Here in the second half of 2022, companies are facing several well-documented economic headwinds. However, your revenue targets are probably unchanged, or if you’re lucky, tempered, but still not easy to achieve. In this environment, you need to do more than cut costs to achieve your goals. You need to make smart investments in growth, including having the best marketing and sales leaders who can quickly evolve your growth plans and do more with less. However, finding these people is harder than you might think.
Great People Solve Tough Problems
As executive coach JP Flaum once shared with Graham Weaver, the founder of Alpine Investments, “Are you going to get to your goals with B or C CEOs running your portfolio companies? If you’re not building a suite of A leaders, Graham, how would you rate yourself as a CEO?”
The same thing is true for your Marketing and Sales Leaders and their direct reports – it’s more important than ever to have strong A+ marketing and sales leaders and teams in place. The demand for this key talent is still extremely tight. The difference between good and great in Marketing and Sales is 10X.
Why do companies fail to hire the best people quickly, putting growth goals at risk?
1. It’s Still a Tight Talent Market.
With a handful of high-profile companies doing layoffs in the last few months, it’s easy to think there are more people looking for jobs like yours. It’s still tough out there – ask any in-house recruiter or hiring manager. Here’s why:
2. In-house Recruiting Teams Are Spread Too Thin
Many think that an in-house recruiter they are already paying can get the job done. As great as they may be, they still face many challenges.
3. Recruiters don’t intimately understand the Marketing and Sales functions and skills they are hiring for.
Generalist recruiters are less effective with marketing roles because marketing is changing faster than any other function in the company, people are specializing to stay more current, marketing is getting more technical and analytical yet often requires creativity, the channels and techniques that work change quickly, and even at the top, different personas have emerged.
It takes either a marketer or someone with marketing expertise to identify the best candidates for your role, but also to “pressure test” them. Marketers are good at marketing themselves, know the right buzzwords, and can talk, but they may not be hands-on, or launched new programs from scratch, or scaled existing channels and initiatives. Without this specialization and expertise, how can a recruiter go a few levels deeper to see if they were simply “in the room where it happened,” or led it and drove impact?
4. There’s a real cost in lost time, wasted effort, and delayed impact on the business.
Whether you are trying to fill a role with in-house and/or contingency recruiters, or even generalist retained firms, all of the above applies – with painful consequences:
RevelOne was created by Marketers to solve exactly these problems.
We put a three-person team on every search. The recruiter leading your search only does 5 to 6 searches at any time. You benefit from us knowing and being able to reach a massive network of 130,000+ marketing and salespeople. We understand and help you refine your requirements, then identify the 100 to 300 best candidates for your role, and then we get in touch with them and present your opportunity to these almost always passive candidates. We pressure-test them so you only spend time interviewing the best candidates and end up hiring a great person quickly.
We can pierce through all of the issues above – the tight talent market and all of those challenges faced by in-house recruiters. The result? We’re still successfully closing out searches in 3 months on average and a third of the time in 5 to 8 weeks.
If you’re a VC or PE-backed tech company needing to hire great marketing and sales talent – contact us and one of our co-founders or VPs would be glad to help.
As former CMOs, we know the first 100 days are critical for any marketing leader in a new role, especially at high-growth tech companies. Whether they are the marketing executive running the whole department or in charge of an important part of the marketing function, senior executives expect them to make an impact quickly. However, obstacles and challenges will inevitably stand in their way, and create risk.
To help our newly-placed marketing leaders address their challenges, hit their goals, and execute quickly, we created the RevelUp Success Program, now fully integrated with RevelOne’s executive search services.
We’d like to share what we’ve learned from over 150 marketing leaders who’ve benefited from this program – to help other hiring managers and new hires anticipate these challenges and address them head-on.
Below, we share the 10 most common challenges faced by newly-placed marketing leaders.
Challenge #1: Building their team quickly
CMOs and senior-level marketing leaders are often expected to uplevel executional sophistication, expand into new channels and growth strategies, and evaluate and grow their team. In all these cases, hiring manager or director-level talent to develop and execute against immediate initiatives, and supplement talent or resource gaps become a new marketing leader’s priority. But, finding experienced, top-tier talent (particularly in a hot, candidates’ market) is a significant challenge while also executing your marketing plan. It can take months of calendar time to find and hire the right people, even when leveraging their own networks. Sound org design, effective role scoping, and an efficient search process are critical to addressing this challenge quickly.
Challenge #2: Managing expectations
Newly placed marketing leaders – particularly those in newly-created senior roles – are expected to have a significant impact on the trajectory of an already fast-growing startup. Managing these high expectations is challenging to do while also learning the company and its people, establishing trust in their own ability, showing progress, and persistently tackling resource challenges. Per the first challenge, new marketing leaders often don’t yet have the team to deliver on these expectations, they may not have the tech stack to efficiently build upon, or the data insights to inform decisions. Also, most new growth strategies just take time to develop, execute and gain traction. Marketers need effective expectation management strategies and strong relationships with their leadership team in order to address this challenge.
Challenge #3: Lack of Resources
New marketing leaders often face other resource constraints like lack of HR/talent support in hiring (or even getting approval for headcount), lack of internal resource support like developers, engineers, and data scientists, or budget for technology, media/advertising, and agencies. This challenge, in large part, drives the need to manage expectations (#2 above). Marketers in new roles must effectively evaluate and prioritize these resource requirements, adopt scrappy out-of-the-box execution methods, and just get the job done while securing these resources. The right experience, strategy, and network support are extremely helpful.
