What to look for in your B2B SaaS CMO? After many years of hiring, firing, developing, and working as a fractional CMO, here is my ultimate list that I use for every candidate interview, development conversation, fractional CMO proposal evaluation, or performance check-in. This is my checklist covering the three traits that define an effective SaaS marketing leader.
Here are the areas in which you can evaluate any interim CMO, fractional CMO, or full-time CMO for SaaS. You can use this for hiring or performance management.
The chief marketing officer is first and foremost the leader of your marketing team/function. Especially in a fractional CMO or interim CMO role, this is probably the most important aspect of the role.
I like to break this up as follows:
- What's their leadership personality and track record? Have they created followership by inspiring them and plotting a credible marketing strategy? Does their team follow them? Are their peers confident in the CMO to lead the Marketing function? Does the CEO follow their lead? And the board of directors? Do they trust them? Do they earn the respect of the team, both your marketing team and your peers?
- Building on #1, does your CMO command respect? Do they have some marketing gravitas? This is not just about a strong personality and could include a track record of publishing content that has given them credibility. Look for someone who is sharp and can think on their feet, and is willing to speak truth to power. Marketing spans complex topics and will often be challenged by others. You want your CMO to have significant intellectual horsepower while being gentle and patient. Smart, not arrogant.
- Have they developed trust as a leader? Do they have your team's and the company's best interest in mind? Do they have a reputation as someone who can be trusted with confidential information, both as a coach of individuals and as an executive who will be exposed to sensitive information?
- What type of teams have they led? This could be about team size, or teams in specific cultures and company types (startusp vs. enterprises, regions, languages, etc.). What was the maturity of the teams they led? Have they shown an ability to flex their leadership styles (for example situational leadership)?
- What's their track record of promotions? This is the ultimate followership metric...leaders who are followed by their teams, peers, and managers are usually promoted. Look for at least one promotion from VP to CMO or director to VP.
- Have they been a complete CMO? As marketing is a balance of art and science, have they experienced both sides? Where lies their strength? Are they more of a "chief digital" or a "chief brand"? Do they have experience in demand generation or communications and PR? Most B2B SaaS fractional CMOs will be brought in to focus on one of these, whereas full-time CMOs will have to cover multiple.
The number one job of every fractional CMO, interim CMO, or full-time CMO is to manage the marketing function.
Here are the critical areas to probe for in a CMO job interview, or to evaluate in a performance conversation:
- Attention to detail. The "buck" stops with the CMO, in the way your brand and company "show up", online and IRL. Brand image through content, communications, visual branding and brand voice is their responsibility. These can make or break your company image. Make sure your CMO is the ultimate "guard" of quality of communication and creative work.
- Experience in "Running the marketing trains on time." While this seems a no-brainer, make sure to check if your CMO candidate has managed Marketing Budgets, created a Marketing Plan, is great at reporting (succinct, up and down, and across the team). Ask what their weekly/monthly/quarterly marketing rhythm looks like (standups, team meetings, planning sessions, OKR usage, etc.).
- How do they manage a team of a-player Marketing professionals? Look for experience coaching and developing marketing talent. Do they have experience hiring (and firing!)? How have they dealt with top performers and retained them? How have they developed or resolved challenges with low performers?
- Playing the long-, and the short game. Look for experience using both lagging- and leading KPIs when managing the marketing function. How do they focus on short-term results and progress, while impacting long-term growth?
- Does your CMO have relevant experience in the market segment you service? Understanding the industry, size of customers, type of personas, or partner ecosystem is crucial for a CMO to be successful. Have they done the IPO that's in your future, or a product launch or market pivot?
- Has your CMO shown they can provide high-quality reporting at the various cadences, for various audiences, and use management tools like OKRs (objectives and key results) or something similar? Can they manage deadlines and ownership across your team, with the proper reporting up and sideways, using simple trackers while understanding key numbers?
While marketing is about changing behaviors and making people believe something new, the ultimate measuring stick is the funnel. Has your CMO shown they can impact the business outcomes you are looking for?
- What is their track record for delivering measurable, visible results? Think about funnel growth and new customers. Winning a specific market segment, a product category (getting in the Gartner Magic Quadrant or top Capterra rankings), or winning industry recognition (have they received any awards or press/analyst coverage?).
- It's hard to "judge" the contributions of a CMO with less than two years' tenure in a role. If a CMO does not last two years, that's a red flag. Four years is great as it's allowed the CMO to "build" in the first year, "optimize" in the second year, deliver "results" in the third year, and show loyalty to stick around for another year and deliver great ROI.
- Look for chief marketing officers or VP marketing pros who've shown they can drive demand generation at a reasonable cost. Sometimes you can spend your way to success, and it can be the right approach for a land grab, but you should look for marketing leaders who can also do it at the optimal cost.
- What's your CMO's track record regarding talent attraction, development, and retention? The right people in your marketing team are ultimately the best path to both short-term and long-term marketing ROI.
- Look for a promo track record that shows they've delivered ROI to the organization. Find at least one promotion in a marketing role. From marketing director to marketing vice president. From marketing VP to chief marketing officer.
- Can your CMO candidate pair drive tactical urgency with strategic patience? How do they balance the need for speed and results while building sustainable growth and relevance of your brand and positioning?
CMOs with a track record of success are hard to find. Since the marketing leadership role is so visible, it often gets marketing leaders on a fast track to a CEO or other top executive role, or they get stuck jumping from one role to the next, typically not lasting more than two years in a role. There are fractional CMOs, interim CMOs, and SaaS CMOs you can find though who have a track record of success. These are the marketers-for-life who just love the profession.
Hopefully, this article helps you find, develop and keep your ideal chief marketing officer.
(For hiring tips and tools, also look at How to hire your B2B SaaS CMO )