, competitor research, marketing automation and anything else that'll close make them A-class operators for your business, specifically on skills that are needed to drive more traction for your business.

  3. Engage in strategic discussions with yourself (as the founding team/CXO) and other business leaders and key stakeholders, to ensure that the marketing roadmap aligns with your sales, product and growth initiatives for the quarter. Think of your interim CMO as the glue that bonds the different departments and aligns them on your core marketing/growth mission.

Of course there's caveats to the points I mentioned above, but if you want to take a closer look at how CMOs are thinking about their roles today, check out the interviews that we conducted with real-life Chief Marketing Officers: Nancy, Brad & Karen. Excellent people, and each is a 10-15 minute read.

Are there benefits to hiring an interim CMO?

There can be, yes. But it depends heavily on how mature your internal marketing team is, and where you are in your business growth journey. We wrote about this decision point here under the sub-header "The fractional Chief Marketing Officer: 2-3 days a week" on this article. That section is a 5-min read.

And while you're here, I'll give you the main pros of bringing on an interim CMO:

  1. It's a smarter use of capital - A CMO once told me that when the finance department hears that they can get interim CMOs for less than half the annual salary with no bonuses, equity and compensation packages, they get hyper excited to bring him on for his immediate marketing expertise. Plus, you get to scale up or down their hours based on how much of their time/involvement you need. Multiple projects simultaneously? Let's bump it up. Slow weeks in the summer? Let's pull the brakes on the CMO's hours so you can commit time where it needs the most.

  2. Your answer to OOO auto email replies - Sorry but your Q1 goals aren't going to stop your marketing director from having a baby. And you know.. if you had a super experienced interim CMO to step in during her absence, you could keep your traction on track! But jokes aside, this has proven to be another great use case for startups and mature organizations to have someone handy to step in and lead/improve on their operations.

  3. That extra set of overly-experienced eyes - I keep hearing some of our marketers mentions "omnichannel presence". Gets me every time. But what they mean is that having your brand be present across different channels, so that customers "see you everywhere". Fascinating. But the thing is if your in-house marketing team has A+ experience with paid ads, it doesn't naturally mean they can master SEO as well in 3 weeks because they bought an online course for it lol. And so this is where having a interim Chief Marketing Officer to come in, assess your weak spots and train/do the work needed for your team to be experts in said domains, can cut your learning curve in half and ultimately save your team weeks of lost time! Underrated point, but I can understand the hesitancy to change.

  4. Hack into the smartest brands - If you (luckily) get to bring in an interim Chief Marketing Officer who has worked with large brands like Flexport, Cisco, Salesforce (hint: we have someone just like this), you get to easily ingest all the failures and successes that those companies have gone through, because of that single person. This is extremely valuable, especially if those other brands are in the same market, revenue and funding range as you. Getting all that context for just $5K+ per month? If you still think that's not a steal, just stop reading this article man.


Towards the end of this article, my team and I talk a bit more about the "when should I hire an interim CMO?" dilemma.

How do I find the perfect interim chief marketing officer?

Well, hold your horses. Let's not call anyone perfect, because (and I've seen many folks expecting this) it's unlikely that interim CMOs will be your silver bullet to every problem. They can probably solve 60-70%, but you'll need your own marketing resources and marketing budget (yes) to execute on the work that your CMO develops. I'll say it again, interim marketing services isn't the answer to all your problems, but it can certainly help you get closer to your solutions.

On my other article, towards the end of it, I write about the questions you'll have to internally ask your CXOs and founding team, before even engaging a fractional or interim CMO. Please have a look as it sets the stage for the rest of this chapter:

(1) Be extra honest about what you're trying to accomplish.

Depending on your role, you may not be hiring manager and as such, may not be 100% sure what exactly the marketing/growth outcomes are for the next year. That's totally fine. What you'll need to do then, is to make sure everyone (i.e., key stakeholders in this matter) is aligned on these growth milestones so that halfway through the interview, there's no fingers pointing at you as the person who didn't do their homework. Okay? Okay.

This means tapping your hiring manager, CXOs, founding team members, etc. to make a bullet point list of things your business is trying to accomplish this year. And make sure they explain to you any verbiage that you're not privy to. If your background isn't marketing, it's always okay to double-ask questions you don't understand about marketing. And if you're struggling with this, just say hi to hey@hirecmo.io and I'll make sure we help you personally! :)

P.S. - make sure you have your executive team's buy-in early on.

(2) Now, tie those outcomes to non-negotiable skillsets.

Back track those outcomes/goals/milestones your team wants for growth and marketing, to skill sets that they believe the interim Chief Marketing Officer should have. Remember to focus also on key skills that your existing marketing team is missing as this'll help you decide what's a priority vs. not.

Here's a sample resume template for CMO job positions. Feel free to copy it over, and make adjustments as you see fit i.e., map your marketing objectives, marketing plans and marketing campaigns to the contents of that Google Doc. We also go into detail around the important parts of a job description here. Let's keep moving.

Bonus - Ask your internal team how to lessen the friction between the new interim CMO and other (marketing) leaders in the business after they join. Politics and power vacuums are often the biggest driver of friction in marketing leader transitions like this. Do your best to make sure people are satisfied, and not unhappy with the changes that are about to follow i.e., new potential marketing strategy redesign, allocation of marketing funds to other projects, resources being moved to unplanned marketing operations, etc.

(3) Good work, now let's find interim CMOs who match our vision.