Challenge #4: New to an Industry or Target Customer
Every newly-placed marketing leader brings with them experience, skills, and abilities that will help them succeed. But when they are entering an industry that is new to them, or marketing to a target customer segment they have never marketed to before, the learning curve can be steep. For example, if a marketing leader has never had to abide by healthcare advertising restrictions or has never marketed to young adults under 17, they must somehow get up to speed quickly or risk making mistakes that can be costly. Through our RevelUp Success Program, we help these new hires uplevel their knowledge in these areas quickly with the right network and resources to tap into.
Challenge #5: Limited data and analytics
Even at an advanced public company, data and analytics are likely to be far from perfect. At high-growth VC/PE-backed companies, marketers often inherit limited business intelligence (BI) and analytics resources, incomplete customer data, and a sparse tech stack. As marketing becomes ever more data-driven, the right data and customer tracking are critical for insights and decision-making. But, it doesn’t make sense for most companies to jump right into multi-million dollar tech stacks and full BI teams to support marketing. There is an art to “rightsizing,” then building out the data science – it’s critical to evaluate your immediate and most impactful insight requirements, identify the most critical resources needed, find the right tech and vendor partners, and implement the optimal roadmap.
Challenge #6: Lack of processes and organization
Early-stage startups need to constantly try new things, pivot quickly, and not be afraid to take chances or lean into change – this is an environment where order and process can sometimes slow things down. However, once they start to gain traction, understand their customer, and discover the most important growth levers, they need to focus on what’s working and build a reliable foundation that can take them through the next 3-5 years of growth. This inflection point is where marketing leaders need to harness what may feel like organized chaos into an agile process and organization that can enable a business to scale. This entails the monumental challenge of changing long-standing behavior, which requires a strategic, insightful, and cross-functional approach.
Challenge #7: Showing impact quickly
Marketing leaders in a new role are expected to deliver results – quickly – or risk losing credibility and future support. Some leaders can deliver at least an initial impact with minimal difficulty, which is why this falls in the second half of our list. For those facing several of the above or below challenges, however, this becomes more difficult. Regardless, marketing leaders can’t fly underneath the radar as they are the single point of accountability for marketing (or their function) and are expected to show how their efforts impact key business KPIs. They need to develop a strategic and effective plan that will allow them to navigate and address challenges, delivering “quick wins” while spinning up initiatives and laying the foundation that will drive medium to long-term impact. Leaders that do this well, leverage relationships with freelancers, agencies, martech vendors, and expert advisers from their network to plan and execute.
Challenge #8: Changing internal thinking and direction
New marketing leaders are often brought in to be a ‘change agent’. This could be expanding your target market and rethinking your product strategy or GTM positioning, changing the brand strategy to compete in an increasingly saturated market, or changing the culture. Since high-growth businesses have already done well with the approach they’ve been taking, many employees – and even leadership – can be resistant to the idea of substantial ‘change’ even if it is now required to get to the next level of growth. Three-quarters of CMOs and marketing leaders consider driving substantial change in an organization one of their biggest challenges. When this is a core requirement, it is critical for a hiring manager and newly placed marketing leader to make sure they have the right united approach to inspire leadership, cross-functional teams, and the marketing org to ‘change’.
Challenge #9: New to leadership in general
For new managers and superstar ICs stepping into their first leadership position, it can be daunting to manage people, serve on the executive team, and juggle increased responsibility – not to mention accountability – often for the first time. As head of marketing or an important marketing function, they are also expected to shift from mid-level execution experts (with which they are comfortable) to strategic leaders who can still somehow get the execution done. The right internal relationships, outside networks, and mentor support are important to help them navigate this new terrain.
Challenge #10: Launching and testing new channels
While almost every marketing leader in a new role faces this challenge, it falls at the end of our list because good marketing leaders excel at channel expansion, and most have a certain comfort level when addressing it. But no marketer is an expert in every marketing channel – consider PR, social, SEM, partnerships, and influencer marketing as a few examples. Access to the right information – in order to choose the right testing strategy or the right partner to execute – can result in saved budget, precious calendar time, and greater impact.
Anticipating these challenges is critical.
The RevelUp Success Program is included in all of our executive searches and supports our newly placed marketing leaders in just this way, however, if you or your new marketing leader is struggling with any of the above challenges, please contact us directly, and we would be happy to help.
RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.
Company-specific customer research and segmentation are critical to identifying the right channels and targeting best suited to reach your ideal customer audience. While almost everyone is leveraging Facebook and Google, our work with the top tech companies reveals several key acquisition channels many marketing leaders are not yet testing, but should be considering. These include audio, connected and streaming TV, micro influencers, affiliates and even direct mail (still effective after decades).
In future articles, we will dig deeper into how these channels can impact your business and even share leading resources and vendor recommendations our clients have found very useful.
But before you spend your first dollar, you need the talent to test them. We examine the four leading options to help you decide which option may be best for your business.
Outsourcing a new channel to an experienced agency is the most widely used option among fast growing tech companies. It has a lot of advantages, but may not be right for everyone.
In the end, for companies with large enough budgets for a substantial media investment and the stomach, margins or urgency to work with a significant agency fee, outsourcing to an agency is likely a great option. However, we recommend meeting your account team first to evaluate the individual talent you’ll be assigned.
If one of your team members already has experience in the channel you are looking to test, this option often makes sense. However, this often isn’t the case. Instead, this responsibility is assigned to what amounts to an inexperienced team member you “think” is most capable.
For those on a tight budget, this is sometimes the only realistic option for testing new channels. In this case, we suggest putting your best effort forward and if the initial data shows even a glimmer of hope, gather enough data to make the business case to invest in it properly.
Often considered the ideal compromise between option #1 and option #2, freelancers and contractors can act as an extension of your own team with limited commitment or investment.
A talented freelancer or contractor can be a nice option, but it isn’t perfect. Negotiating your contracts so they are tied to channel results can minimize your financial risk and make it a great option. To help retain insights and historical learnings, ensure your freelancer documents and records everything.
