How to Hire a CMO

For CEOs that need high function from their marketing team, hiring a Chief Marketing Officer (Head of Marketing, Marketing SVP) may be the key to building a marketing team that works.


The CMO is the foundation on which marketing teams are built

The CMO is the foundation on which marketing teams are built.

Whether you are ready to make a big hire, or retain a fractional CMO for now, the team will reflect the leadership of the CMO.

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

If you are a first-time founder or haven’t been involved in hiring a senior marketer before, how are you supposed to know what one looks like?

What do you need in a CMO?

Venture investors, especially early stage, optimize around building the early team. Venture capital firms dig into a high volume of companies seeking investment. They get lots of “at-bats” analyzing and trying to help startups take off.

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.

So, 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.”

I’ll add that it still might be easier said than done. Someone experienced won’t come cheap. What you need and what you can afford might be two different things. Which means whether you hire full-time or fractional, you need to hire right.

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.

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 those functions that don’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. You need both sides of the brain. Artists and scientists.

Critical takeaways

Just because all companies need some mix of the artist and the scientist in their marketing team, doesn’t mean there’s a standard ratio for how much artist vs. how much scientist.

As a CEO/founder 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.

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