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Why Hiring and Assessing a CMO is Totally Different than a VP of Marketing

28 April 2021

This article is designed to help VC and PE backed startups understand the skills, capabilities, and focus that make the “CMO” role unique, plus how to evaluate when you need one.

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:

  1. A CMO is not only focused on delivering marketing results today, or even over the next 6 months.  They are focused on establishing plans and making decisions that will set the business up for success to realize its long-term vision and lifetime success goals.
  2. A CMO’s objective isn’t just to execute flawless and impactful marketing campaigns.  It is to incorporate and intertwine marketing efforts with the rest of the business including IT, Product, CS, Ops, and Sales to drive maximum impact towards a single path forward. 
  3. A CMO also invests in demonstrating and articulating the impact of marketing and conveying its strategic objectives to investors, key decision-makers, and the rest of the organization in an inclusive manner.  
  4. Like a CEO, employees with an Officer title aren’t seen as leaders just within their departments but looked at as business leaders across the larger organization.  As such, a CMO will serve as an authority for not just their function, but for the larger business in any capacity, including across other departments.   
  5. The expectations of a CMO are often higher, as they are fully accountable and are treated as the last “throat to choke.” When a VP of marketing falls short, responsibility can be shared and there’s a wider range of actions that can occur (e.g., getting them more support or resources, adjusting through reorgs, or leveling them).

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:

  1. Your company has gained market traction, has had multiple years of consecutive growth, and a solid footing in success.  You are now ready to shift focus to your longer-term vision and how you maintain growth at various stages of scale.
  2. You’ve stood up all of your key marketing channels, you’ve optimized them to take advantage of all the low hanging fruit, and while you may be reaching diminishing returns on optimizations, meaningful incremental marketing growth will require integrated, cross-departmental strategy like developing major marketing-driven product improvements or creating ancillary lines of revenue. 
  3. The number of key internal and external stakeholders, investors, and decision-makers have grown and their relationships have become more complex. Keeping them invested and bought into your marketing efforts will take a more seasoned approach and more time to socialize and build consensus.
  4. The number of mid-level managers and overall employees across the organization has grown.  Cross-functional leadership, employee confidence in management, and having versatile business leaders to rely on have never been more important. 
  5. You’ve run your marketing playbook for growth, exhausted your new ideas, and are in a place where you aren’t finding the next answer.  The CEO can no longer give a significant amount of her or his attention to marketing, but you still need to find solutions to strategic, needle-moving problems you don’t have the answers to.

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:

  1. A CMO will be connecting today’s strategies with their roadmap for 3-5 years into the future, leaning on their experience leading or being part of successful marketing efforts across a variety of stages of company growth throughout their career.
  2. A CMO will have more than just marketing knowledge.  They will understand the business at large, how each departmental component and effort contributes to the bottom line.  They will understand how these efforts complement one another and establish relationships across departments to help lead a comprehensive approach. 
  3. Because of their general business acumen, CMOs are able to articulate the importance of marketing from a financial perspective.  They are able to translate marketing strategies like awareness and bottom-funnel conversion into bottom-line impact and gain buy-in and understanding from key stakeholders.
  4. CMOS also have inherent leadership quality.  They can command a conversation and a room when they need to, establishing trust and building confidence with those around them.
  5. A CMO is not expected to know everything, but they are expected to know how to find the answer.  As the CEO becomes less of a resource, a CMO’s external network becomes important. It isn’t just about what they know, but who they know, and how they can leverage their network to address critical questions and opportunities.  

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. 


References: 

  1.  RevelOne Study of Top B2C Marketers at Successful VC-backed U.S. Companies

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