Hiring specialized, full-time talent in-house for a new potential channel makes sense when you have conviction that the channel can work for you and the resources to fully test it. This includes resources to hire talent in-house and the media spend they’ll need to test and prove out the channel.
When selecting this option, one way to minimize risk is to look for candidates with experience beyond the channel you are looking to test. They may have specialized in this channel most recently, but look for candidates whose backgrounds span other channels and skill sets so should this channel prove unsuccessful, they can still add value elsewhere.
Exploring new channels that have the potential to meaningfully impact your business is something every business and marketing leader should pursue. We offer guides for evaluating and launching several key channels including Audio, OTT/CTV, Affiliate and Direct Mail. Once you’ve determined your next channel to test, utilize the above options to help you decide how to source the talent to execute. At RevelOne, we not only specialize in marketing and GTM retained searches, but we offer insight and advice on org design and marketing strategy, and can tap an extensive network of specialized freelancers and agencies should you need additional help.
RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.
Roughly half of the top fastest-growing B2C tech companies in the US have a CMO running their marketing efforts. The rest have a VP or ‘Head of’ title1 at their marketing helm. These latter companies are arguably finding great success without a resident CMO. So what makes this role so special? And more importantly, how do you know when you need one?
What makes a “CMO” Unique
In order to know when you need to invest in a CMO, it is first important to understand what makes this role different from other marketing leadership positions. Let’s examine 5 of those key differences:
How to Determine When you Need a CMO
Now that we have defined 5 unique elements that make the CMO role unique, let’s examine 5 correlating business indicators that can determine when is the right time is to invest in one:
If one or more of these situations/scenarios apply to your business, it may be time to consider a CMO.
How to Distinguish a CMO from Other Marketing Leaders
Your CMO is unique because they will assume a new set of strategic responsibilities that include navigating internal and external politics, facilitating increased cross-functional collaboration, serving as a visible business leader across the organization, and focus on long-term strategies to drive company sustainability. You may be wondering, can your current VP or Head of Marketing step into this role, or do you need to hire externally? Let’s look at 5 key skills and capabilities of a CMO to help you identify them:
We recognize that hiring a CMO is a big decision, and as you consider your potential need and subsequent search for a CMO, we hope this information is helpful. At RevelOne, we specialize in identifying and placing senior-level marketing executives and CMOs. So if you still have questions, we are here to help.
RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm. We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech. For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.
With marketing talent in high demand across both verticals and company stage, closing a “finalist” candidate quickly and effectively is challenging. High-quality candidates are generally interviewing at multiple companies, and their discussions with you may even drive them to explore and entertain multiple offers before making a decision. In addition, every offer has multiple factors including title, comp, role definition, and the emotional dynamics of the process. Given these potential challenges, we sat down with several experts from the RevelOne talent team to understand how you can increase your chances of closing the person you want for the role.
1. Realistically evaluate what you can offer
In the previous articles in this series (How to Scope the Role, Targeting and Search Strategy, Interviewing for Successful Outcomes), we emphasized the importance of doing your homework to understand what you can offer a potential hire. This becomes especially important when working to close a candidate. Are there certain compensation levers that can be adjusted? Is the location or title set in stone? Or can you adapt certain requirements for the right individual? If your company might be flexible about working remotely post-COVID, for example, you may have the ability to be more flexible on certain elements of a role. It’s best to establish this clarity internally before you engage with a candidate to avoid creating frustration and confusion.
2. Transparency is the best policy
“A candidate recently shared that they had a great experience with a company because the company was incredibly clear and transparent throughout the entire process,” shared Arthur Ly, Vice President at RevelOne. Knowing what you can offer someone is essential, but you should also be prepared to share this information with them. Establishing an environment of trust and clear communication early in the process leads to candidates more comfortable participating in an open and honest exchange.
3. Listen to what the candidate is looking for
Dig a little deeper early in the interview process to uncover potential frustrations and pain points with a candidate’s past roles and employers. We suggest asking questions such as “What would you have changed about your last position?” or “What are you hoping to do differently in your next role?” to understand their personal aspirations and expectations for their next position. If you can provide what they are seeking, let them know LOUD and CLEAR. However a word of caution: Don’t over-promise and under-deliver or postpone a disappointing conversation because you really like a candidate.
4. Continue to check-in throughout the entire process
“Smart savvy clients will continue to check in throughout the entire process,” shared Katie Droke, Senior Account Director. This demonstrates that you are invested in them and that you care about their experience. Checking in also allows you to gauge the candidate’s interest level while at the same time reconfirming their reasons for wanting to pursue a new opportunity. You want to know if anything has changed in their personal or professional circumstances (i.e., a new offer, a location requirement) to avoid unnecessary surprises when your offer is on the table. If a new opportunity has arisen, inquire what makes it attractive as well as any potential concerns.
5. Remember, timing is everything
The more time you take to make decisions throughout the process, the more time the candidate has to explore other offers. “In a highly competitive market, strong candidates generally stay available for 4-6 weeks” shared Tina Yung, Senior Account Director. Schedule interviews quickly after you have decided to continue with a candidate, and once you have made a final decision, let the candidate know immediately. If the decision to extend an offer is made on a Friday afternoon, pick-up up the phone to congratulate the candidate. Let them know that HR will be following up with them the next morning or after the weekend with more details.
