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The Characteristics of Top B2C Marketers at Successful VC-backed U.S. Companies

11 January 2021

And the implications for finding and hiring your next marketing leader

As the #1 marketing specialized retained search firm in the US, RevelOne is often asked by our clients how to accurately identify, or even predict, elite marketing talent.  We believe identifying and hiring the right candidates takes marketing expertise and hard work, but to better address this challenge, we turned to the data.

We recently conducted a study analyzing over 100 Elite B2C Marketing Executives at high growth, consumer-focused tech companies in the U.S. to understand the skills, experience, attributes, and backgrounds that separate them from the rest.  To be considered an “Elite Marketer,” you have to be the Marketing department leader at a company backed by a top tier VC that has achieved or is fast approaching “unicorn” status. For each marketing leader of these outstanding start-ups, we analyzed their LinkedIn profiles for the traits that led to their success (more details on the methodology can be found at the end of this article.)

In a 6-part article series, we will dispel myths, share interesting findings from our research, discuss key takeaways, and explore if predictive indicators exist to identify who will be the most successful marketers.  Below are an initial 5 findings from our research.

1. Graduating from a top university or having an MBA are not required to be a successful marketer.

The top 28 universities in the US produced 49% of the Elite Marketers in our study.  So clearly, top universities have historically produced far more than their share, as only 6.25% of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the US produced basically half of the top tech B2C marketers in our study.  That said, 51% did not attend a top university, indicating a top school is not required to be an elite marketer. In addition, our study also showed that only 38% of the top marketers on our list have an MBA.  

So, while it may be common practice for employers to require a prestigious university on a resume, or be biased towards individuals with an MBA, the data suggests this practice may cause them to overlook a large set of Elite Marketers. From a talent acquisition perspective, many hiring managers might be using top universities and MBAs as screening criteria, we would recommend casting a wider net considering candidates who meet your skills, experience and cultural fit requirements.

2. Success is highly correlated to having experience at large and public companies.

Of all the Elite Marketers in our study, 75% have previous experience working at a public company. That surprised us.  At first, the correlation between experience at a large, public company and success at a high growth startup may not make sense.  However, these large corporations thoroughly vet employees before hiring them, invest in their skills development, offer structured training, and provide valuable peer networks available to tap for expertise on demand. All these elements create the opportunity for marketers to develop specialization and depth of expertise in a given function, to move between roles easily gaining additional experience, and access to a sea of experts from other disciplines and functions to learn from and grow. That type of experience is arming top marketers with an arsenal of best practices, and firsthand experience of what long term success looks like.

It is also notable that 43% of our elite marketers worked at a marketing agency at some point in their career. This is higher than many would expect. The data suggests while a mix of in-house and agency experience may be common, it is not critical. Marketers who have spent time within an agency gain experience working with many different clients, projects and situations. Interestingly, only one of our top marketers worked at a marketing agency immediately before their current leadership position. 

From our experience doing over 600 retained searches in Marketing and go-to-market roles over the past few years, the most successful hires have demonstrated success previously in a similar stage or size company. While most of our top marketers have public companies experience, we don’t think this should become a requirement for top marketing searches at VC-backed tech companies, especially early to mid-stage growth companies. We encourage tech startups to stay focused on the functional skills and experience they require and concentrate on candidates with previous success at companies of a similar size or stage.

3. Top marketers don’t jump from job to job.

A surprising 39% of Elite Marketers have never left a company in under 18 months.  And, 68% have been at all but potentially one of their roles for at least 18 months throughout their career. Job-hopping just doesn’t seem to be in their DNA.  

Whether their longer tenures are due to their success and retention in a role, their own desire to see their work through, or other reasons, our analysis doesn’t reveal.  We can speculate, however, that some shorter stints are driven by positive outcomes, such as an acquisition. We can also speculate that some shorter stints are likely beyond a marketer’s control, like challenges with company funding, lack of product-market fit, or even personal reasons outside of work altogether. Some marketers in growth companies also may enjoy earlier growth phases and choose to move in order to build somewhere else.

Only 16% of the elite marketers in our study have been at 3 or more jobs for less than an 18-month period.  From our work with clients, we see that one short tenure is not uncommon, and two may be acceptable if the candidate has a good explanation for them, but it’s worth digging in carefully when candidates have 3 or more short stints.

4. Top Marketers are evenly split between being generalists or specialists.

Top marketers whose careers have spanned a variety of marketing disciplines (a “marketing generalist”) accounted for 51% of the elite leaders in our study.  Marketers with a career strongly focused on specific marketing disciplines, like performance marketing, brand/comms, and product marketing (“marketing specialists”), accounted for 49%.  For an elite marketer to successfully oversee the strategy and execution of all marketing initiatives – ranging from customer acquisition, retention, brand, communications/PR, and analytics – one might think a more diverse marketing background would be required.  The data demonstrates otherwise.  Those who have specialized in a more focused discipline, are just as capable to be an elite leader at a high-growth start-up as their more diversified counterparts. Great leaders lean on specialists on their team in areas they don’t know quite as well.

