Strategy & Planning

BSMS 13: What to look for in your CMO (or marketing leader)

The best marketing leader marries both the art and science of marketing, the creative and the analytic. They also excel and demonstrate a proven track record in three distinct areas:

  • Marketing leadership – the ability to generate buy-in and followership from peers, direct reports, and superiors.
  • Marketing management – managing the marketing function and rhythm through the use of KPIs, OKRs, daily stand-ups, etc.
  • Marketing ROI – at the end of the day, all of the work and all of the skills above are important because they help drive ROI. Whether it's revenue, number of leads, a specific award or feature in a publication, strong leadership and management and leveraging of the art and science of marketing all serve that one purpose.
A key insight worth keeping in mind is that your company's marketing is only as good as your marketing team, so a strong marketing leader is one that will know how to form the best team by finding, attracting, developing, and retaining the right talent. With that core condition satisfied, proper ROI usually follows.



All right, Stijn. So you've been doing this for a long time now, in other words you've seen some things. Is there any kind of formula for a great CMO, like removing all of the considerations around skills? Because we've talked about that in a previous episode, right? The skills you need to fill for a marketing team. But when you look at the characteristics of somebody, the makeup of their marketing leadership soul, so to speak, what are the core competencies or strengths that create a good CMO? You've been a CEO, you've been a CMO, you've been a sales leader and you've hired quite a few marketing leaders and CMOs for our clients on behalf of them, what are the things that you look at and what are the indicators that they're going to perform well as a marketing leader? What should the CEOs listening to the podcasts be looking for and what should the marketing leaders be aspiring to build their skills around?


Yeah Mike, when we hire CMOs on behalf of our clients or we coach a CMO, I found there are really three areas of competency, capability, strengths to look for. And in addition to this, you need to think of a CMO as the Leonardo da Vinci of the executive suite, marketing is art and science, right? So you're looking for people who are either able to manage both of those sides of marketing, because they've seen it, they've done it, they may have skills in both areas, or they just are very comfortable delegating and then finding the right talent for the areas that they don't master themselves. But in the end, a good CMO can lead, manage that all-up marketing function that has both the art side; right branding; communication; the creative work, and the science side; demand gen; analytics; constant improvement.

So, those are basically the sets of two sides of the marketing coin. So what do we look for in a CMO? These three areas of competency are marketing leadership; marketing management, which is really different; and then delivering marketing with high ROI, delivering results basically. So let's unpack each of those.

So, you think of marketing leadership, the marketing VP or CMO is of course, first and foremost, a leader of your marketing team or your marketing function and whether that's a full-time CMO or even more important when it's an interim CMO or a fractional CMO, something that we of course often do, having that sort of leadership role that comes naturally where people want to follow you is really critical. So when I hire for CMO roles, I look for that natural followership that they can generate by their team members, but also by their peers.

How does the Chief Sales Officer, the Chief Revenue Officer think about the marketing leader, does the chief product have faith in sort the market insights and the competitive analysis that the marketing team does and help inform product strategy. So you have to start with that question. Does this leader, does this CMO command the right level of followership amongst their team, their peers, but also of course, the CEO and the board of directors, right? Those who are going to trust him or her, with the brand of the company with the brand voice, with the direction of the content marketing, how you position yourself, how you position the product. So that would be under marketing leadership, the first aspect of that, driving that followership, the second part of marketing leadership, builds a little bit on that sort of credibility.

Does this CMO really command respect? Marketing is a very complex and especially very broad topic. So you need someone who can think on their feet. Who is sharp, who has a significant intellectual horsepower, while not necessarily being arrogant. Smart, but not arrogant, sort of a gentle patient personality who actually comes with a real marketing gravitas. Ideally I often look at whether they actually publish some content themselves? Does a good CMO have the experience and also the content, do they bring enough of their own expertise that they've also been able to publish? And maybe get some digital followership. That's interesting for me always to look at. What teams does this leader has experience leading? A team size. Have they led teams in different stages of maturity, from a startup to maybe an enterprise environment? Cultural diversity, teams either in formal or more casual culture or different languages, maybe countries. So sort of seeing a little bit of, has this person led in an environment that's similar to where you expect this person to lead. What if the maturity of the teams they've led and have to deal with people who are very new in their roles and people who are much more experienced or your practice, flexibility and leadership styles, things like situational leadership. So that's something I look for as part of that marketing leadership. Do you see a track record of promotions? Marketing is an interesting discipline and marketing leadership is really challenging, right? Because you'll see that a lot of marketers don't make it up to the two three-year mark over job. They switch jobs a lot because marketing is always easy to scrutinize for either performance or brand awareness, demand gen, all kinds of challenges will be put in front of the marketing leader. And, it means it's a hard job.

