How to Build a Marketing Team: Starting With the CMO

For startup founders or CEOs needing to revamp their marketing organizations, hiring a Chief Marketing Officer (a.k.a. Head of Marketing, Marketing SVP) may be your first step to build a marketing team that works.

4 min read

What do you need in a CMO?

build a marketing team on a strong foundation
The CMO is the foun­da­tion on which mar­ket­ing teams are built

It can be tricky to build a mar­ket­ing team.

Mar­ket­ing can be so broad and encom­pass so much, it often ends up being the least defined role in the com­pa­ny.

With­out con­sen­sus around what mar­ket­ing lead­ers are respon­si­ble for, how can you pos­si­bly hire a great one?

To get some per­spec­tive, I found insights in the world of ven­ture cap­i­tal. Ven­ture cap­i­tal firms dig into a high vol­ume of com­pa­nies seek­ing invest­ment. Post invest­ment, they’ll coach com­pa­nies in all areas of oper­a­tions and often cross-pol­li­nate ideas and best prac­tices between com­pa­nies in their port­fo­lios. They’re a rich source of knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence when it comes to what works and what does­n’t for growth com­pa­nies.

Jeff Jor­don, the for­mer CEO of OpenTable and cur­rent gen­er­al part­ner at ven­ture cap­i­tal jug­ger­naut Andreessen Horowitz, has seen a broad swathe of com­pa­nies in his time. On the a16z blog, Jeff writes that a CMO, teamed with a Head of Sales, has the ulti­mate respon­si­bil­i­ty for growth.

Accord­ing to Jor­dan, mar­ket­ing account­abil­i­ty met­rics may include growth in the num­ber of cus­tomers or users, inbound/outbound lead gen­er­a­tion, growth in prof­its and rev­enues, adver­tis­ing, events, ana­lyt­ics, cus­tomer reten­tion, strate­gies around brand, engage­ment, cre­ative, PR and mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

When is the best time to hire a Mar­ket­ing Lead?

Accord­ing to Jason Lemkin of SaaS­tr, “You almost can’t hire a VP of Mar­ket­ing too ear­ly. But it’s very, very easy to make the hire late.”

Your CMO has respon­si­bil­i­ty over mis­sion-crit­i­cal com­pa­ny func­tions and mak­ing a hir­ing mis­take here can be crip­pling.

How do you tell the good from the bad?

Artist or scientist?

Jor­dan quotes Intu­it founder Scott Cook as iden­ti­fy­ing two types of mar­keters: artists and sci­en­tists.

Artists are mar­keters that mas­ter the qual­i­ta­tive. They are cre­atives, native sto­ry­tellers, pas­sion­ate about brands and cre­at­ing cam­paigns and mate­ri­als that com­mu­ni­cate the com­pa­ny’s voice to cus­tomers.

Sci­en­tists, on the oth­er hand, are quan­ti­ta­tive­ly focused. They thrive on ana­lyt­ics, CRO, and mea­sur­able per­for­mance. Mar­ket­ing for them is a puz­zle of tests and opti­miza­tions.

Since both of these dimen­sions need to be oper­a­tional, it’s impor­tant to under­stand where a CMO can­di­date fits rel­a­tive to your com­pa­ny’s needs.

F. Scott Fitzger­ald once said, “The test of a first-rate intel­li­gence is the abil­i­ty to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the abil­i­ty to func­tion.” More recent­ly hedge fund mag­nate Ray Dalio espoused some­thing sim­i­lar in his book, Prin­ci­ples. The exam­ple Dalio gives is that one must be both assertive and open-mind­ed at the same time. And stud­ies of Nobel lau­re­ates indi­cate that inte­gra­tive com­plex­i­ty is a trait shared by top per­form­ers.

CMOs need to cov­er your bases for both the artist and the sci­en­tist.

Which is to say, in the rare case that you find some­one who is both an artist and a sci­en­tist, hire them.

In the rare case that you find a CMO can­di­date who is both an artist and a sci­en­tist, hire them! Click To Tweet

Oth­er­wise, this frame­work sug­gests you need to find some­one who can address the artist/scientist mix your com­pa­ny needs, whether by their own abil­i­ties or by the abil­i­ty to hire for and man­age the func­tion that does­n’t align with their nat­ur­al tal­ent.

This dichoto­my holds for mar­ket­ing team mem­bers too. Copy­blog­ger has been beat­ing the drum for David Ogilvy, who called adver­tis­ing writ­ers poets or killers.

Critical takeaways

All com­pa­nies need some mix of the artist and the sci­en­tist in their mar­ket­ing team. But the ratio is rarely the same. As you look to build your mar­ket­ing team, con­sid­er just how much of each is need­ed for your com­pa­ny to achieve its high­est poten­tial?

As a founder or CEO look­ing to get this hire right, con­sid­er the stakes. Jor­dan clos­es his rec­om­men­da­tions by say­ing,

…A tal­ent­ed CMO has the poten­tial to make a com­pa­ny. Get­ting this wrong can break it, since it’s very expen­sive and sets the com­pa­ny way back because mis-cast­ing the CMO usu­al­ly comes at the expense of growth. Every start­up CEO, espe­cial­ly tech­ni­cal founders not famil­iar with the role, should invest the time and atten­tion to get this crit­i­cal hire right.”

@jeff_jordan Every start­up CEO, espe­cial­ly tech­ni­cal founders, should invest the time to get the crit­i­cal CMO hire right. Click To Tweet

Your CMO can tru­ly be a linch­pin to the suc­cess of your com­pa­ny. I hope these tips will help you make that hire with zen-like con­fi­dence and peace.


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P.S. When you’re ready to fill this role, you may enjoy 15 Amaz­ing CMO Inter­view Ques­tions.

Published by Chad Jardine

@chadjardine is the CMO @goreact, an edtech company making game film for the classroom. He teaches graduate finance course @uutah and is the coauthor of Pillars of Inflection: Seven Fundamental Strategies for Explosive Company Growth. He accepts a limited number of consulting engagements each year.

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