How to hire your B2B SaaS CMO

Stijn Hendrikse
Dec 29, 2019

Hiring your B2B SaaS VP Marketing or CMO

The ROI of a small to medium size Software Company gets impacted more than anything by one factor. Hiring the right Marketing Leader. The reason is not even their ability to spend your money responsibly. It’s mostly about you spending money on the right hire, and making sure that person will survive their first 12 months with your company.

“Chief Marketing Officers”, have a scary reputation of crippling some startups. As a startup gets funded or has decided to invest in growth, they urgently need someone to lead this work. Fast.

While speed is not optional, it can come at a cost. You have alternatives like hiring a Fractional CMO. In this article, we focus on helping you hire your first Full time, W2, Marketing Leader.

Challenges hiring your first CMO

Average CMO retention across industries in 2019 is at an all-time low of 43 months. For B2B SaaS Companies it’s safe to cut that number in half...This is not a great outlook for a strategic hire you are going to spend a lot of time, and potentially equity and growth capital on. And...

  1. While you need someone who has done it before, you can only afford a rookie.
  2. You are in a hurry, but you cannot rush this strategic hire.
  3. This is the position your Board, Peers and Leadership team have most opinions on.
  4. Your company is changing fast. If you hire now, you may need a different leader in 12 months.

Do you know what you want?

Marketing has changed dramatically in the past 15 years. At some companies, the marketing leader is considered a business partner. And sometimes the role is partly outsourced and has vendor status. Both versions, and many variations, can work, as long as you are deliberate about it.

Do you want your CMO to strategize short-term marketing initiatives to prove their worth? And how much time should they spend on building a foundation to benefit a company’s longer-term growth plans? Data-driven Marketing for example, is hard and takes time. Having someone built a foundation that can last, while also plucking the low hanging fruit to show results can be critical.

“Today’s customer-centric CMO role is exceptionally complex and requires the right balance of left as well as right-brain skills, and very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competencies,” says Caren Fleit, senior client partner and leader of Korn Ferry’s Marketing Center of Expertise. “Chief Marketing Officers with this unique profile are in high demand and are often recruited to lead the next transformation.

Can you get it all?

Some CMO’s tell the CEO who’s hiring them that they’re not going to develop any new marketing strategy or create any new campaigns until the company has done the necessary groundwork on its positioning and its brand. We don’t believe you can wait with doing tactical execution, while we also agree that you need to build the rock-solid foundation as well.

What to expect from your CMO?

“If one more CEO tells me he or she is looking for a "unicorn," I might scream. Today, the remit from the C-suite and board isn't doable. The job brief might be: "Disruptors with 20 years of mobile, five years of blockchain—and if they can tell a story, great." And oftentimes the jobs turn out to be vastly different than promised.” - An anonymous executive recruiter

Has the job scope of the CMO role become too broad? Some companies are splitting the role into a “Chief Commercial Officer” who also is responsible or Sales, and a “Chief Brand Officer”, or VP of Communication. This split between what sometimes is called “Growth Marketing” or Demand Generation, and “Corporate Marketing” (Brand, PR, Positioning) is not new. More and more organizations are splitting the role at the C-Suite level now.

A small- to midsize B2B SaaS company does not have the luxury to split the marketing role. Many can barely afford one VP of Marketing of the right caliber. It does mean however that you will have to optimize for one of these two. You have to pick between the art and the science and hire what’s most critical for you. Trying to get a mix usually leads to neither of those expectations being met.

Write up the job’s mission

What’s the essence of the job? You need an executive summary of the job's purpose. Why does the role exist? Here is an example for a small, B2B SaaS company:

“Own Marketing to drive demand for the company's products and services through brand awareness, conversion to qualified leads and helping loyal customers refer others.”

Define the success of the role

What outcomes do you expect the role to deliver? Ideally, pick your top 3-8.

