Hiring Your Startup’s Chief Marketing Officer

Startup's Chief Marketing Officer

Hiring Your Startup’s Chief Marketing Officer

Early stage startups are usually comprised of product-focused teams, both technical and non-technical. Portions of the company’s marketing are handled by the existing staff, often including the founders. So when it comes time to bring on a marketing head, the needs of the company greatly depend on the existing value already present within the company. Determining your team’s existing marketing strengths will expose your company’s marketing shortfalls, shedding light on what elements potential hires will need to bring to the table.

Determine Your Startup’s Needs First

When it comes to your startup’s Chief Marketing Officer candidates’ existing skill sets are of greater importance than when filling roles for other disciplines at your company. Marketing takes on a few different focus areas, each capitalizing on different strengths and skill sets. Identifying which focus area(s) your company needs will give you the proper direction to begin finding the right candidates. We have broken marketing into three focus areas: Demand Generation, Product Management and Customer Management.

1) Demand Generation: This is the most sought after professional among startups, as it closely ties in with what is known as growth hacking. These professionals are focused on lead/customer/conversion generation directly, utilizing quantitative analysis and testing strategies to reach targeted audiences, maximize conversion rates and create new customers quickly. This often goes along with a heavy digital focus, with backgrounds in SEM, viral marketing and other paid and controllable marketing channels.

2) Product Management: This skill set is often fulfilled by the founders at startups in the earlier stages. This area of marketing focuses more on pre and post-launch market research. Product-focused marketers dig into market segmentation and analysis, and determine pricing, messaging and positioning of the product.

3) Customer Management: This area of focus is the public-facing and connection side of marketing. Disciplines include public relations and outreach, social media management and engagement, customer feedback and insights, and much of the branding process.

In most cases, startups are in need of a marketing leader with expertise in number’s 1 and 3. Much of number 2’s disciplines get handled by the existing team early on. This is not always the case though, making it important to evaluate needs based on your company and team.

Find Someone Who Has Bootstrapped

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should bootstrap your own marketing. That being said; one of the most frustrating parts of being a marketing professional is minimal executable resources. This type of situation forces marketing professionals to use resources efficiently, selectively and with greater governance. When they do land in a situation where they have abundant resources, they will be wiser about getting the most out of each one.

Cultural Alignment is Key

Finding a list of qualified candidates is only half the battle. From there, the game becomes a matter of finding someone that your team can work with, who believes in the product and vision, and who can handle and thrive within the startup culture. It doesn’t really matter how great your hire is if they can’t work well with your existing team, or if they don’t believe strongly in your product. Startups especially cannot afford to make the sales of their products more difficult, by employing a marketer who wouldn’t buy it themselves.

Whatever you do, make sure you find top marketing talent for your startup. Leverage the resources at your disposal to locate and qualify candidates. Talk to your network of investors and advisors, and enlist the help of a quality startup-focused executive search firm. Do what it takes to land great marketers, because their impact will reap impressive results for your company.

  • Don Park

    Once again, the “experts” missed the individuals who should truly be your startup’s first CMO — namely product marketers. In fact, the three types of people that were suggested in this blog are the last people I would hire for that critical role:
    Demand Generation people are great at spending large amounts of money on software and building processes that very few startups need to worry about. I recently went to a panel discussion where the three people gloated about their insane projects including purchasing Marketo or other overpriced marketing automation system. One of them was crazy enough to suggest creating an annual conference for a company with less than 50 people and less than 10 customers. When I heard that, I almost wanted to contact the company’s CMO and demand they fire that assclown for wasting their time/money.
    Product Managers are great if you need to work with engineers, but are usually horrible when it comes to critical items like competitive analysis, running sales trainings, creating customer-facing content and the like. Most pride themselves on being business-oriented, but I have truly yet to meet one in my 20+ years in tech where they were anything more than a geek with an MBA.
    Customer Managers are great – when you have customers. If you hire someone that has that as their specialty early on, then they are wasting their money. There are too many other moving parts in a marketing organization besides writing customer case studies – really.

    Product Marketers by trade know how to bootstrap because there are very few (if any) applications designed to help them do their jobs.

    I suppose I agree with the last paragraph though – culture fit is key, but at a start-up, part of the CMO’s job is to build that culture. If they basically create a bunch of pretentious douches like they are, then they are doing no one, especially your startup, a favor.

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