So looking at what the promotion track record is enrolled within the same organization is a really important indicator. It's again, a function of the followership concept. If a marketing leader has been able to get their team to follow them, their CEO to trust them, their peers to respect them, that's the type of followership that typically leads to a VP of marketing being promoted to a CMO or a director of marketing being promoted to a VP level. So that's something I look for and finally in this marketing leadership bucket, is this CMO relatively versatile, complete, have they touched on that art and the science side as I started with being like both the Chief Digital and the Chief Brand, right?

Or at least have to manage someone in their team who owned that. So I think you have to be very clear that when you hire a CMO, if it's important for you, that the person who covers both those sides. That's marketing leadership.

Then the second bucket of assessment or development area if you're more coaching someone, is managing the marketing function. So we go from marketing leadership to marketing management. Managing marketing is all about running the marketing trains on time, having a budget, a marketing plan. What is the meeting schedule? How do you manage the marketing rhythm? Team meetings, monthly planning meetings. Do you use OKRs? What type of plans do you typically build? Do you do stand ups? What is sort of that marketing rhythm?

Another very important part of managing marketing is the CMO in the end is ultimately responsible for how a company shows up online in the real world. What is the quality of the brand, the brand voice, the visuals, the text on the website, the quality of a press release for all these things where the buck stops with the CMO. So I look for someone who has attention to detail, wants things to look really good to look perfect. Who will always double check things. You want someone who should be able and has a track record of managing a team of A-players, marketing professionals are hard to find, the good ones. You usually have to build them yourself, right? That's why in marketing, you have a lot of interns. You have to develop your own team. So how much experience does this marketing leader have in both hiring, potentially firing people, developing them, experience in coaching the team, how have they dealt with top performers and made sure they retain them, attracting talent and retaining that talent, and of course, talk about how they've worked also with low performers.

Is your marketing leader able to manage the marketing function, both with a long and a short horizon? Marketing is the most sensitive function when it comes to balancing short-term priorities. Everybody wants to see those leads coming into the funnel like next month, next week, but also a long-term agenda. Looking around the corner to see what's the competition doing? What trends are emerging? How is my audience evolving. What market do we want to go after next? Is this marketing leader able to manage the marketing function, both with the long and short term priorities have lagging and leading KPIs on the dashboard. So be able to sort of manage both the short and longterm view and finally, to be able to manage marketing effectively.

It does help if your CMO has relevant experience in, for example, the industry that you're in the market segment that you're servicing, have they experiencing, marketing to the size of customers, your SMBs vs enterprise etc. They worked with partners for partner ecosystem. I think more than any other role in the executive suite, if the CMO understands and has expanded in this specific market that you're in, that is very, very helpful. Then finally, also relevant experience. If you need to do an IPO, a new product launch, if you're thinking of, if you have to do a marketing or a market pivot, has this CMO managed that process before? So that's the second part, the marketing management.

And then finally, and this is maybe the most obvious one, but I just want to talk about the other two buckets first. But in addition to marketing leadership and marketing management, of course, the marketing leader to CMO has to deliver on marketing ROI. Marketing in the end is measured by very specific numbers. It can be from more top of funnel metrics like brand awareness, like eyeballs and publications and things like that. But, it usually focuses relatively heavily on the middle and bottom of the funnel: demand generation, leads. Leads that actually convert into opportunities for sales team converted to customers, the right customers. So this third bucket, I call it marketing ROI is all about vetting and developing your CMO in the area of demand generation, doing demand generation at the right cost, not at any cost. It's easy to buy your way into a market, but that's of course not as impressive as someone who can grow and drive demand without maybe breaking the bank.

You do want to look at a CMO's track record over, the course of multiple years in a role. I think more than two years is important. If you have someone three, four years in a role it's really cool because they will have had to build the marketing function, optimize it, and they've had at least a year to deliver results, right? And if someone succeeds in that and they often also get a promotion out of that, that's a great indicator that they've been able to deliver results. Results don't necessarily only have to be leads. It could be a position in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. It could be winning a certain industry award. Maybe there's a certain market that this company that the CMO was responsible for, is now dominating or a product category. Those are all great results.

But I also think when you think of marketing ROI, what is really key, it's again, back to the team building. Are they able to hire talent, develop talent, attract talent and retain them? That's still the best, the shortest route and the most sustainable route to high marketing ROI, because in the end you just need a strong team and that's going to really make the difference. So that's a couple of thoughts Mike, on these three buckets of marketing leadership, marketing management and marketing ROI that I like to use when I both try to hire great CMOs or for when I have to help coach them and do development marketing for them.

B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks - More Episodes

Listen to more episodes

Head back to the B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks home page for more.

More episodes

Similar posts

Get notified on new marketing insights

Be the first to know about new B2B SaaS Marketing insights to build or refine your marketing function with the tools and knowledge of today’s industry.