Hiring a Marketing Leader: How to Scope the Role

18 August 2020

Searching for the first marketing leader for your startup is hard and may cost precious time and market opportunities when you get it wrong. Start by getting clear on what kind of marketing leader you need. Here’s how.                                   

Searching for the first marketing leader for your startup is hard and may cost precious time and market opportunities when you get it wrong. Start by getting clear on what kind of marketing leader you need. Here’s how.                                                         


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.

Bring in the right experts 

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.)

Focus on the nearer term

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.

Beware of the “kitchen sink” problem

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.

Worry less about job titles

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.


About RevelOne

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.

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Hiring a Marketing Leader