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When to Hire a Chief Marketing Officer

October 13, 2022

Post 1 of 4 in the Startup Series for CMO’s.

Unlike some of the other teams in a startup, the marketing function often has a few people carrying out various tasks and you’ll find that there’s at least a medium sized and quite busy marketing department even at the earliest startup stages. You could operate this way for quite some time, and it’s common to have a marketing team with multiple mid-level leaders well before there’s a seasoned leader at the helm. One of those leaders may be a VP of Marketing. Depending on the nature of the company, that VP is likely someone with a specialized area of focus within marketing (brand, digital, event, etc.) who has some working knowledge of the other areas.

You might be able to keep going with a VP of Marketing for quite some time, but you’ll know it’s time to hire a CMO when you run into a series of problems or challenges that ought to be easy to navigate. For example, if you begin to think no one in your company but you knows how to orchestrate a successful product launch, it might be time to hire a CMO. A successful product launch requires cross-functional and cross-team effort, and if you don’t have a broadly skilled marketing leader, you’ll end up doing a lot of the work yourself. A product launch doesn’t have to be the motivating factor, though. It could be any situation where you’re spending too much of your own time managing smaller pieces of marketing because your marketing leader isn’t experienced enough across all of the function’s many sub-disciplines. So, the first sign that you need to hire a CMO is if you’re basically doing the CMO job as the CEO.

Another telltale sign that you need to hire a CMO could stem from your inability to answer simple questions from your board, like “How would you spend an extra $2mm in marketing if you had it?” Or, “What would you cut if you had to reduce your marketing spend by 50%?” These are the scenarios a CMO spends a lot of time thinking about, and they’ll have a whole slew of answers and ways to get to the next level or be more efficient with the marketing dollars they do have. If it’s a struggle for you to cobble together a good answer, or if you don’t know how to get to an answer on questions like these, it’s time to hire a CMO.

A fractional CMO can make a big impact in your company immediately and might be the way to go if you have a generalist marketing manager or director who has strategic inclinations but not enough experience operating as a strategic executive. A fractional CMO would be able to mentor the person who just needs a little more supervision to “level up.” On the other hand, if you have a few junior leaders of marketing sub-functions, none of whom is experienced enough to coordinate activities across groups, but you don’t have enough complexity or scale for a full-time CMO, a fractional executive can come in to help with coordination and put some processes in place until you need a full-time CMO.

Marketing is the key function in building your brand, reaching out to customers, and creating higher levels of engagement, and while there are tactical aspects that can be handled with competent managers of various sub-functions, you’ll need to think about hiring a Chief Marketing Officer when lots of coordination is required and you find yourself driving a lot of it.

-Matt Blumberg, October 13, 2022.