Example Marketing Outcomes to define success for the role:

  • # of MQLs for 2020 (New Leads delivered to Sales by Marketing)
  • Reach 50%+ of the Serviceable, Obtainable Market (SOM) that fits our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) through effective Account-Based Marketing
  • Drive brand awareness to get our company on stage at “XYZ” event (without paying)
  • Obtain a mention in the Gartner Magic Quadrant/Forrester Wave for ABC Category
  • Get the Marketing part of Customer Acquisition Cost below $2,500
  • Create and implement a holistic marketing plan with OKRs within 90 days of start-date
  • Get 1.5x people to attend our annual user- and partner conference in 2020 (vs. 2019)
  • # of “Meetings Happened” by BDRs/SDRs, driven by Marketing Leads, are up 50% YOY
  • New Website with new branding and positioning life within 9 months after the start date
  • Hire 3 new Marketing Team Members who achieve their OKRs in the first year
  • Create and launch a Channel Marketing Program with at least 50 Certified Partners
  • Improve Organic Search Marketing to drive 50%+ of leads generated (vs. Paid)
  • Reduce Customer Churn in Year 1 of service by 10% using onboarding nurture
  • Improve conversions from Subscribers to our content, to MQLs from 5% to 8%
  • Grow ARPU (Average Revenue per Unit, i.e. Users or Customers) from $50k to $60k through upselling campaigns and account expansion campaigns.

What to look for?

We use something called an ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) when doing Marketing for our Clients. We suggest that you do something similar for your Team Development, and create for example an Ideal Candidate Profile.

Strengths and competencies of the ideal candidate

Using our ICP approach, we suggest you focus on creating your hiring criteria at two levels, Filters, and Signals. Filters are the requirements that you will use to remove anyone from your hiring pipeline whois just not going to fit. Signals are the indicators for more than fit. These are predictors of success and can help you prioritize candidates if you have multiple options.

Below examples can be used as either Filters or Signals, across multiple functional marketing areas.

Personal leadership & culture

What are the values that are important to your company culture? Here are a few to get started:

  • Efficient - Gets a lot done with minimal effort.
  • Honest - Does not cut corners ethically. Communicates plain and truthfully.
  • Organization - Able to focus. She plans her work and delivers the plan.
  • Aggressive - Moves quickly and forceful, with appropriate persistence.
  • Commitments - Follows up. Owns the work. Does what he says he will do.
  • Intelligence - Considers other points of view while also being “right” a lot.
  • Curious - Learns quickly and often. Always trying to improve and optimize.
  • Analytical - Balances the right abstraction level and attention to detail.
  • Proactive - Acts without being told what to do. Brings new ideas.

Marketing Management

  • Be part of the leadership team and Lead “Big M” Marketing, from Positioning and Brand Strategy, to Demand Generation and Marketing Spend Optimization.
  • Create Quarterly OKRs, supported by an budget that allows the team to its goals
  • Hire and Manage team members and vendors towards OKRs and high ROI marketing
  • Manage discretionary spend (i.e. paid search, events) to maximize LTV/CAC ratios

T-Shaped Marketing Leader

The following criteria are covering the functional areas of marketing. For small to midsize B2B SaaS Startups, the reality is that a Marketing Leader needs to be a “T-Shaped” Marketer who is proficient in most areas of Marketing while being able to go deep in some specific areas of focus. Your Marketing Leaders need to be able to do decent copywriting and understand how to use Marketing Automation tools. She needs to be comfortable with managing a marketing budget and dashboard, and also project managing a trade-show event. You will have to pick what’s most important to your business of course, and we think the below list can help with that.

Digital Marketing

  • You have demonstrable experiences making Marketing Decisions based on data (Cost per MQL, OKRs based on funnel projections, Efforts based on chance).
  • You can summarize data and show you understand which metrics affect conversion and a healthy pipeline. You are able to report on data to make investment decisions.
  • No Marketing Director can survive the first year on the job without being a decent communicator. This assignment can be used to test core copywriting skills.

Content Marketing

  • Content strategy - understands what kinds of content should be created in order to drive marketing goals (i.e. web content for SEO, testimonial PDFs for lead-in/sales enablement, nurture campaigns to move top-of-funnel leads down). Has owned different content for different portions of the funnel.

Product Marketer

  • Strategic view of marketing - anticipate what Marketing campaigns are needed and use product roadmap to inform future marketing decisions and product launches.
  • Studies the competition, our customers and ourselves to optimize Product-Market Fit. Looks around the corner and anticipates needed pricing and positioning strategy.

Product evangelist

  • You’re our sales team’s best friend. You make sure they have everything they need to turn leads into sales and to do outbound prospecting.
  • Your KPIs include growing “Engaged Advocates” (people who use, like and share using our product), and who buy more driving ARPU up.

