Who should be your first marketing hire? For most companies, it shouldn’t be a CMO or VP of Marketing.
Working at BuildWitt, we meet with construction, mining, and equipment clients every week who are beginning or expanding their marketing efforts. Some of them hire an in-house marketer, with varying levels of success. I’ve changed my mind recently about the best first marketing hire for most small to medium businesses, based on our work and my own experiences building marketing teams.
Hiring a good marketing team is similar to building a good baseball team. I recently identified 23 individual skill sets needed in marketing, and most companies require at least 9 or 10 of those “players” to field a decent marketing team. Throw in some software, equipment, and ad spending, and a good team will cost about $1 million per year.
Hiring a CMO or VP of Marketing as your first marketing hire is like hiring a GM in baseball. It makes sense for companies that know they want to build an in-house marketing team quickly, and they have a million dollar budget. For most other companies, it’s not a smart move.
A quality CMO is generally adept at the following:
- Strategic marketing – target marketing, value prop, messaging
- Understanding what marketing skills are most needed on the team
- Setting a vision and guiding the execution of a marketing plan
- Leadership and coaching
- Hiring, firing and building a team
- Some may have a super-power like writing or public speaking
If you don’t have a decent-sized marketing team and aren’t planning to build one in the next few months, then hiring a CMO could be a waste of money.
Once I was hired to lead sales and marketing at a tech startup, and it wound up not being a good fit. What they really needed was a good copywriter and graphic designer, and a few good sales development reps to start growing the customer base. Writing and designing are definitely not my super-powers, so I wound up overpaid and underqualified for the roles they needed, and we quickly parted ways.
Here are some other common mistakes I see:
- A company hires an expensive VP of Marketing and tasks them with everything in marketing but no budget or team. This is akin to a baseball team asking a GM to be the starting pitcher, catcher, and bat 3rd in the lineup with no additional players.
- A company hires a marketer manager and asks them to play all positions. There are a few unicorns out there that have 4 or 5 of the needed skills, but this rarely works.
- A company hires a marketing agency with all of the skill sets needed, but no industry knowledge. They may produce pretty marketing materials, but the message fails to resonate due to lack of customer insight.
- The CEO or President plays the role of the GM coordinating all marketing efforts, and they don’t have the expertise or time needed to make it work.
For 90% of companies looking to expand marketing, my first hire would be a good product marketer. And I would look for one that is either a good writer, designer, or has some photography or video skills, depending on your most important need. They will be roughly half to ⅓ of the cost of a VP of Marketing, and they will likely be better at the work you need.
Early on, I would match that Product Marketer with an agency that specializes and understands your industry. They can give you the additional skill sets needed to field a full team, and they should have the customer insight needed so the message resonates. If you can find an excellent internal product marketer and an external agency that work well together, that could serve you well for years.
As you start to grow and your marketing needs evolve, you can add inhouse players–video, design, web, etc.–especially if it is more cost effective to move the work in-house.
Once your internal team grows beyond 5 or 6 employees, then it might be a good time to start thinking about a VP of Marketing. Until then, you are likely wasting your money and getting lower quality creative work than you could get with a cheaper marketer with a specialized skill set.