A senior marketing executive can revolutionize a company’s growth, but choosing the right candidate requires asking three key questions to understand first what the company needs, and then if the candidate can deliver it.
There are times when a Chief Marketing Officer might not feel like a necessity, especially for a middle market company that has managed to grow well without one. But what worked for years can falter: growth stalls, a competitor begins to dominate the market, or new investors arrive with a more ambitious vision for the enterprise.
And that can prompt the hunt for a new marketing leader. Like any talent search, the process can seem obvious in theory, but much more daunting in practice. People might have the right names on their resume and glowing references, only to still prove a bust when faced with the unique circumstances of a given business.
That’s why my experience, both as a long-time marketing leader, and as the CEO of a fractional CMO business that has placed CMOs into more than 1,100 companies, has led me to conclude there are three key questions to ask. First, what do really need from your marketing professional? Second, how does that marketing professional think about their discipline? And third, how did they translate that strategic thinking into concrete initiatives that made a difference?
If a CEO knows exactly what they need from their marketing group, or are quite happy with the company’s growth rate, and simply want someone to keep that growth engine purring, they can tap someone who has the tactical background and skills to fulfill that role. This is for the company that’s content with its progress, as it beats competitors and enters new markets. In this circumstance, it may be a matter of tapping the right outside agency to launch a specific campaign or program.
But more often than not, the hunt for a CMO is prompted by a new owner or new leadership with greater expectations than the status quo. If the company needs a big change, it’s time to bring aboard a C-suite level talent, because that’s someone who can build a brand-new engine for growth, not just maintain the old one.
The real factor to consider in prioritizing industry experience is the existing leadership team. If everyone else are sector veterans, it’s less crucial to have the CMO match their background. Remember, the best CMO won’t be siloed away from the rest of management, but act as a key collaborator, helping every function by deploying their insights and initiatives.
No CEO should be trying to discern if a potential CMO has the technical competencies for the job. Instead, they should be vetting how the CMO thinks about their role, and if their approach is truly comprehensive, in that it gathers insights about the market, competitors and customers and uses them in such a way that informs the whole organization. They may not have such insights in hand about the company in question, but they better be able to explain how they gathered and deployed those insights during their last engagement.
In a way, it’s about asking the candidate for their process, not their conclusions. They shouldn’t be trying to sell what they did in their last job, or rattle off the generic “tasks” that the company should do next. A great candidate won’t give an exact prescription, because they know they have to gather the intelligence first. And their reluctance to offer quick, pre-packaged solutions demonstrates that they understand that every business has unique needs.
About the Author:
Art Saxby is the founder and CEO of the nation’s leading fractional CMO firm. His 75+ CMOs have worked on the management teams of over 1,100 client companies. Chief Outsiders is extremely selective in the hiring of their own CMOs. Last year alone, the firm entertained more than 700 marketing VP-level applicants but found only 9 who met their specific qualifications. www.chiefoutsiders.com