What to pay your first CMO?

Now that you’ve created your wish list, it’s time to see what you can afford.

Based on data from LinkedIn, Payscale, Glassdoor and our experiences hiring many Marketing Leaders for our clients, we found the following ranges of compensation. This blog gets you started, and has pay rate guidance for the cities that we have most of our clients in.

https://www.kalungi.com/blog/what-to-pay-for-a-saas-cmo

How to evaluate candidates

You know what and who you want, and you’re now educated on what the market will bear compensation wise. You are ready to start evaluating candidates. Consider three steps in your evaluation process:

Find candidates

  • Apply the ‘Filters’ from your previous requirements list to find the candidates worth reviewing. Consider using a semi-automated process with software like https://www.jazzhr.com/ or https://breezy.hr/ to automate this process.
  • Use the ‘Signals’ to prioritize who to give your personal attention. Again, some of this can be automated, especially if you use some kind of assessment in your application process.
  • Kalungi has a service where we use our “ABM” lead sourcing techniques to find ideal fitting candidates for these Marketing roles as well. Find out more here.

Review

  • Consider asking for references early in the process. Since we recommend you always check references, you might as well prepare the candidate for this and save both of you a lot of time in case the candidate is now able/willing to provide.
  • Perform an interview. This can be a phone screen initially, and be followed by multiple interviews pending the complexity of the role, how much time you need to get through your areas of interest, and how many people are involved in the decision. I recommend only letting people do interviews who are actual decision-makers or will have major influence into your hiring decision.

Test

  • Ask your top candidates to do some work in the form of a case study or mini-project. You can decide to pay for this work if you can also use the results (we believe an assessment that is as “real” as possible is most valuable for you and your candidate). There is no better assessment than an actual example of a candidate doing the job. Here is an example.

Interview Questions

Here are some examples to get you started.

10 core CMO interview questions

  1. Why did you apply? Why is that important to you?
  2. Why should we hire you? What are your superpowers)
  3. How would you segment our customers? How would you find more customers? (understanding of the market, product, the business you're in and growth strategy)
  4. What are the key KPIs on your Marketing Dashboard? What does marketing success look like to you? (accountability and impact) 
  5. Knowing what you know so far about our company, what strategies and tactics would you put in place to help drive revenue? This question allows the candidate to show off their knowledge of your company so far, and gives them the chance to ask questions. Ultimately, this is an opportunity to see how innovative they can be.
  6. What would your 30-60-90 day plan look like? How do you think about that? (what does she prioritize? Does she/he understand your needs/opportunities? Can your candidate hit the ground running?)
  7. If you could start your last role over again, what would you do differently? This gives us insight into the candidate's ability to be self-aware, their appetite for growth, and their willingness to share things that may not have gone well.
  8. Have you had a bad boss? How did you deal with that?
  9. Who are your last three bosses? How do I spell that? Where would they rank you when I speak with them? Can you setup the interview?
  10. What are your compensation expectations?