6. Create a sense of urgency
Highly competitive candidates will not be lacking in great opportunities, which means they will likely want to maximize all aspects of their new role. This often results in a candidate requesting more time to make a decision. To avoid unnecessary delays, clearly define and communicate the timeline before the interview process begins. Then stick to deadlines for follow-up rounds and final decisions. “If a candidate continues to drag out the process without clear explanation, they are probably not that interested,” shared Arthur. However, “it’s important to also understand their specific situation” he continued. “Often candidates have invested a lot of time in a competitive opportunity and want to see it through.” In these cases, it’s good to be adaptable and understanding.
7. Don’t lowball
Compensation conversations are where we have often seen even the best organizations slip up. They will come in far too low or remain inflexible on a small difference. “You would be surprised how many companies we have seen lose great candidates over $5 or $10K,” shared Katie. If you have done the preparation to know what you can offer and what the candidate will expect, you’re wasting their time and yours with an offer that pushes them away.
8. Empower candidates with a choice
“Listening to what they value – giving them a choice – empowers a candidate,” shared Tina, Senior Director. While some companies have very tight bands, many smaller organizations and startups have the ability to be flexible with compensation. If there are multiple levers that you can pull to adapt to the specific candidate’s requirements, give a candidate options. Is base less important because they are excited about the growth potential of equity? Does a performance-based bonus incentivize them? Ask what they are looking for and see if you can respond to empower and excite them about the opportunity.
9. Make it meaningful
While you can lose a candidate over starting with too low of an offer, the compensation package is not the only element of the job. While compensation may be a deal-breaker, it is generally not what sells the role. “It’s important that you highlight the more intangible elements of the job – career professions, impact, challenges the role will tackle, why THEY are the one for the role – throughout the process,” shared Tina. Create meaning and dignity so that the decision between your organization and a competitor doesn’t come down to a difference of $5K.
10. Give candidates a remote “bear-hug”
Remote work makes it more difficult to “awe” candidates in the same way you may have (on-site visits, swag, etc.), so think of creative ways to still “bear-hug” candidates and introduce them to employee culture (e.g., zoom happy hours). We suggest an early congratulations to come from a senior executive, even the CEO, and follow this with a warm welcome from all others they have engaged with throughout the process. Make them feel wanted. Show them how thrilled you are to have them be part of the team, and remind them why they are the one for the job.
“The most important thing is that you make sure the candidate is happy throughout the entire process,” shared Katie. This means doing the necessary preparation, supporting an environment of open communication, and proactively addressing a candidate’s personal aspirations and compensation needs. Ideally, the offer then becomes a mere formality.
We hope that the strategies outlined in this article help you provide a great candidate experience, and ultimately improves and strengthens your outcomes with potential hires.
A successful interview strategy should both help you make smart choices about which candidate to hire and get them excited to join your organization. Approaching the interview process holistically and deliberately will help you avoid missed opportunities, declined offers, and poor hiring decisions. To understand the nuances of how the right interview process can drive better outcomes with prospective candidates, we talked to several of our RevelOne talent experts about what they had seen work across the hundred-plus searches they had supported across the firm.
It’s natural to want to jump right into interviews with a strong candidate who seems to have it all. It’s critical that you first define the outcomes you are hiring for beyond a broad list of the responsibilities and functional areas under the role. “It’s important to remember that the interview process is bi-directional,” shared Tina Yung, Senior Director. Too often, we see companies embark on interviews before appropriately scoping a role in the context of what specific business outcomes the person needs to achieve in the role over the next 2-3 years. In some cases, the interviews turn into a forum, which is not a good experience for the candidate. She may feel uneasy about the organization’s direction and question whether she’s set up for success. It’s also important to make sure that various stakeholders in the organization are aligned as well. For additional guidance on scoping a role, you can check out our article.
When designing your interview process, it can be tricky to strike the right balance between obtaining the depth of information you need and not chasing a candidate away with unrealistic expectations. Remember, top candidates are also in high demand, and they are likely interviewing at multiple companies. We encourage you to critically evaluate what you are asking of them – the number of rounds, the length of the interviews, and the time commitment of supplemental projects. If a project is required, it should take place later in the process, be specific to the role, and appropriate for the level. If the same insight can be obtained during an interview, either through a detailed walk-through of past work or by asking more technical questions, a project may not be necessary.
When designing the interview loop, a well-coordinated approach will not only make a good impression on a candidate but support your team in better decision making. We suggest having key stakeholders focus on different subject areas, and enable the convenient sharing of information through scorecards, shared docs, or standardized templates. Even if it’s a quick update via Slack, make sure interviewers get a download on what was discussed in previous rounds. You will avoid frustrating candidates with redundancy and obtain more insight in the limited time you have with them.
For an interview to be effective, a candidate must authentically represent themselves. Start the interview by establishing a personal connection and/or demonstrate a genuine interest in something that matters to them. Doing so will set the tone for open and honest communication as you move on to more substantial topics. Additionally, save your overview of the job and company for the end of the interview to avoid the candidate pitching too directly at what they think you are looking for.
A strong candidate will have well-prepared responses to the obvious questions (e.g., Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Strengths? Weaknesses?). Consider asking questions that won’t elicit a generic response, such as “What is an example of a past assignment you would now approach differently?” or “How have you motivated someone when they were struggling with new responsibilities?” Mix up your follow up questions as well. Watch how applicants think on their feet -— it’s a good indicator of how they’ll deal with day-to-day challenges.
Marketers are often good at marketing themselves, and it can be tricky to evaluate what work they were personally responsible for. You’ll want to “double-click” for the next level of detail by asking several follow-up questions. For example: “What was your role and who else was involved? What technology and tools did you use and why? What were their limitations? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time? What metrics did you use to track success? What data did you wish you had but didn’t?” Answering these “next level down” questions will give you a sense of where the candidate was deeply involved in driving results and where they were just a participant. For more detail on how to evaluate real impact, see How to Interview Marketers (who are often good at marketing themselves).
