Greetings from the front lines of executive search for CMOs and VPs of marketing!
Dang, is this not the most unique hiring market we’ve seen in years?
A lot of search processes are changing to land the best talent.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the relentless appetite for marketing leaders who have scaled up 3x or 5x or more.
So recently I went in search of a ‘recipe’ for how the best CMOs contribute to what I call a great ‘From / To’ story. I’ve been talking with some of the most compelling CMOs I know for my podcast, The Get. This season’s theme was ‘Solving for the Scale Journey.’
Here’s a recap from this season: A top 10 list of themes of how a good scale-up CMO approaches their role.
If listening is not your thing, read on…
This season on The Get podcast, we talked with marketing leaders who have scaled successfully… and in one case someone on the investor side who hires marketing leaders for scale-ups. We’ve looked at different dimensions around scaling: Hiring. Budgeting. Aligning with the Board. Getting the balance of brand and demand right. Balancing aspirational goals with achievable goals. It’s been great to hear from so many loyal listeners along the way who have found the series useful.
Obviously every scale journey is different. Just because someone did a scale-up in one place doesn’t mean they will be successful somewhere else. But there are some themes that emerged. Here’s my top 10 list of themes of how a good scale-up CMO approaches their role.
1) Number one is alignment. A good scale-up CMO aligns early and often. Determine whether the org is really ready for scale, what scale means for the org, and what it means for marketing. This alignment starts before the job starts. You will have better outcomes when there are fewer surprises up front! Make sure there’s a meeting with the CEO/Board/marketing leader even before the CMO is hired, to align on goals, expectations, budget, prioritization, and timelines. Often CEOs and Boards are not aware of what it takes to achieve a result with marketing. I have started encouraging my clients to talk honestly during the recruiting process about what it will take budget-wise and time-wise to achieve the goals that marketing is signing up for.
2) Focus. A good scale-up CMO understands the importance of focus even amidst lots of shiny objects and demands on their time. “You won’t get to scale saying yes to everything!” My guest Jay Gaines talked about how the role of the CMO in a scale-up is to create focus and protect focus. One way of doing that is to take control of the strategic planning process for the company. By doing so you will be seen as not just the marketing leader, but the market leader.
3) Business-first thinking. The best CMOs, especially in a scale-up, think company first; marketing second. And they encourage their teams to do the same. Cynthia Gumbert, the CMO of SmartBear, talks about “moving a team from the frame of ‘what marketing is doing’ to ‘what the company is doing.’ It goes both ways; some CMOs will make their team meetings open-source, inviting others in the company.
4) Creative hiring. Ah, my favorite topic. The best scale-up CMOs are creative about hiring. You know the mantra of spending 10-20 % of your time on experimental stuff? My guest Kristin Hambelton is a believer in hiring some experimental people on the team – people whose backgrounds may initially make you squint.
Sydney Sloan who led marketing for a huge scale-up at Salesloft, talked through how she hires for where the business will be in 18 months, as opposed to where it is now. And in other conversations, we talked about having a blend of ‘been there done that people’ and those that have not yet seen the scale journey. Several guests recommend hiring athletes – people who can handle two parts of marketing, say product marketing and customer marketing, or even product marketing and demand gen.
5) And this is related – recognize agility. The best CMOs are agile themselves, and can recognize agility in others. How does that happen best? I wanted to get the perspective of someone from the investor side who is instrumental in hiring marketing leaders for scale-up companies. So I talked with Bryan West, the Head of Talent for Resurgens Tech Partners. He and I have done a few searches together so far. We talked about what is going on behind the scenes when CEOs and investors hire marketing leaders. I loved Bryan’s framework for hiring – it shows what to look for and what to demonstrate if you are the talent. He looks for 4 things: the first is cognitive quotient – sheer smarts and proactively identifying opportunities and risks, the second is drive — the ability to propel an org forward, the third is relationship quotient, and the fourth one is agility – being ‘proactively adaptable.’
6) Good scale-up CMOs know how to upgrade from incremental growth to transformational growth. It’s one thing to increment forward and another to leap forward. I talked with Sydney Sloan who led marketing at Salesloft during their big scaleiup about how transformational growth is different from incremental growth. She has great advice on balancing achievable goals and aspirational goals during scale.
7) The best CMOs in a scale-up bring to the company the mindset that growth and comfort don’t co-exist. Cynthia Gumbert, CMO of SmartBear, talked about how to inject discomfort into your scale journey. She shared that when you grow, you get to a new plateau and then you have to ask ‘How do we double doing well here?’ She and I also talked about hiring for cultural add as opposed to cultural fit when you scale… even when that is uncomfortable.
8) The best scale-up CMOs don’t get snagged on frustration when everyone in the company has opinions about marketing. They are able to expertly acknowledge and harness the emotional investment in marketing that others in the company have. Justin Steinman, CMO of Definitive Healthcare has a great way of approaching this.
9) CMOs that scale effectively must balance brand and demand. Many B2B SaaS companies have historically over-rotated on demand. But brand is a force multiplier. Khalid El Khatib, the CMO of Stack Overflow, discusses this with nuance.
10) The best CMOs for scale-ups budget like a boss. You want the CMO who thinks like a CFO. Who meets often with the CFO. The CMO who will devote their budget to other areas of the business, like sales training, when it makes sense. I love what Justin Steinman says about being the steward of the marketing budget. Also, Kristin Hambelton’s podcast is called Budget Like a Boss. She talked about giving back budget in some cases.