8 Optional areas to probe

  1. What would you change about our website? Look for concrete, specific answers (this gets to positioning, messaging, audience engagement, demand gen and PR)How do you approach content marketing? (content marketing is both the most undervalued, overhyped, misunderstood and over-complicated part of modern marketing, and this question should yield at least an interesting perspective)
  2. How do you balance inbound and outbound marketing? - What we learn: Great marketing teams strike the right balance between many different marketing levers. The Inbound vs. Outbound debate is a great test that doesn't really have a right answer, but provides good insight into how much your candidate will count on “pay-to-play,” or noise-making marketing efforts, vs. harder to build, longer term inbound marketing.
  3. What is your approach to market research, both customer and competitor focused? - What we learn: This will tell us how innovative the candidate is at using new forms of research in the digital space (A/B testing, social network inquiries, online data) vs. traditional research and higher-priced external research. This is also a great opportunity to hear what they know and think about your current competition.
  4. How do you approach branding a company, its products and services? What we learn: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The problem that branding and marketing suffer from is that everyone has an opinion about it.  How does the CMO balance the opinions of the executive team, the CEO, and board members with the ability to test and use data? It can be tricky for a marketing leader to effectively manage the branding process, without burning a lot of team bandwidth.
  5. What do you consider the biggest challenges for a CMO these days? How do you work with your executive team to get the most out of the marketing function? What we learn: This question will allow the candidate to showcase their leadership skills and style, while revealing challenges they may struggle with. It's also key in determining how they communicate with executive leadership, and hold their marketing team accountable. Marketing is challenging because it's multifaceted: it's math, art, branding, sales, event management, digital execution, project management - a good marketing leader can connect those and build the right working contracts among their peers.
  6. What pricing frameworks do you prefer to use? What we learn: Pricing is very complex these days, from usage- or volume-based pricing, value- vs. market-based pricing, paying for access or ownership of a product or a subscription, etc.  It's a complex discipline; how versed is the CMO in dealing with all the pieces of the marketing pricing puzzle? Have they used frameworks like this one?
  7. Share some tools and techniques you've learned in the past year, and what your takeaway was? What we learn: This is a question to determine how current they are, and how much they are "learners" versus "doers." In an industry where being relevant is key, is your potential new CMO willing to learn and grow?  In the field of marketing, if they don't innovate, they're going backwards.
  8. What do you think of the art and science of marketing, and where do your strengths lie within that? What we learn: Marketing is a delicate blend of art and science. A good marketing leader can use the science of data and analytics to be effective in optimization, while mastering the art of design (finding great slogans and a voice for your brand). It's extremely rare, if not impossible, to find a CMO who can do both. This question will help you decide if their strengths are complementary to the other executive members and the marketing team.

B2B SaaS CMO Job Descriptions

Finally, here is a list of example job descriptions, including a great example from Foundation Labs. After establishing your criteria based on the earlier parts of this article, it should be pretty easy to turn these into a Job Description that matches your company template and culture.

The below are organized by the “stage” of maturity of your B2B SaaS Startup. At Kalungi we recognize the Start, Scale and Growth stages. More here or in this video about the SaaS Marketing Growth Stages.

B2B SaaS Marketing Director Job Description for START stage

You are the first Marketing Hire. There is no Marketing team, and you will lead the creation of both the foundation, and the success of marketing at our company.

What’s the opportunity?

As the Marketing Director, you will be responsible for defining and implementing our marketing and growth programs. You will be able to roll up your sleeves to get started and will have the resources to build a team, internally and externally, to help you execute on the strategy you develop.

What will I be doing?

You will work directly with our CEO and take full ownership of our online presence and customer acquisition programs. To be successful, you will already have experience building and running personalized inbound/outbound marketing campaigns to drive consistent sales revenue growth.

Example work in this role:

  • Create and own the go-to-market (GTM) strategy for new products & features. You will set clear objectives and goals, research and define target audiences, develop marketing and communication strategies, and measure adoption. You will also conduct customer research and apply your insights to these and other initiatives.
  • Drive the evolution of our brand positioning, bringing it to life in a clear and consistent way that resonates with and motivates our target audiences. You will promote the company as an innovator to the press and public and oversee outbound customer-facing communications across our website, blog, and social channels.
  • Collaborate and lead across the organization. You will represent the voice of the customer within the organization, bringing your insights to cross-functional stakeholders across product, design, user experience, engineering, and executive leadership. You will also lead and mentor a growing team of marketers across a broad set of functions including product marketing, partner marketing, content and brand.
  • Deepen relationships with key partners. You will nurture existing relationships with key partners, aligning on mutual goals and driving adoption through a variety of co-marketing efforts.
  • Build a marketing department. Identify talent needs, hire and manage a high-performing integrated marketing team.

What skills do I need?

  • Demonstrable experience developing and executing go-to-market plans for SaaS platforms, including targeted paid advertising, online and offline events, and content marketing (white papers, case studies, and blogging etc.);
  • You are a self-starter, organized and self-motivated with the ability to define goals and prioritize your work;
  • Strong analytical and writing skills. You are comfortable with data and analytics, and you can clearly communicate your results and ideas.

Here are some examples with content for the job description:

https://www.indeed.com/hire/job-description/chief-marketing-officer

https://resources.workable.com/chief-marketing-officer-job-description

https://www.paladinstaff.com/jobs/careers/chief-marketing-officer-job-description/

Finally, here is a great Medium post on hiring your first Startup Marketing Leader, and the team around them. Happy hiring!

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