The most successful hires will be a strong match for both the job and the workplace culture. Don’t overlook “fit” because of a dazzling resume or experience that exactly matches your company’s size and stage. “I tend to ask more open-ended questions to get a sense of communication style and personality” shared Arthur Ly, VP of Talent. Open dialogue will provide important insight into a candidate’s management style, handling of conflict, collaboration patterns with peers, and other “non-functional” topics, which becomes particularly important with more senior positions.
There are many components to what makes a strong marketer take a new role (opportunity, base, equity, title) so you want to start uncovering what’s important to the candidate early in the process. These many variables can make the offer process complex, but they also give you multiple levers to play with. Can bonuses be used to bridge comp gaps? Can you be flexible on the title, role definition, or org? Many companies leave these questions towards the end, but it’s good to gather information along the way. If it seems like there won’t be a fit, it’s good to save time and the relationship. In cases where you are progressing in the process and moving towards a close, it’s good to set expectations and exchange signals before the final offer stages. This also reduces friction and risk in the end stages.
The sales mantra “time kills all deals” holds in hiring as well. You have to balance the need for a thorough mutual evaluation with the time investment you are asking of the candidate and the overall duration of the process. “The best candidates are will not be on the market for long,” shared Yung. Processes that go on too long can allow time for a previously passive candidate to explore competing opportunities and even create friction and doubt. You may encounter internal delays, in that case, provide consistent updates and continue to check-in so that they do not mistake your silence for disinterest. Do not leave a candidate waiting for weeks between rounds, even if you are not sure if they will be the finalist. Remote work and Zoom have actually made scheduling and logistics easier, so take advantage. Keep the communication channel open throughout the entire process and use those touchpoints as a chance to share more about the company and build rapport.
“Early this year candidates were scared to leave their current positions, but that’s less true now,” shared Katie Droke, Talent Director. There are many active candidates on the market, and a strong interview process is a critical element of your hiring strategy. It’s a mistake to view the interview process as primarily a scheduling and information gathering exercise. It’s a complex set of human interactions that involve trust, education, negotiation, and the important opening steps in building what may turn into a multi-year relationship. Considering all the facets discussed above will help organizations define and manage strong processes for hiring marketing leaders and setting them up for success.
The first key question is when is the right time to hire this leader. The answer depends on whether you have a marketing-driven or sales-driven business model. For marketing-driven companies, you need a Head of Marketing once you have proven product/market fit since you don’t want to rely only on organic user acquisition. At this point, your investors will want predictable dials you can turn to scale revenue. For Sales / B2B companies, add marketing as soon as you have an effective, repeatable sales process and you need to add fuel to the fire. This should be one of your core competencies very early on and most startups invest in it too late.
Unfortunately, hiring marketing leaders has never been more difficult. You’ll be competing with many “hot” companies to hire the best candidates. Further, marketing channels are becoming more complex, and evolving faster than ever – causing marketers (at all levels) to specialize to stay current. To help you navigate these challenges, RevelOne has developed a proven, multi-step process for marketing leader searches.
The first step is clearly scoping the role. Don’t rush this step; it’s the foundation for your search success and will result in mis-hires if done poorly. Thought and effort put into scoping the role will yield a myriad of benefits throughout the search process. We offer the following suggestions to help.
Even if you have an amazing internal HR team, they may not be the best resource to help you scope the role of your marketing leader. Because marketers are becoming increasingly specialized, it would be difficult for any internal HR team to fully understand the nuances of their expertise.
Instead, invite a functional expert to help. Who should you ask? Perhaps a board member with a marketing background or a marketing freelance consultant. Or maybe a colleague from your startup incubator or business school has a background in marketing. Reach out to them to help. (Shameless plug: You can also reach out to RevelOne; this is one of our core competencies and we are happy to do it even if you do the search internally.)
It can be tempting to think about the marketing leader who will be able to build your company into a globally-recognized brand. You may need such a CMO — 5 years from now — but odds are you don’t need those skill sets quite yet.
Instead, focus on the business impact you want your marketing leader to have in the next 2-4 years. You want someone who can build your initial growth strategy and also do hands-on work, hire and lead a team, and who can boost your KPIs in their first quarter or two. This is very different than the CMO who is a strategist and manager of a large team and takes you public. Very few people do both or even transition from one to the other profile.
Especially for technical founders, it can be tempting to scope a role that includes every marketing skill you can think of. This lack of skills prioritization is the #1 reason we see searches go sideways. Because of the increased specialization, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a single person with all these skills (and if you do, it’s likely to be impossibly competitive to hire them).
Instead, consciously make tradeoffs to prioritize the key skills required to hit your specific growth goals. Ask a functional expert to help you anticipate which channels will be most effective in helping you acquire new customers. For example, you might prioritize skills related to paid social and SEM skills, in which case you should for performance marketers. Or perhaps you believe your product has strong viral components, in which case you want someone with product/growth skills. Or maybe you need someone to develop your sales channels, in which case you’ll want someone with a partnership marketing or business development skillset. Take a look at our Framework for Scoping Key Marketing Roles to learn more about what each role is and what skills are included.Focus on hiring someone with knowledge, skills, and abilities in the channels you care most about, and let the other stuff go.
As marketers specialize, marketing job title variations proliferate — we’ve seen as many as five different titles applied to what is essentially the same role. (To see some examples, refer to our Framework for Scoping Key Marketing Roles which lists some of the most common title variations for each role.) Our advice? Do some research into what the best, well-known companies call different types of roles. Also, if you are unsure how to level a Leadership role, and think it might skew slightly junior, use a ‘Head of Marketing’ approach to give you flexibility.
Good luck with your search, and let us know if RevelOne can help.
