Find Your Fit: Five Qualities to Look For
Of all the partnerships in our lives, few have the “break-up” potential of the full-time Chief Marketing Officer, and the company they’ve pledged their allegiance to.
The most recent stats on the matter bear this out: Last year, the average tenure for a CMO was just 40 months – an 11-year low, according to headhunting firm Spencer Stuart. The survey also noted the lowest-ever median tenure (25.5 months in 2020) – a sign that could point to increasing pressure for quick results for newly-minted CMOs, or, like completing a puzzle, finding that piece that’s the right fit.
If you’ve been with me for the first couple of blogs, you certainly understand by now that there are myriad ways to tackle your market-facing challenges – agencies, in-house resources, and, yes, the full-time CMO.
In our previous blogs, we’ve arrived at a compelling case for the hire of a fractional resource in the top marketing slot. It’s often faster, with less commitment, than a full-time CMO. And, you get top talent that has been time-tested at some of the biggest, most well-run companies. But now – how to make the leap?
Though every fractional resource and need is different, there remain absolutes – top qualities – to consider when evaluating the right CMO for your unique business case and challenges. I’ve assembled a list of the five key standards to gauge when picking a fractional CMO – and some of these may surprise you:
- Consider an Industry Outsider: Most businesses would expect that the best candidate is one that has direct industry experience – and though this is nice to have, it certainly shouldn’t be the make-or-break in the calculus. Look, you already know your industry – and if you’ve warmed to the idea of a fractional CMO, you likely are looking for a fresh perspective, not a repeat performance. Indeed, it is often better to expand your horizons beyond your market, by finding someone who possesses the marketing skill and contemporary insights to truly foster change.
- Close the Gaps: Prior to making this choice, it’s good to understand what skills would be most additive, or are most lacking, in your current lineup. Digital marketing expertise, for example, is a great trait to look for if you are seeking to launch a new eCommerce platform. If you are in a more traditional industry that engages with channel partners and distributors, look for someone who has a mastery of channel marketing. Or, if you are looking to enter an adjacent market that you haven’t previously explored, a fractional CMO with experience in that market can be a great ambassador.
- Culture Club: A cultural connection, for me, is the greatest intangible – and the number one thing that makes or breaks a CMO relationship. I have found that a company can hire as their CMO the best, brightest, and smartest marketer in the world, but if they don’t align with your culture, it is going to be a disaster. I have spent years working with companies that originally brought me in for a few months, in large part due to the cultural fit and outstanding chemistry between myself and the company. That breeds an honest, open, and collaborative relationship, where candor is not only appreciated, but encouraged. On the other hand, if you have a culture that tends to be change-resistant or is just looking for someone to execute on a pre-determined plan, a fractional CMO is likely not the right resource for the job.
- Manage Expectations: At the beginning of this blog, we talked about the heightened expectations for full-time CMOs. This applies to fractional resources as well. Though we are used to a “hit-the-ground-running” approach, neither a full-time nor fractional CMO can perform miracles. You should expect your fractional CMO to not just tell you how to reach your goals, but help you determine what your realistic and stretch goals should be. That helps both parties to enter into this union with realistic and manageable expectations.
- Marketing Alignment: I once left a company because the CEO and I simply couldn’t agree on what the role of marketing was. The CEO considered marketing’s role to be all about client entertainment and did not view marketing as a business function. Though the prospect of hosting parties sounded fun, this marginalized view of marketing would make it virtually impossible to create the kind of real, lasting, and measurable impact that the business owners were looking to achieve. When engaging a fractional CMO, it’s important to understand that we are conditioned to dirty our hands on the type of strategic objectives that will move the needle, and that different CMOs will tackle your market challenges in different ways.
Ready to drive change? Fired up about the possibilities of working with a real agent of change? I, and my 80+ colleagues at Chief Outsiders, can fill that role for you. If you are interested, please reach out.
In case you missed the other posts from the series: