August 17, 2020

5 Questions You Should Ask When Hiring for the Chief Marketing Officer Role

This blog post was created to help companies make smart hiring decisions when it comes to finding and hiring the right person for their Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role. The ideas, questions, answers and information shared throughout this blog are based on real world experiences.

Chief Marketing Officer Simulating Web Search Using Hand
Chief Marketing Officer Simulating Web Search Using Hand

Why Do Some Businesses NOT Have a Chief Marketing Officer Role?

Typically, the top marketing employee is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). There are many reasons why small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not have a person dedicated to fulfill a Chief Marketing Officer role. Below are five common reasons companies do not have a Chief Marketing Officer role at their companies.

  1. Some companies do not know where to start with hiring a CMO.
    If there are not any stakeholders in your company who have a firm grasp on how to create a Chief Marketing Officer role for your business, it is often a good idea to seek a marketing consultant who is versed in building marketing departments and unbiased towards the decisions you make.
  2. Most smaller companies do not have or want to pay the money to invest in a Chief Marketing Officer role.
    Many companies have marketing departments, but they consist of lower-level employees that specialize in specific areas that stakeholders believe are in need of attention. These companies are often not prepared to pay a fair CMO salary and extend their investments to the resources that individual needs in order to drive the company forward.
  3. The CMO is often the CEO.
    Often CEOs have a hard time relinquishing control of their companies’ marketing efforts. So, they only hire people to execute their orders. This unwillingness to relinquish responsibility can be both for good and bad reasons. Sometimes, it makes more sense and sometimes it does not.
  4. There is a preexisting relationship with an outsourced entity that manages the marketing efforts for that company.
    Businesses often outsource all of their marketing to ad agencies and consultants in order to avoid the overhead of an internal marketing department or having to create positions they do not fully understand. There is often a drop-off in several areas of marketing when it comes to agencies which typically includes sufficient ROI and key performance indicator reporting, as well as, the amount of service you receive per dollar.
  5. A current employee is being groomed to be able to manage the Chief Marketing Officer role.
    If the CEO or another c-suite stakeholder owns multiple business areas that include marketing, it can be a very good approach for businesses to hire capable employees at a Director or VP level with the idea of grooming them to eventually take on the Chief Marketing Officer role.

Are You Actually Looking for the Right Person to Fulfill the Chief Marketing Officer Role?

It is an unfortunate truth that companies often cut their noses off to spite their faces when making hiring decisions. Whether it is the buddy system, a favor for a friend, a recruiter who is just trying to get paid, bad advice from a recruiter, the policy of promoting from within, affinity for a specific individual or the sheer lack of understanding of what a specific position should look like, companies constantly make the wrong hiring decisions–especially when it comes to the Chief Marketing Officer Role.

One of the most common mistakes companies make when promoting employees from within is making a hire without an understanding of what the chief marketing role looks like. We will discuss that in the next section of this blog, but for now we will stick to establishing this baffling, recurring business decision as a huge mistake that companies make when filling the Chief Marketing Officer role. This mistake alone serves as the first domino in the domino effect that takes place when companies make uninformed hiring decisions regarding the Chief Marketing Officer role or any role for that matter.

What happens when you hire someone into the Chief Marketing Officer role when you do not understand the requirements and capabilities a CMO should have is that you open yourself up to a logic that fails many times over again. This includes hiring a friend, hiring for a favor, hiring due to affinity, hiring because of performance in a niche area, etc.

None of these reasons logically justify hiring a person to fulfill a leadership role such as the Chief Marketing Officer role. Liking someone does not mean they will get the job done. Doing someone a favor will not grow your business. Responding to popularity or personal feelings do not move the bottom line in the right direction. Promoting a person with little understanding of all things marketing will leave you with gaping holes in your marketing strategy and them trying to find people that know more than they do for a fraction of the cost.

Why Should the Chief Marketing Role be Filled by a Generalist?

The word generalist sounds limiting doesn’t it? There probably could be a more flattering term for the concept. But the reality is, a generalist is not necessarily a bad thing. Typically, it means the professional is well-seasoned and has a lot of experience performing in a lot of different areas.

Often, a generalist can be very capable in a given area if not more capable than the specialists that work underneath them. Proving that should not be a concern for the Chief Marketing Officer role, nor should that be of importance to the stakeholders who make the CMO hire. What matters most, however, is that a generalist has a firm grasp on the various business areas they work in. When it comes to the Chief Marketing Officer Role, it is essential that you hire a generalist to fulfill this position.

Too often, however, high performing sales professionals are hired into VP of Marketing or even chief marketing officer roles. Sometimes, this decision works out, but experience has shown it often does not. Marketing is at the top when it comes to the hierarchy of all things related. That means sales, digital marketing, creative services, financial modeling, traditional media placement, branding, market research, and everything else related all belong underneath the marketing umbrella.

Sales professionals may even be good leaders, but rarely do their skills and experience encompass even a majority of these marketing disciplines. Yet, some produce great numbers. Therefore, they are liked, and because stakeholders do not understand what a Chief Marketing Officer should look like, they are also promoted.

As stated, this certainly is not an effort to pick on sales professionals. Sometimes, this move works out, and frankly, the same mistakes are made with other marketing professionals. Social media professionals are promoted to Directors of Digital Marketing. Advertising Agency professionals are lured to executive positions who have never worked client-side. The list goes on. The Chief Marketing Officer role, or even a VP of Marketing role, should not be filled with an individual who does not understand every area of marketing. There may be some learning curve when it comes to a specific industry, or business, but even then a CMO should be adept to adjusting to new environments and shaping culture.