At RevelOne, we support our clients beyond executive search, often providing advice on broader marketing talent strategy, organizational design, and prioritization of key roles. One specific topic that comes up frequently is when to hire full-time and when to bring in contract marketing support. To address this question and offer a holistic perspective, RevelOne teamed up with Right Side Up, a collective of premium freelance marketing talent.
Because marketing channels, tactics, and digital tools have grown increasingly complex over the past 15 years, staffing for best-in-class results has become a nuanced puzzle of internal and external resources that can be difficult to piece together. We hope this article will give you a decision-making framework that you can reliably use to determine what type of hire your business needs.
Permanent full-time employment is the compelling de facto model for most employers. It’s a big investment to bring expertise into an organization, get new hires up to speed, and have them solve unique business challenges while continuously executing, learning, and improving. Furthermore, equity gives in-house employees strong incentive to stay and succeed, and aligns them toward a common goal. Developing a flourishing culture and community – which are powerful benefits with network effects – is easier and best done with full-time employees. In many roles, organizational context is necessary for achieving excellence, and in-house team members have an easier time accessing and acquiring this knowledge. As a result, it often makes sense to bring on full-time employees. Using contract marketing support (freelance or agencies) should be the exception rather than the rule.
There are two situations where it’s pretty straightforward to use contractors: you have a part-time need or a temporary need. An example of a part-time need is an email specialist for 20 hours/week who can start building a top-rate lifecycle program until the return justifies a full-time hire. Temporary needs, on the other hand, could include seasonal work, special projects, leaves of absence (like maternity), or coverage during long searches for full-time hires. In these instances, consider external support, especially if you don’t want to assign the work to an existing employee.
Since the above scenarios are easier to recognize, let’s explore three specific, unique situations where it’s better to bring on contract marketing hires than full-time employees.
1. You Have an Unproven Need
When you aren’t sure if something will work, but know you want to try it, consider external support until you clarify your requirements. This is the classic “try before you buy” concept. For example, suppose the only paid advertising channel you use is Facebook and you want to explore other channels. You are convinced Snapchat will crush it for you. Do not ask your Facebook person to do it – it’s a different demographic and user experience altogether. It also takes a long time to acquire the deep knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a new channel; you’re much more likely to find success using external talent with specialized skills that aren’t quickly learned.
If you try to hire an FTE to focus on it, you are very unlikely to attract top talent without budget and proven success in the channel. Even if you do, you risk rapid churn if the channel doesn’t perform as you hoped. The very thing you hired her for – her passion for and capability with a particular skill set – will make her unsuitable and/or uninterested in anything else you can offer. Contract marketers are excellent for proving new tactics, channels, and strategies to both increase your conviction and help you draw A+ talent when the time is right.
2. You Can’t Hire Fast Enough to Hit Your Revenue Goals
If you simply can’t hire fast enough or you want to test and learn faster than your current team can support, consider external resources. Remember, there is an opportunity cost to not having the right marketers in place. This is especially true after large funding rounds, when new marketing leaders start with a mandate to rapidly build out the team so they can hit new targets. In these cases, external marketing support complements full-time recruiting well, providing much needed interim labor (and outcomes) while recruiting builds out the long-term team.
In other cases, the challenge isn’t pace, but sequencing. Suppose you have been using an agency to manage significant spend across 5 different channels. You plan to hire 4 FTEs to cover the work internally, transitioning the work away from the agency. Contract marketing support can provide a great bridge between all-external to all-internal, a transition that can be quite clunky (and expensive) with staggered FTE recruiting and onboarding.
3. Your Organization Has Systemic Recruiting Challenges
Recruiting is challenging and can often take longer than you would like. But there are sometimes systemic reasons that make internal talent strategies notably difficult:
It’s worth noting that these challenges are magnified exponentially as a skill set’s demand increases and labor supply decreases. In these cases, you should consider external marketing support, at least as an interim solution until the contributing factors can be mitigated. If they can’t, then external support can help you continue to make progress while recruiting advances at a slower-than-desired pace.
Anytime the hours required are full-time, you have a high degree of confidence in the skills needed, and you have access to high-quality talent (yourself or through a partner like RevelOne), hiring a permanent full-time employee is the best path for both productivity and cost-efficiency.
However, here are three specific situations where hiring contract resources typically does not make sense.
1. Highly Cross-Functional Roles
Some roles require significant collaboration with a variety of internal stakeholders, all of whom have different goals and motivations. Contractors have no historical context, no knowledge of personalities and dynamics, and often spend less time face-to-face with clients. If you limit contract candidates to those who can spend all their time on-site, your pool will often be just as limited as full-time hiring.
A good example of this is a marketing analyst role. Doing this job well requires not only an understanding of marketing demand across a variety of stakeholders, but also an intimate understanding of the data architecture and landmines that must be avoided to pull the right data. The risk of failure is high. Even if you successfully put a contract resource in such a role, you then have much higher retention risk. It is not uncommon for companies to spend months on a too-difficult onboarding only to see the contractor move on, forcing the company to start over.
2. Very Senior Roles
Senior roles typically require managing others and stewarding the company’s culture and values. This makes it harder to find the right person, harder for him or her to be successful, and there’s a much higher downside risk if unsuccessful. Many contractors want to more singularly focus on selling their skills. The detachment from politics, culture, and team management are often specific reasons for being a service provider instead of an employee. As such, the company looking for an interim leader is often looking for a needle in a haystack and is more likely to find leaders who are not heavily invested in team and culture. These considerations apply to a CMO or VP Marketing role at a mid to late-stage company, for example. Even if that person can be found, s/he will require significant onboarding and will be an expensive loss in the not-too-distant future. Without careful communication, hiring a contract leader can also convey to that team a lack of dedication to the function. With individual contributor roles, the downside is limited to a particular project or role. With management roles, the downside extends to every direct report. The retention risk of entire teams can skyrocket with a poor decision.
