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How to Find a Chief Marketing Officer

The role of the CMO has expanded dramatically, making it almost impossible to find the right one for your company.

As you have probably learned by now, finding C-level executives for a young company is pretty hard. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give it a seven. Finding a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), however, is a nine.  There are a couple of reasons for such a high degree of difficulty: marketing includes so many functions that few CMOs have broad enough capabilities to rock them all, and marketing today is more wildly split between right brain and left brain than it ever has been before. That makes finding the complete package all the more difficult.

Given the depth and dichotomy of the role, the odds are almost nil that you’ll find a CMO who has every skill and attribute you want. But to quote Voltaire, perfect may be the enemy of good.  The good news is that every one of your marketing requirements need not be embodied in a single person. The trick is to look at marketing as a collection of various disciplines, and then to prioritize what your company needs most.  

Here are the broad marketing disciplines that a mid-sized consumer-facing company might consider:

  • Customer acquisition.  You have to acquire customers from a variety of channels by buying media, developing messaging, and optimizing conversion.
  • Customer retention.  Here’s where buzzwords like lifetime total value, churn, lifecycle marketing, and customer relationship management come in.  Retaining customers is an art and a science. Of all the marketing tactics in your bag, this one has the highest ROI.
  • Product. In the world of viral and word-of-mouth marketing and social networks, the product is the company and the product defines the brand. 
  • Business development.  Finding the right partners and structuring the right deals can drive revenue and enhance your brand through affiliation. But this is an art best learned through apprenticeship and experience. 
  • Brand architecture.  What are we?  What do we want customers to say about us?  This is the squishy stuff that often gets forgotten in mid-size companies.

Odds are that you won’t find anyone who is expert in all this. Instead, prioritize:

1) what you need most

2) what you’re willing to hire elsewhere in the marketing group

3) what you can outsource

4) what, if anything, you can live without. 

The best CMOs will know where they’re stellar and where they’re not, and will build a team that can make sure all the right priorities are taken care of. You don’t need to find a single person who can check all the boxes, but rather someone who can check the right boxes themselves and find creative ways to get the rest checked by others.

Last updated: Mar 28, 2012

JASON TREVISAN | Columnist | General Partner, Polaris Venture Partners

Jason Trevisan joined Polaris in 2003. Jason focuses on growth equity investments and buyout opportunities in Internet, technology, healthcare and media sectors.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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