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As far as hiring a CMO goes, deciding on a Chief Marketing Officer is a BIG deal.

In case you didn’t have enough on your plate, let’s add “hiring a CMO” to your list of things to do. You already understand it’s a painful process and the consequences are huge if you get it wrong. We’ll try to help and arm you with a few questions to ask once your candidate makes it to the interview stage. 

“Tell me about the experience you have in our industry”

This is a very common and logical question for employers to ask. We recommend asking it, but don’t fixate too much on insisting someone is from your industry. Hiring someone from your “world” can be dangerous. Incestuous thinking may mean the candidate isn’t as innovative as you need and just recycles the industry’s tired ideas. Bringing in similar but different experiences could mean you can discover something new that your competitors missed.  Getting a fresh pair of eyes can be a good thing. As much as you think your industry is different, it’s not. That’s what everyone says.  

However, you do want someone that isn’t completely foreign to your method of sales. For example, if you aspire to get your product on the shelf at grocery stores, hiring someone from a professional services background such as marketing financial software to banks would be too far of a leap and not a good hire. Conversely, hiring someone that has marketing experience from a home improvement chain with retail locations would be a better match. 

Look for 10-15 years of experience. Keep your eyes open. Great talent exists in other industries too.   

“How do you develop others?”

A CMO is part of the executive team, so you want them to develop and hire talent around them. Just like a star basketball player, they should make others around them better. The best answer we’ve ever heard from a candidate was “I never want to hire someone who doesn’t want my job someday.”

It showed the mindset your company should be looking for. They should be able to cite examples of someone that used to work for them that was promoted or left the company for a better opportunity. This shows emotional intelligence. We’re reminded of the relevant Steve Jobs quote: 

“A players hire A players; B players hire C players; C players hire D players. It doesn’t take long to get to Z.”

How much do you do yourself?

Some hiring managers are under the impression that a CMO can do it all. Design an ad, make a social media post, write a blog, and update the website. However, that’s NOT what a true CMO does. A CMO provides leadership and taps into the vendors that can accomplish everything needed. For the CMO to be effective, they will need a budget. This is the kind of answer you are looking for. If the candidate elaborates on how they can run sophisticated Google AdWords campaigns, that’s a red flag. 

A CMO knows what success looks like and how to achieve it, but they are not tacticians. 

How do you measure success?

The right answer is “sales opportunities.” Marketing earns interest in a product or service, but it stops short of making the sale for you. At some point, the sales function of the business takes over and completes the transaction. There is a very clear distinction, even in eCommerce businesses. 

A great candidate should be able to tell you about metrics they monitor in real-time that suggest the health and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Information should be aggregated in a dashboard and reported to the CEO. 

“What company’s marketing do you admire and why?”

You’re looking for a detailed answer here. CMO’s should be able to see through most campaigns and understand the strategies behind them. They should be able to comment on the call to action, how the marketing is relating to the target audience, and how the campaign is capitalizing on current trends.

If they give you the answer…

“I like Geico commercials because I think they are funny.” That’s not good enough and shows a lack of strategic understanding. 

“How do you see marketing evolving in the next 5 years?”

A true CMO will have a great answer and even get excited about it. There could be multiple correct answers here. It’s less about what answer they give, and more about how they arrive at the conclusion. Look for them to talk about trends and evolutions in social and paid media. 

Whether you agree with their assumption is up to you. If they’re confused about the question or don’t have much to say, it tells you that they may be a clever marketer, but are not at the strategic CMO level.