As your business matures, adapts, and innovates to serve your customers and grow your revenue, your approach to marketing must naturally change to support your strategic vision for the future. In fact, it’s pretty close to a guarantee that somewhere along the way you’re going to wonder: Is it time to hire a CMO? 

It’s a big decision with the potential to impact your business for years to come. In this post, we’re going to focus on how to decide if the time is right to hire a CMO and (just as importantly) how to make sure you hire the right talent quickly. 

How do you know it’s time for a CMO?

There’s no single clear sign that your business has reached the point where you need a CMO to lead your marketing function but, if you’re experiencing more than one of these scenarios there’s a good chance the time is now. 

Your CEO/Founder is spread too thin to manage marketing anymore.

It’s very common that the CEO/founder of a company will run most marketing initiatives during the start-up phase of a company’s growth. However, as your business grows and matures, that formerly hands-on leader is being pulled every which-way and doesn’t have the bandwidth to focus on developing and executing your next integrated marketing campaign. This is a classic sign that hiring a dedicated marketing executive may be in order.

You’re looking for a strategic voice to help you drive new initiatives. 

You may have a trusted marketing manager or director in place, but the role is focused on leading tactical execution and you need an executive voice to address fundamental issues across the business. It may be time to bring in a strategic partner on your executive team to advise and guide new initiatives, and manage your go to market cross-functionally. This may include expanding into new markets, customer experience management or M&A activities.

Marketing is struggling to support growth objectives.

When you’re trying to grow in your current market or expand into new ones, what got you here might not be enough to get you where you want to go. Whether the problem is a lack of technology, staff, or strategic direction, an experienced CMO might be just what the doctor ordered to set things right and build a strategic marketing plan that links to company business objectives. Then, measure it.

Your current marketing leadership is too tactically focused. 

For those of you who do, in fact, have dedicated marketing leadership, you might be struggling with this issue. When your VP or Director of Marketing is constantly putting out fires or sweating the details on tactical, day-to-day activities, there’s no one to focus on the strategic vision for your company or make sure cross-functional collaboration is actually happening. This might be a sign that you need a dedicated CMO or that you need to invest in executive coaching for your current marketing leadership. 

You’re finding it challenging to differentiate your brand.

Your marketing team might be operationally effective at lead gen, social, and email campaigns. However, if you don’t have a strategic brand vision to tie it all together and give your people laser-like focus, your marketing team can only take you so far. A visionary, future-focused CMO knows how to build a differentiated brand strategy that connects with your audience and translates it into sales.

These are just a few of the signs you might be ready to hire a true CMO. However, if you’re still not sure your organization is ready, we recommend you consider engaging a fractional-CMO to help your business continue to grow and mature without committing your budget and resources to a full-time, in-house CMO.

However, if you’re ready to start searching for a permanent CMO, DON’T SKIP THIS NEXT SECTION!

How do you hire the right CMO? 

Great marketing executives usually don’t wear signs saying “CMO for hire,” but there are a few ways to improve the quality of talent you consider for this role. Remember, hiring the right people is always important but, especially important for C-level positions like this where the person chosen to fill the role will have a major impact on the success of the organization for years to come. 

Start by defining what you want (and what you don’t want) in your CMO.

Your business, its culture, and its long-term strategy are unique. It’s important for key stakeholders to sit down and define the skills, experience, and attitudes/values most important to select for when considering candidates. This session should also ask the question, is there any set of values/personality traits that we definitely want to avoid? The final output will form the basis for a CMO job description and hiring criteria that you will use to evaluate potential candidates against. 

Are there any obvious internal candidates you should consider?

If your organization is getting ready to hire its first CMO, it’s unlikely that your marketing department is mature enough to generate a strong leadership bench. However, internal candidates can sometimes ramp up more quickly than external hires, and with the right coaching and support, can be highly effective. Therefore, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the importance of considering your organization’s existing talent pool. 

Operational excellence will only get you so far. You need visionary CMO leadership.

Any candidate you’re considering hiring for a senior marketing executive role should know how to ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly and efficiently. But making the trains run on time is only half the battle. If you want to transform and elevate marketing at your business, you need a marketing executive capable of developing and articulating the strategic vision that will get you there.  

Look for someone who knows how to build and lead a team.

This might seem like an obvious skill to look for when hiring a senior marketing executive, but it cannot be understated how important it really is. The ability to spot talent, coach, and lead people will be essential to this role regardless of how mature your marketing function is. 

Consult with other marketing experts.

When you’re hiring your first CMO, it’s inevitable that you and your other key stakeholders will have blindspots that hamper your decision-making. You can counteract this issue by seeking out the advice of people who know marketing and know your industry. This kind of partnership can help identify potential opportunities or pitfalls you may miss when searching for your next CMO (i.e. executive search firms, associations, groups and forums). 

Look beyond the surface.

In any recruiting context, it’s easy and very human to attach undue weight and significance to aspects of a candidate that are superficial or irrelevant to their ability to perform the job. A dazzling interview, a well-polished resume, an elite educational background: these things might make a big impression on the hiring team but it’s important to remember that tangible, job relevant skills, personality traits, and behaviors are a much better indicator of whether or not a candidate will be a good fit. 

This advice applies to any role you’re trying to fill, but is especially important when you’re talking about hiring a senior marketing executive who will have a major strategic impact on the future of your business. Consider using behavioral interviewing or well-designed pre-hire assessments that can give you a more objective, consistent framework for assessing talent.

Leverage your network, but don’t stop there.

There’s a good chance your hiring team already has a good network of marketing leaders that can provide valuable advice and referrals. But it is important to avoid staying only within these networks. Make sure you’re connecting with experts and potential partners who specialize in finding and placing CMOs and other senior marketing executives. Also, and we can’t stress this enough, make tapping into diverse networks of talent a priority. It allows you to cast a wider net and reduces the chances that you’ll miss out on top talent because you didn’t know it existed. 

The right partner will have a large stable of qualified talent they’re already in conversation with and should know who’s actively looking in your industry. Even if you don’t end up retaining their services, a conversation with a well-connected marketing headhunter can give you a better understanding of the candidate market and how to best approach your search.

Prioritize the candidate experience: Automate or outsource where it makes sense. 

Executive recruiting for CMOs and other positions requires a smooth, candidate-focused approach. Skilled marketing executives always have options and a clunky, poorly managed candidate experience will make them less likely to accept your offer. While some tasks can and should be automated for the sake of speed and efficiency (e.g., submitting resumes), there are many aspects of this process that need the human touch (e.g., responsive communication with candidates and clients, relationship building). 

Don’t be afraid to engage an executive search firm that knows marketing and your industry. They can save you time and make sure your candidates are engaged and well-informed throughout the hiring process.

Not every organization is ready for a CMO but, if you’re convinced the time is right for your business, make sure you know who and what you want, look beneath the surface to find a truly great fit, leverage the expertise of others as needed, and ensure a great candidate experience from start to finish.

The right CMO can transform your business and drive growth to the next level. Don’t wait to invest in finding your next great marketing leader. 

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