3. To Build Core Competencies
When building a core competency within marketing, using contractors should be minimized. For example, if you are an ecommerce company, you should manage the top performance marketing channels (Google & Facebook) in-house via full-time employees. Hiring contractors is generally not recommended in this example, since the sooner you hire permanent talent for those areas, the sooner you build the expertise and core organizational capabilities. However, if you’re not sure if your business model is right for a channel or initiative, then temporary help is a great way to find out.
Another factor to consider is external marketing talent is typically engaged for a limited period and often works remotely, so it can be difficult to ensure processes, outcomes, and learnings are both well-documented and propagated internally for long term success. This presents a risk any time contractors are used, but represents an outsized risk when the work to be done is a direct driver of company value.
A final consideration is when contractors move on from projects, they will seek other clients and deploy the skills they’ve learned elsewhere. Though they obviously can’t share confidential information, they generally can work for competitors, regardless of the agreement you have in place (this is specific to California and is not legal advice). Limiting the number of people that understand (and help build) your secret sauce is wise.
Recruiting full-time marketing talent is a great de facto solution, but hiring external contract support can be immensely valuable when done well and in the right context. Both are hard and have become specialized skills in their own right.
Once you’ve aligned on the profile and most crucial skills for a new marketing hire, it’s time to shift gears to targeting high quality, relevant candidates. (For more on defining your role, take a look at our first article in this series, Hiring a Marketing Leader: How to Scope the Role.)
For specialized marketing roles, this is always tougher than people expect. Personal networks and inbound applicants to a job posting are natural starting points. But it’s easy to overestimate the size and relevance of personal networks and, in both cases, you risk not attracting the skills you need. LinkedIn is the typical next stop. But even with its massive reach, trying ad hoc searches on titles and keywords won’t pick up nuances around channels, business models, and company size and stage. These strategies have their place, but they’re typically not enough with highly competitive and specialized marketing roles that will require both nuanced targeting AND a large pipeline to get to your hire.
Marketing channels have continued to increase in complexity, causing marketers to specialize to remain current. This dynamic contributes to a more competitive talent pool with fewer resumes that match a company’s specific requirements. Here, conventional search methods just don’t cut it. Our experience navigating the recruiting needs of our clients has proven the value of casting a wider net, and doing so strategically. We offer the following suggestions to support a more robust and dynamic search strategy.
At RevelOne, once we’ve defined a role profile, we ground our search around target companies. Anchoring on companies has a number of benefits:
This kind of comprehensive, company-based sourcing requires “market mapping” research, which typically leverages database like Crunchbase, Pitchbook, Datafox, or Mattermark. At RevelOne, we use both our own database of 55,000 marketers and proprietary company market maps we’ve built around key verticals (e-commerce, B2B Enterprise, SaaS) to support this process.
In thinking about your target company segments, start with a set of “bulls-eye” companies, where the marketing program is both relevant and known to be high quality. Your first targets are likely to be direct peer companies that do what you do, have the same general Go-to-Market strategy, and are of similar size and maturity. Ideally, the person running marketing is solving similar problems, and the teams they manage include individuals with the skills you seek.
You’ll need a strategy for venturing beyond your first bulls-eye segments. Within that already narrow target pool, you’re then choosing from the further subset of people who are interested in your company or vertical AND willing to make a move. If you’re talking about 100 candidates, with 20 are open to any move, and half of those interested in your company, you’re down to 10 possible candidates before you’ve spoken to anyone.
You don’t want to lower the quality bar on non-negotiables like strategic or analytical thinking, overall marketing acumen, and culture fit, but you will need to be ready to adjust criteria around the specific company and channel experience. To expand your candidate pool, you’ll need to prioritize which candidate characteristics you’re willing to shift next, including those describing both the company (e.g., industry, company size, stage, and culture) and the individual candidate (e.g., functional skills, level, and education).
For example, if you’re an early-stage company hiring a product marketer for a highly specialized vertical, you might be willing to take a big company person from that same vertical rather than someone with hands-on startup experience. On the other hand, you might need an Acquisition specialist with deep Paid Social knowledge and finding expertise in that channel might matter more than matching your vertical.
This company-based methodology is also valuable in that it gives you a more concrete sense of the size of your talent market. Hiring managers are sometimes surprised to learn that once they’ve defined a highly specialized set of skills and a narrow group of relevant company experiences where they want to look, there may only be 125-200 people total in the market. Understanding those realities is critical to assessing when to make a decision and select from your candidate pool or adjust levers to expand the universe. Unfortunately, the alternative can be a long search that burns a lot of cycles and sets you back against your business goals.
D&I is a much larger topic that requires multi-faceted efforts over time including network building and outreach into new talent pools. For the purpose of this article which focuses on targeting, we’ll just note that greater flexibility and thought around prioritizing levers as described above can be one tool in supporting diversity efforts. The small pool of people who’ve done the exact same role in similar companies may reflect a traditional demographic profile as well. Thinking strategically about expanding levers to a broader set of experiences will expand your candidate pool, providing more opportunities to find great candidates from a more diverse range of gender, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.
Our experience has demonstrated the value of casting a wider net. We hope that the suggestions outlined above enable you to amplify your search and identify the right potential candidates for your organization.
Good luck with your search, and let us know if RevelOne can help.
Marketing is becoming so specialized that just because a leader has been successful at one company does not mean (s)he will be successful at another. A marketer’s success depends on a number of factors such as growth stage (do they need to build vs. optimize), primary marketing channels, and how well they fit with the culture.