My colleague got passionate and wrote a long (but very helpful) article on this. If you're aiming to rely on platforms like ours to help you with your search for interim CMO services, then just send us a note at hey@hirecmo.io! But honestly, regardless of who you go with, if you're aiming to involve marketing executive recruiters, please read this. It's a 15-18 minute read, but it'll give you a breakdown of all the things you should be worried about. 18 minutes to save you 18 hours of headaches? Great deal if you ask me.

But, if you're aiming to go on this hunt alone, I respect that. And here's what I would do to start your search:

  1. Reach out to your (ex) colleagues and marketers in your network for referrals. This is the fastest way because if your circle values their reputation, they won't send you someone they don't trust/believe in.
  2. Spend 60-90 minutes on LinkedIn or Twitter (aka X.com) every day to find candidates you want to invite for an interview. My suggestion is to make them fill in a detailed Airtable about their skillsets before you even let them block your calendar time (that's how I filter CMOs at our company). And if you're doing this at mass scale, then you can use cold emailing tools like Apollo (this one's a referral link) - if you need help getting this set up, just email us at hey@hirecmo.io and I'll help you get set up. On the house! :)

(4) Vet, interview, test and then finally, hire.

We at HireCMO call it the "VIT" formula: Vet, interview and test before you hire someone. You can vet them by checking the reviews others have left for them on LinkedIn, checking in with their prior hiring managers (I recommend having 20 min phone calls) and asking them to show the work/previous testimonials. There's only so much you can do to vet, to be honest, so don't get too hung up on this.

Interviewing and testing is where it's at. I always recommend having a probation period. Pay them for their time, but tell them that your decision to hire them for a 6-month retainer balances on their performance in the first 4 weeks. Nothing wrong with this, and it also lets you gut check if your candidate is good with being held accountable ;)

Bonus - One tip I always give people is to invite a senior marketer (a friend or hired muscle lol) to the interviews with you, so you have someone to stress test and filter your candidate. The reason is that you alone/your CXOs may not know all the right questions to ask the interviewee, which takes away the effectiveness of your interviews. Better to just pay someone $200 to sit in and vet your hires for you. This is included in our CMO retainer services, but if you need a one-off favour, I'll ask our founder to make it work for you.

Where can I find interim CMO candidates?

HireCMO.io is a great place to start, as we have a roster of CMOs who've had 10+ years of experience in marketing leadership roles having worked at corporations and startups. Plus, if we're not a good fit, we're happy to send you to others who will be. Key is to save you time and help you make a successful hire! And if you're looking for some pointers on what things to keep in mind as you meet your next CMO, check out the list we have going here - their track record, culture and vision fit with your team/business and context of the work they've done in the past.

How do I measure my CMO's success?

The answer is KPIs, just like any other industry. Some KPIs you can think about include:

  • Conversions (i.e., at what rate are prospects converting into customers and from what channels?)
  • Acquisitions (i.e., from which channels - paid ones like TikTok ads, and organic ones like SEO.)
  • Reputation (i.e., are customers providing decent reviews across the board? Is the product serving customers as it should?)
  • Presence (i.e., how omnipresent is your brand across places where your customers spend most of their time on?)
  • SEO (i.e., how authoritative is your website, are the backlinks high-quality, are you ranking for the right keywords that drive revenue, etc.)
  • Your website (i.e., how fast does your website load? Is it readable and 100% usable on phones? etc.)


KPIs should be tracked regularly. Anything alarming must be reported immediately to the CXO team and actioned as needed to allow you to improve your company's growth/marketing strategy. And btw, these KPIs help to simplify the fancy marketing shenanigan terminology your CMO wants to use, and make it understandable for the greater CXO/leadership team!

But these bullet points alone don't say the full story, as you should also gauge their role within wider company growth targets. Some of this may be qualitative, and will involve you speaking directly with the teams that report up to the CMO/have worked closely with her.

Why should I transition from Interim to Full-time CMO?

Great question. There's no right or wrong answer to this one, but you should follow an educated thought process, which I spent hours writing on my other article here. It'll only take you 5-10 minutes to skim through, but at the end of that article, I walk you through the kind of questions you should ask yourself to determine if you need to convert your interim Chief Marketing Officer into a full-time Chief Marketing Officer.

But the TLDR is as follows:

  • Feel: If you truly like how the CMO has operated in your business for the last 3-6 months, and everyone else who has worked with/under/for her thinks the same, then it's great. Culture fit is one of the biggest hurdles companies generally face, so if this has been smooth for you, you're lucky.
  • Data: Look at the KPIs. Look at your customer acquisition and overall marketing strategy. Are things better now than they were before your Chief Marketing Officer joined? And are you able to successfully attribute that success to her work? Be critical with this one.
  • Vision: Does the CMO genuinely align with your growth roadmap for the next 2 quarters? Do they truly understand what your company does and why customers should obsess over it? If all these are positive, then you're getting warmer!


And remember, most of these decisions can be reversed. But if you're promising equity, fancy compensation packages, do consult us or other CEOs/CMOs in your network that you trust before making an offer! :)

Wrapping up!

Hey! Sincerely hoping you enjoyed this read. I wish you well in your journey to finding the best marketing leader. Hiring for interim CMOs who don't break the bank, and yet drive massive marketing efforts during their tenure with you takes time, patience and practice. Whenever possible, try to rely on reputable platforms to shorten that timeframe and make your life less headache-y haha.

And just so you know, at HireCMO.io, we help companies find full-time, fractional and interim CMOs for startups and companies. Our team of senior marketers have held marketing leadership positions for 10+ years at successful startups and mature organizations, and love to be scrappy i.e., bring in more revenue, with less budget. Where possible of course :)

If we can be helpful, feel free to book a call with us directly in the link below. ~ Ciao!

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