Fractional CMO

Hiring Time: 5 Qualities of a Rockstar CMO

There comes a time in most companies’ lives when they are ready to pull the trigger and hire a senior marketing leader. In a recent post, I shared the 5 signs it’s time to hire a CMO, so if you’re not sure you’re ready, that’s a great place to start.

Assuming you know it’s time to hire and that you need a CMO (remember there is a difference between a CMO/VP/Director — see here if you’re not sure), the question turns to what to look for in a candidate. I’ve helped many clients, colleagues, and friends find and hire the right CMO. Let’s talk about what you need to look for, probe on, and feel confident about before you add to the team.

First, you need to decide what you and your company want and need. The only way to get crisp, clear agreement on that is to write it down. Give as much insight as you can into how the company works, the pace, the expectations – these are critically important data points as the right person will want to make sure it’s the right fit on many levels. Missed expectations are the No. 1 reason people fail in jobs. Be clear so you both know what you’re getting into. The job description should cover:

Once you have all of that done, and you start pinging your LinkedIn network and everyone you know, and candidates line-up, the real hard work begins: finding the right fit. There are two important dimensions:

  1. Personal fit: Will this person be an asset to our company’s culture, team and mindset? Are their personal traits the right fit with how we work today and as we grow?
  2. Technical fit: Does this person have the right expertise to move the needle on our business? Have they been in roles where they have had to exercise similar muscles (even if in a different industry)? Can their skills grow as we grow?

5 Qualities that Highlight Personal Fit


Change is the only constant. Most companies, regardless of size, are in a state of constant change. Assess your company on the state of change and be sure the person coming in can fit right in. The right candidate is going to be able manage change on three dimensions: leading, thinking, and doing.

Some C-level folks are only good at the leading – that’s okay if there’s a strong team underneath to execute. If your CMO needs to lead, think, and do, be sure they can cover this critical ground – it’s part of the sink or swim for your company.


Think about what collaboration means at your company. How will this person need to partner with sales, engineering, design? How will this person interact with the board? Clients? Other impactful roles? Some people say they are collaborative. Probe on this with their references – it will be key to the person’s success at your company.


Everyone is being asked to do more with less (typically budget and/or staff). How can this candidate make lemonade from lemons? Another important aspect of resourcefulness is figuring out how to get things done – do you really need to spend that money or hire a full-time employee? Maybe part-time resources are the way to go, and making sure your CMO has a strong network that he or she can pull in as necessary is key.


This seems like a given, but I continue to be surprised that not all CMOs think this way. Be sure the candidates can provide real-life examples of how they drove results for a variety of companies. If your company is very data and metrics-driven, be sure the CMOs you’re considering can deliver tangible results that will move the needle.


I’ve worked with many C-level execs who cannot make a decision. Your CMO needs to be the expert from a marketing, branding, and positioning perspective – and be able to make clear, thoughtful, nimble decisions. They should be able to communicate those decisions to the C-suite, board, and others who need to weigh in and understand them, and they should be able to show the rationale and data behind the decision, along with success metrics.

5 Qualities that Highlight Technical Fit


Your CMO should be customer obsessed. He or she should live and breathe the customer. Through your interviewing process, you should hear questions and insights about the customer and how they will approach and include them to drive marketing programs.

Utility player

Many CEOs believe then need a “PR expert”, or an “Earned Media Guru”, or a “Content Strategist”, or a number of other specialties. My advice is that your CMO should be crazy strong in one area – and that’s building a great brand. And building a great brand requires savviness in a bunch of different disciplines.

Does he or she need to be an expert on SEO? No, but they need to know enough about how it fits into the strategy, and who they need to execute, and what needs to be done and measured. Finding someone who’s killer at paid advertising when you decide to stop spending is a real drag. Find a killer utility player who can go the extra inning.

Agile executer

Time is money. Your CMO needs to know how to execute on-point in a nimble way. I have used agile methods to help prioritize marketing and organize the team and the work. Make sure your CMO is not just a thinker, but a doer and that he or she can roll up their sleeves and make it happen.

Creative thinker

Your CMO should be able to tell your story in a differentiated, compelling way. That seems like table-stakes to me, but is not a given with all marketers. Beyond storytelling, your CMO needs to be a creative thinker on a few dimensions.

One dimension is craftiness. Coming up with unique marketing programs, campaigns, stories, tactics, and strategies is not easy. Your CMO needs to be on their toes every day, revving new ideas to test and learn.

The other is being a stellar visual and written communicator. Being able to provide creative direction and guide your brand visually and verbally is key. Your CMO will need to flex lots of muscles and in many ways in how they show and tell your story.


You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Your CMO should be looking at every angle of the metrics. Diving in to Google Analytics, Salesforce, Marketo, and whatever else you are using to manage your marketing business. They should be setting metrics for campaigns, providing visibility to what’s working and what’s not, and know the numbers.

Your CMO needs to be a business person – understanding all of the company’s financials are key as they plan budgets and spend. The data doesn’t always tell the entire story, but it’s a great indicator of opportunities to improve, along with what’s moving the needle.

If you thought hiring a killer CMO was going to be easy, think again. This hire is the lifeblood of your brand and your brand is your business. Go forth and hire wisely (and if you need a second opinion, shoot me a note at [email protected]).

Previous Post
Oh, Snap. Is your content shareworthy?
Next Post
Why Millennial Women are Breaking the Glass Ceiling