Does your CMO Understand SEM vs SEO?
Does your CMO Understand SEM vs SEO?

What Should Be Communicated When Filling a Chief Marketing Officer Role?

Of course, there are common questions that are asked of almost every employee when it comes to the hiring process. What is your desired salary (range)? What are your goals in life? What kind of company culture are you looking for? How large of a team have you managed? Can you list some examples of how you have overcome objections? What is your management style? How would you describe what it is like to work with you? What is the biggest budget you have managed? Etc. etc.

These are all important questions. However, the following are questions that are less commonly asked and should be more commonly asked. Do you have experience working with CFOs or other financially oriented employees to demonstrate financial growth, decline and opportunity? Do you have experience writing overarching strategic business plans? Did you consider buy-in throughout those experiences and if so, how did you go about achieving that buy-in? How much project management experience do you have? How much system implementation experience do you have? What are your thoughts regarding the development of employees? What should we expect when it comes to your approach to fulfilling the Chief Marketing Officer role?

It is very important that you obtain the information you need in order to feel informed enough to move forward in the hiring process, but it is shocking how many companies leave little room for the candidate to ask their own questions. So, make sure you allocate enough time to interview such an important position if not every position. For the CMO role, two hours for each interview is a fair length of time to cover both parties’ questions. Ending the interview and asking them to email you questions is also not kosher either.

Don’t just take it from me. Franklin Covey’s renowned leadership course and book, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” emphasize the concept of seeking to understand first. The last thing you want to do is to seem uninterested in giving a candidate for a Chief Marketing Officer role enough time to ask their questions. Frankly speaking, you don’t want their questions to seem secondary either.

The Chief Marketing Officer role is typically a visionary role. Of course, the CEO should lead that effort, but there is a reason they have a suite of C level execs alongside them. They bring their own essential value to the table. You will learn from a good CEO candidate in that interview process. So, give your candidates time to ask their own questions. A confident and secure candidate will seriously reconsider their interest in working with that company.

Q&A is obviously important, because it helps both parties answer specific questions that help the other party decide whether or not there is a good fit. There are other aspects of communication during the hiring process as well.

We spoke a bit about tact when it comes to allocating enough time to allow the candidate for the Chief Marketing Officer role to ask their questions. The other side to that is to make sure you are not overselling your candidates by providing them with false information. Too often, do companies make empty promises in order to land a specific candidate. Often, companies get away with it because the individual uproots their life and commits to a position that has not worn them thin yet. Before they know it, they have held onto empty promises for years only to end up leaving.

Lack of transparency is a very common mistake made among SMBs. Before long, these employers flat line, because they gain the reputation of having a high turnover among accomplished individuals. All it takes is one highly respected individual to quit early to make others wary of working for that company. As a result, the company finds itself having to misrepresent itself again and a vicious cycle begins.

Any person seeking to fill a Chief Marketing Officer role should have a leadership mentality. Transparency and honesty will get you incredibly far with a leader. Obstacles are a part of business. Leaders understand that. Obstacles create challenges, and leaders rarely back down from challenges. Lies, however, create problems for your leaders and make it hard for them to address these challenges. Challenges are what your CMO should be facing. Not surprises you could have helped them to avoid. Be ethical. Give your candidates a chance to address these challenges and not be hampered by problems that began before they ever took the position.

You might also have specific ideas or projects you want them to work on. It is important you are clear about these initiatives. As mentioned earlier, CMOs are visionaries. They will want to create an overarching strategy that encompasses ALL of YOUR goals and objectives along with a plan to reach them. Because they are most likely generalists, they will lack tunnel vision and bring to the table the knowledge of how various initiatives can be accomplished cross functionally.

If you have some specific projects that are pressing and that might distract them from creating a plan for your business, you will want them to know this up front. Springing big projects and initiatives on them after they are hired might be like asking a construction company to move the front door after the framing of the house is complete.

Do You Look at Marketing as An Expense, or an Asset?

Most companies look at their marketing department as an operating expense. Much of the blame here should be placed on the way so many marketing professionals approach their work. Yet again, much of that has to do with companies hiring the wrong people.

Large corporations are beginning to shy away from the traditional Chief Marketing Officer role and are moving towards a Chief Growth Officer role. It is unnecessary to change the title for this position in my opinion, but it makes plenty of sense to revisit the traditional Chief Marketing Officer role when you consider all that is available to the marketing channel today that too many CMOs have little understanding of.

At the end of the year, companies want to see growth. They want to see it in dollars and they want to see how marketing efforts have translated into those dollars. They want to see new opportunities based on research. They want to see missed opportunities. While my company does build ROI attribution systems, ad agencies do not typically get into quantifying their results. That leaves it up to your employees to qualify their efforts. Surprisingly, many CMOs do not know how to quantify their work.

Today, the advanced CMO understands data points and financials and measures their success using both. There is much more to the game than outsourcing work to an ad agency. Today’s CMO should be much more involved. They should also understand tech enough to understand marketing systems. They should understand the value of market research. They should understand how tech is the amalgamation of sales and marketing. They should have creative vision. They should get the difference between inbound and outbound marketing tactics. They understand leadership and culture. They understand that the brand begins from within a company. What’s most important, is that they understand how all of these things can translate into revenue through profit generating programs that are quantifiable.

This is the new CMO that so many companies are looking for. This is what your chief marketing officer role should look like for your company.