Many leaders find it hard to effectively evaluate Marketers because they are often good at marketing themselves – telling compelling stories, using buzzwords, and taking credit for a team’s results. These “storytellers” are common in Marketing and Sales roles. So how do you evaluate their “true” marketing depth – the strategy, execution, continuous improvement, and scaling of programs that grow the business and build the brand? How do you know they will drive results for your business?
It all starts with getting clarity on what kind of marketing leader you need and the specific outcomes you expect over the next 1-2 years. We recently delved into this in detail in our article How to Scope a Marketing Leader Role, and we’ve published our Guide to Frameworks for Scoping Key Marketing Roles that introduces 9 role frameworks. You can use these to define the most critical marketing roles, including B2C and B2B Marketing Leaders, Brand Marketing, Performance Marketing, Lifecycle/CRM, Analytics, Product Marketing, E-Commerce, and Business Development/Sales.
Next, here are some insights around pressure testing the depth and substance of what marketers have accomplished once you start interviewing them.
Whether you are looking for a hands-on marketer or someone who is going to manage teams and resources, here are some suggestions for assessing how hands-on a candidate is likely to be in their next role. If performance marketing was a part of a candidate’s responsibilities, ask whether it was staffed in-house or through an agency. If in-house, the candidate is more likely to be more hands-on. Were they there in the early days standing up new campaigns and channels, or did they hire a team of experts that were senior and just managed them? How did they think about optimizing and scaling what the people on that team were already doing? Can they talk about the specifics of the platforms they’ve used and the variables they were optimizing or are they talking about the program only at a high level?
Keep listening for the level of detail the candidate provides when describing their experience. If they did the work or were intimately involved in the projects, they’ll talk about second order metrics, nuances of what worked and didn’t work in campaigns, challenges they faced in data flows or implementation, and specific insights learned. On the other hand, watch out for people talking about just top line metrics and generalities around the nature of their programs (as if they were simply watching the work get done).
Another approach is to ask open-ended questions about what their onboarding plan would look like. Listen for clues – are they talking about building teams and spending money, or do you hear a bias towards action, testing, interaction, or specific channels and tactics?
In a startup, you need to accomplish a lot with few resources. You are developing hypotheses and structured tests informed by your previous experiences. You are building a playbook from scratch and that often means being a “doer” consumes more of your time than managing people.
At a large company, you are thinking about scale – what will move the needle. Managing several direct reports and teams with big budgets. And you often have to work with many constituents, so your ability to sell your ideas internally is as important as the programs and initiatives themselves.
If you hire someone who’s only been successful in companies that are a different size or stage than yours, then there’s additional risk. A candidate who’s been successful in both environments – startups and large companies – is ideal, but can be hard to find. They can be scrappy, flexible and innovative in the less defined, unstructured environment of a startup, yet when the company grows over time to be a late-stage private or public company, they have the inter-departmental communications skills and experience to build consensus and scale programs.
When hiring key marketing roles, it’s easy to default to pursuing people with hot companies and successful brands on their LinkedIn.
It’s easy for these candidates to talk about the accomplishments of the company or their group. But were these candidates just in the right place at the right time, or were they the ones leading strategy and driving impact?
You need to take the time to keep digging and “double-click” for the next level down of information. Every time you get an answer, ask several follow-up questions. For example: “What were the results? What was your role? What technology and tools did you use and why? What did you learn? What do you wish you did differently?” Answering these questions requires a level of detail that’s hard to keep providing if you weren’t intimately involved. If you (as the interviewer) don’t know the subject matter, ask open-ended follow-up questions such as “tell me more” or “say more about that.” With time and patience, you’ll usually get to a point where you have a good sense of what the candidate did or didn’t do.
You’re hiring a Marketer to grow your business in the next one to two years, most likely via a known set of core channels and initiatives. The growth strategy and required marketing mix should match the Marketer you hire. For example, if you think you’re mostly going to grow by Facebook and Google, the candidate should have extensive experience with those channels. If brand is important but not critical, then you can have a Director of Brand that supports the marketing leader.
How do you assess the functional knowledge and expertise of candidates, when maybe you’re not an expert? Include in the interview process someone who knows the desired marketing functions well and can drill-down. This could be an internal or external resource or a talent firm. You want someone who can assess the relative strength of their skills across the marketing spectrum because no one is equally good at everything.
For example, when assessing performance marketing, ask which performance channels are they strongest in? Which channels did you implement, or scale, in past companies? Then “double-clicking” further – if the candidate said they launched a given program, ask about what key metrics were tracked, what was the technology stack, what two things didn’t work, etc. You’ll learn the level of their functional knowledge pretty quickly in these deep dives.
From our hundreds of marketing placements each year, we’ve discovered that companies tend to hire on skills, but fire for culture. Skills and experience are absolutely necessary but are simply not sufficient for success in a high growth environment. To develop high-performance teams and reduce churn, the personality, interpersonal skills and resulting behaviors of your senior hires need to mesh well with your existing team and culture. It’s critical to evaluate this in the recruiting process – before it’s too late.
You could start to address this with typical interview questions about a candidate’s personality, skills and behaviors. But we believe this is too important of a topic to just “scratch the surface” on, in part because some candidates may provide prepared responses that they think you want to hear.
Fortunately, there are sophisticated personality assessment tools available today that don’t take long to complete, can be positioned as a learning opportunity for the candidate, and provide insights into your initial hiring decision and subsequent onboarding and integration of new leaders into your organization. We recently partnered with OAD, the leader in this space. We found the OAD tool to be the most modern personality assessment on the market, providing actionable insights on key talent decisions such as:
We hope that some of these suggestions, tools, insights and tips prove helpful as you interview marketers who are good at marketing themselves.
Good luck with your search, and let us know how RevelOne can help.