There’s no question that B2B marketing has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. To keep up, today’s top marketers have also become more complex and sophisticated. They possess a wide range of skills that blur the lines between marketing, product, brand, sales, and analytics.
With all these layers and specialties to consider, startups looking to fill their first marketing leadership position face major hiring challenges. How do you know which type of marketer to hire first? How can you tell which candidate will be the right fit? What’s the best process for finding and evaluating candidates?
To get answers to these questions, I sat down with Erica Seidel, an executive recruiter who runs The Connective Good, a boutique retained executive recruiting practice helping high-growth companies attract talent they wouldn’t find on their own. She also has special insight into high-level marketing positions after a stint running the CMO Group (a peer-to-peer networking business) for Forrester Research.
Based on her experience recruiting top leaders in marketing, marketing technology, and marketing analytics, Erica has developed a framework that helps explain the specific skill sets and mindsets (aka obsessions) of today’s top performing B2B marketers.
Useful to both marketers who are building their careers and to companies looking to hire an A+ marketer, this list of 10 key marketing leader obsessions provides important insight into the tactical, strategic, and personality-based attributes of marketers who are at the top of their game:
- Business First, Marketing Second: They contribute beyond marketing and know how to convert marketing lingo into terminology the CEO cares about. They focus on business metrics (MRR, net dollar/logo retention, and customer satisfaction) more so than vanity metrics (CTRs, impressions, etc.).
- Data: They make decisions based on data, not just feeling. They understand how they will measure impact before they enact change (and what the next set of experiments will be).
- Collaboration: They serve as shuttle diplomats with low egos, not lone wolves. They know how to work well with sales, product, engineering, and operations.
- Repeatability with Scale: “Nail it and scale it” is their mantra. This applies to their processes, technologies, and teams.
- Innovation: They contribute to how the business will win tomorrow, not just today. (Note: some tension exists between innovation and repeatability, find the right balance).
- Customer: They always have a pulse on the customer and are constantly honing in on an ideal customer profile. They can orchestrate the whole customer experience from awareness to education, usage to advocacy and know when to leverage other teams’ expertise.
- Accountability: They share a revenue number with sales and understand the importance of a tight marketing to sales handoff.
- Technology: They build the marketing technology stack to automate, scale and optimize marketing efficiency. They evaluate new technologies with a level-head and don’t succumb to shiny object syndrome.
- Content: They understand the power of content and can empower a team to build a content engine to educate and engage, not just sell.
- Brand: They understand the role of brand in fueling growth. They can build product positioning, messaging, and industry marketing.
Building off this framework, Erica shared four of her best tips for making a successful marketing leader hire who emulates these obsessions.
1. The first step to getting what you want is knowing what you want.
While Erica acknowledges that CEOs and founders have learned that marketing is much more than the “make-it-pretty” department – that marketing can be the “money-making” department – she notes that there is still a fair amount of confusion about the different kinds of marketing leaders and which ones are most appropriate for different stages of growth. A role in marketing leadership can cover a lot of different territory: digital marketing, marketing operations, brand marketing, product marketing, marketing communications, etc.
Based on her experience, Erica has simplified this vast field of specialties by defining four primary marketing leader archetypes:
- Business Development: Sales Partner
- Brand Builder: Product/Content
- Brand Builder: CMO Strategist
- Demand Builder: Growth Marketing/Digital
Each one of these archetypes has a unique perspective and corresponding set of skills and strengths that are designed to tackle a particular marketing objective. It’s critical to understand which one your company needs, but companies often miss these distinctions.
“At the business development stage, a company wants to rev up demand. But, they might not be able to tell the difference between a marketer who can do that and a marketer who is more of a brand builder. The challenge is that, as extroverts, marketers are usually very articulate. They sound good. You have to remember that the person who interviews best isn’t always the best person for the job.”
You must recognize it is unlikely any single person will be a rockstar on all 10 obsessions. Hunting for the marketing leader “unicorn” is one of the top mistakes Erica sees companies make. She notes that everyone has their competencies and pursuing perfectionism in hiring is rarely a winning strategy. You must know what you need perfection in at your current stage and what you are willing to work with the person on.
2. Hiring success depends on your ability to define the job, not the person.
Another common mistake Erica sees companies make is embarking on a hiring quest by creating a candidate profile such as “an MBA with 10+ years of experience.” As it turns out, it’s smarter to reverse engineer your search from the desired performance outcomes.
“I always ask clients to tell me the five business results we’re looking for. I ask them to name the one thing that will make the CEO, team, and investors happy if the new hire gets it done in their first year.”
Another exercise Erica employs is to think about what makes a company unique and how that helps define the kind of marketing support they really need. In her intake interviews, she asks questions like, “When will things get tense for this person?” By asking a company to think through the bottlenecks, conflicts, and other challenges the marketing person will confront, she starts to get a sense of the overall dynamics, which in turn helps refine the job description and identify candidates who will fit culturally.
Defining the job instead of the person is also more appropriate in today’s evolving marketing landscape. Ten or fifteen years ago, B2B marketing was a more general practice. Today, it’s much more specialized, and many marketers are doing what Erica refers to as a “tour of duty” across a variety of disciplines – from demand gen to marketing operations and so forth. Erica draws this concept from Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, in his book Start Up of You.
“With specialization, you now see people who migrate from area to area. They’ve done their tour of duty in demand gen. They’ve gone to marketing operations and product marketing and corporate communications and analytics. They are deliberately building their careers across these functional roles.”
3. The hiring team is most likely to buy into the outcome of the recruiting process if they have had a say in how the decision will be made.
Hiring a marketing leader is challenging in part because it’s a role that will touch so many different areas of the company. The marketing leader will work with the sales team, the product team, the CEO, analysts, and even customers. For this reason, it’s really important to clearly define the decision-making process for hiring.
What you don’t want is a situation in which the CEO, for instance, knows exactly what he or she wants; but once the candidate gets in front of the sales leader or the product leader, they are deemed unviable. To ensure that the process goes smoothly, you need to know up front how the process will flow. Will it be a collaborative process in which people inform the CEO and then he or she makes the final decision? Or does the process require more of a consensus, so that everyone gets a say, but the whole process takes longer?
There is no one right way to do it; you just need to know which way is right for your company, and then make sure you do the upfront work to align everyone who will be involved in both the interview process and the decision-making process.
4. Realize that when you hire a marketing leader, you’re marketing to marketers. Do your research before you ‘go to market.’
A search for a marketing leader is actually an exercise in marketing to marketers. You have to pitch candidates on the job – what’s cool about it, what the candidate will learn, how they will grow. Erica has found that to do this successfully, you need to treat hiring a marketer like a marketing project, complete with market research.
“When I’m kicking off a search, I often get on the phone with people I know who have done that role, and I interview them. I share the job spec and ask them how realistic the description is, if they can see any ‘gotchas,’ and what they read between the lines. This way, before we pitch the job, we collaborate with our customers to align the product to the talent market.”
She also reminds companies, especially smaller ones that are in a growth stage, that it’s okay to admit that you don’t know everything. Doing the research to figure out what you need is a valid part of the process. It’s also a smart approach to take with candidates. She doesn’t advise trying to BS candidates during the interview process because they will see right through it.
Basically, it’s smarter to do all the due diligence than to take a “post-and-pray” approach. Ask the questions, explore the possibilities, talk to people. Your results will be much better.
While there’s no surefire way to make hiring your first marketing leader easy, following Erica’s advice will certainly make the process more efficient and effective.