However, their particular areas of specialization may matter.  Brand/Communications and Performance marketers made up 72% of our total specialized leaders (37% and 35%, respectively).  Implying while specialization in a certain marketing discipline may still prove them capable, the specialty itself significantly matters.  Few of the top specialized marketers were CRM/Lifecycle or Product Marketing specialists (2% and 10%, respectively).

In total, an impressive 86% of our entire elite marketer set come from either a general marketing background or have specialized in Brand/Communication or Performance marketing specifically.  Considering some in our study have a background outside these three areas, we believe marketers with other backgrounds should not be discounted.   But if fast-growing tech companies are struggling to narrow down their candidate search criteria, looking for one of these three types of backgrounds in their next marketing leader would be a great approach.

5. Women are well represented among Elite Marketers, however there is a definite gender gap when it comes to titles.

Women accounted for 56% of the Elite Marketers in our study.  Compared to the US adult population in which women account for 51%1, and the US college graduates in which women account for 56%2, women are proportionately well represented when it comes to leading marketing for the country’s fastest-growing and successful tech startups.  

However, one finding implies things may not be so equal. Only 34% of women top marketers have a C-level title (i.e., Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Growth Officer), while 63% of their male counterparts have C-level titles.  

Perhaps this could be explained by the fact that women top marketers in our study are younger? 70% of women top marketers have less than 20 years of experience, compared with 46% of men top marketers. 

So, we wanted to normalize for years of experience. 

For the top marketers with less than 20 years of experience, 24% of women have a C-level title, while 52% of their male counterparts have one.  This is a similar disparity to our first finding. 

We also looked at our more experienced top marketers with 21 years or more of experience – which represent 40% of our top marketers in this study.   Only 59% of women with 21+ years of experience have a C-level title vs. 72% of the men. Women are under-represented in the C suite even at this more experienced level.  Combine this with an article by Business Insider stating that on average women executives make only 89% of what their male counterparts bring home, and one wonders if the title gap may be reflective of the same phenomenon happening in compensation.

Additional research on our top female marketing VPs could uncover if their executive team peers are also VP level, indicating an even playing field for all CEO direct reports.  Or, if our top female marketing VPs are more likely to report to a COO or other C-level positions making a C-level title less likely.  

Our arms-length analysis of the data doesn’t provide the reasons for the disparities, or insights into the minds of the hiring managers, but we certainly hope there is not a bias toward withholding C-level titles from women.

There are so many interesting findings from this analysis by gender, that we’ll be devoting an entire article to this subject in the near future. Stay tuned for much more on this important topic.


The above findings are just a few of the high-level insights our data has uncovered.  To share even more of our findings, including deep dives into key areas, we will be sharing more of our research and takeaways over the course of several articles, while focusing on a few key topics: 

  1. The Formal Education of Top Marketers
  2. Career Experiences of Top Marketers
  3. How Do Top Marketers Develop as Specialists or Generalists?
  4. Women vs. Men as Top Marketers

Then, with our 6th and final article, we’ll wrap up the series with highlights and the implications of the study.

We hope these insights will help hiring managers understand the skills, experience, attributes and backgrounds of the top marketing leaders in tech. We also hope that, in many cases, these findings have predictive value and can help to identify the next generation of CMOs.  By identifying the critical underlying skills required for success, we believe this study can broaden the pool of qualified candidates for important roles beyond the same repeating set of “top marketers” most employers go after and further assist with diversity efforts.

 If you are interested in our next articles in this series, please follow RevelOne on LinkedIn.


RevelOne is the #1 marketing specialized retained search firm in the US.  Our mission is to accelerate our clients’ growth by partnering with company leaders to turn their marketing goals into actionable talent strategies we do this by hiring the best marketers at all levels while sharing the knowledge and data we gain along the way to help hiring managers and marketers make better decisions.


Methodology

We identified the most senior marketing leaders at over 100 of the highest growth tech companies in the US.

How we determined the companies: The fastest-growing tech startups included in our study had to meet several key requirements.  Companies had to be funded by a top tier VC (see list below), be a consumer-focused business, have an employee count between 100 and 5000, and have been identified as a “unicorn” ($1 billion or greater valuation) or be a “successful, high growth company” in one of the following publications: CB Insights and Fast Company 50 Future Unicorns, CNBC Disruptor 50 Companies, Forbes 25: Next Billion Dollar Startups, Forbes Midas List, or raised $50 million or more in funding within the last 2 years per Crunchbase.

How we identified the marketing leader: The most senior marketing leader within each company was identified based on title. They had to be in a marketing role, must be located in the US, and must have a CMO, VP, SVP, EVP, Head of, Sr Director, or Director title.

How we conducted the analysis: Crunchbase was utilized for public company status, funding VCs, and funding amounts.  Company and marketers’ LinkedIn profiles were analyzed to determine company employee count, consumer focus, most senior marketers in an organization, location, titles, education, gender, work experience, years of experience, current role details, and career focus.  

List of Top Tier VCs: Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Bessemer V Partners, Founders Fund, GGV Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Battery Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Norwest Venture Partners, Menlo Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Spark Capital, Lightspeed Venture partners

List of Top 28 Universities: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, Duke, UPenn, Wharton, Brown, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Cornell, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, UVA, Dartmouth, NYU, Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vanderbilt, Wash University, Michigan.


References

  1. US 2019 Census
  2. National Center for Education Statistics 2018 report

 

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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