Growth Insights for CEOs

Hiring the Right CMO!

Posted by The Chief Outsider

How to Hire The Right CMO

The following blog accompanies Barbara Fowler's ebook, Hiring the Right CMO. The blog was originally published on as Marketing Maverick Meets Team-Oriented Techie: How to Hire the Right Type of CMO.

Marketing used to be an art; has it been reduced to just a science? Not entirely, but science has become more and more important as technology gives us additional information on the buying process.  And marketing and sales have changed profoundly. Digital has given consumers the power to turn traditional business models upside down, and marketing has become increasingly data-driven. A deep understanding of how this new model of digital communication fits in with the numbers is paramount. It’s a tough bill to fill for a chief marketing officer (CMO), despite the fact that there are plenty of people out there who claim they can “do digital.” 

Everything is integrated 

It used to be that digital marketing, SEO marketing, and social media marketing were separated from "regular" marketing. Nowadays, marketing executives have to foster a holistic view that allows integrated and cohesive executions, meaning all CMOs must have an understanding, a curiosity, and the willingness to learn about new techniques and approaches. In the most successful companies, the CMO develops a close relationship with the IT department and the chief information officer (CIO). This is evident in a recent Price Waterhouse Cooper study, which showed that when the CMO and CIO have a close relationship, revenue, profits, and innovation increase remarkably. 

The trick is to learn to assess a candidate's capability in this area before the hire is made. If you are in the market to hire a new CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), CRO (Chief Revenue Officer), CCO (Chief Customer Officer) or just an old fashioned VP, Marketing, this post and the accompanying ebook is here to provide some advice. 

So, how do you find the right type of CMO; one with a propensity for digital, a desire for continuous learning, and the ability to work cross-functionally? 

Look for a Team Player 

You need a CMO who works well with others.  Ask your candidates the following questions to see just how willing and capable they’d be when it comes to collaborating with other departments: 

• “In your past positions, who did you feel it was especially important to develop a relationship with? How did you go about doing it?” 
Listen for mentions of coordinating with the IT department, working in partnerships, working as a team, or collaborating on projects. Given the Digital Age, marketing is anything but a one-stop-shop industry, and your potential CMO needs to be a team player. 

• “When you feel you need a technology solution, how do you go about working with the IT department to decide on the best one?” 
This question will give you insight into the candidate’s past experience with — and attitude toward — getting IT counsel on projects. Is she too proud to ask for advice? Or is she on the other end of the spectrum, expecting the IT department to do her job for her? Instead, seek out a well-rounded candidate, one who will do her homework to keep up with the technical side of marketing as it evolves — and is willing to defer to the IT experts when necessary. 

• “Can you describe a situation in the past where you disagreed with the solution proposed by IT? How did you resolve it?” 
Now, you’re really getting into the meat and potatoes. It all comes down to being a team player and having a good attitude. As a bonus, this question can also provide insight into whether or not a candidate would be a good culture fit for your company. 

Give them a pop quiz 

In the interview room, it can be challenging to test a candidate’s digital know-how— especially if the executive conducting the interview is not so familiar with the topic.  That’s why it’s so important to have someone who’s digitally savvy help analyze the responses of the candidates in person. Try questions like: 

 • Tell me about a time when you decided you had to increase traffic to your website. How did you go about it? How did you measure its effectiveness? Did you use any analytics packages to evaluate? Which ones? 

• Which digital strategies do you feel most comfortable with?

• Have you developed a mobile campaign? If so, how did you go about it? 

• Have you developed a campaign on Pinterest or Facebook? What steps did you take? 

• Where does LinkedIn fit in with a B2B strategy? 

• What agencies or companies do you feel handle digital well? Why? 

• What companies have you used for SEO? 

How should you analyze the responses? If your IT person was in the room, get her take on the candidate’s responses. If she’s not present, have her review a recording or notes later. What you’re looking for are thoughtful answers and pertinent examples. When the candidate responds, don’t be afraid to ask a follow-up question requesting an example of how the strategy worked. 

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Test their skillset 

It’s critical that your CMO fits your culture, has the right “soft skills” necessary to influence others, and can build consensus with other members of the management team. She must accept challenges, know how to build a team environment, and have the ability to say that she doesn’t understand. Traits like curiosity—and humility—will always be more important than specific digital skills. 

To increase your own digital knowledge, I recommend reading blogs like SEOMoz, taking part in LinkedIn discussions in your industry and — arguably most importantly — talking to your people. You will find that many people you hadn’t considered know a great deal in this area. 

For example, I recently was in discussions with a CEO of a medium-sized grocery chain. She was worried about starting a Twitter account and a few Pinterest boards. She felt the company did not have the talent, and it would take too much time and money to develop. However, she reached out to the staff, and it turned out one of the part-time checkout clerks spent a lot of time on Pinterest. The staff member was willing to research other grocery stores that had accounts, make suggestions, and work with the manager to put the boards together and update them. Many others got involved. This increased employee engagement and sales. 

You may also want to participate in CEO-sharing groups, like Vistage, which has monthly sessions on topics of interest to CEOs. I recently spoke to a CEO group in Austin, Texas, about digital marketing, and many were struggling in this area. However, there were others who were willing to share ideas and give advice — so everyone learned something. When done right, a CEO and CMO working in partnership, challenging each other, and being on the same page can reap incredible benefits. CEOs want CMOs who can drive revenue growth. This is usually accomplished by developing and nurturing more qualified leads. To do this, though, they need to understand and be able to act intelligently on the data. 

When it comes to modern-day marketing, knowing the numbers and the science behind the craft — as well as having the curiosity and humility to keep learning — are key traits in any CMO. By testing the hard, as well as soft, skills and perhaps doing some digital homework yourself, you’ll have the tools you need to bring even the most outdated marketing practices into this new, integrated landscape. 

To gain more in-depth knowledge on this topic, read the ebook, Hiring the Right CMO.


Topics: Digital Marketing Tactics, Chief Marketing Officer, CEO Marketing Strategy, Executive Staffing, Hiring

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