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What You Must Look for When Hiring Your First Head of Marketing

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You had a great idea for a product, you've built it and it's starting to take off in the market. You have a few salespeople and maybe a manager, but now it's time to bring on your first head of marketing. What do you look for?

As the CMO of software solutions company ServiceMax, I seem to get asked this question every few weeks. Founders and small company CEO's realize that a great head of marketing can take their company to the next level, but they often don't really know how or why. Nor do they know the right skillsets to look for in the recruiting process.

Regardless of background, experience or personality your marketing leader absolutely must have vision and creativity. There are great managers who can make sure programs are executed on budget and on time, but what sets a company apart is a head of marketing that can devise a strategy and vision that transforms the company.

Related: The Ingredients of a Marketing Plan

To assess vision and creativity, ask for examples where they've shown it in the past. If they have it, they should be able to rattle off successful programs. If they hesitate, move on.

Now that you have vision, you need to assess your unique needs. Most marketing leaders came up the ranks either through marketing communications and branding, demand generation or product marketing. Think about your business. Are you a B2C company looking to generate awareness and build a strong brand, or do you need to fill up a direct team's pipeline as soon as possible?

Here is a breakdown of a few common needs and what to look for in a marketing candidate.

You need awareness

Look for marketers with PR, communications or content marketing in their resumes. Make sure they know the media game and how to create compelling messages and stories. Talk to them about how they've worked with customers to get their stories out, and ask them for specific examples of creative campaigns they've executed in the past. Finally, go check out the website of their most recent place of employment. Does it make you want to buy?

You need pipeline

If you need someone to fill up your direct sales team's pipeline, then look for folks with lead generation, marketing automation, and/or field marketing experience. I would argue that enterprise B2B companies should focus on pure lead generation and not branding or awareness in the early days. Every dollar spent should be tracked to an actual lead or opportunity. This is as much of a data analysis role as it is a creative role, so talk to candidates about demand generation models and lead-to-opportunity conversion rates. Gone are the days of spending all the program dollars on search engine marketing. There are many other tools and avenues to pipeline. Ask candidates their opinions on the best sources of new leads.

Related: The Art of Courting Candidates: Creating a Stellar Startup Interview Experience

You need a value proposition

It might be that product marketing is your primary need. The ability to position your product's unique value proposition and differentiation is crucial. Product marketers create compelling demos, presentations and competitive information that enable the field with tools that help them differentiate and win. They also can help you research your target market, understand your sweet spot and where and how to break into verticals. And they bring back valuable market information that can drive the product roadmap. Every marketer relies on great content, so if you don't have good product marketing, then your demand generation, marketing communications, and field marketing will be that much less effective.

The secret sauce you hope a candidate possesses

The X factor is sales experience. I've long held the opinion that marketing exists to serve sales and not vice versa. Great marketing is only great if revenue targets are being met, just like building a stellar product is only stellar if it sells. Unfortunately, there are a lot of marketers who can only see the world through a lens of marketing campaigns and events and never contemplate the sales representative who has to sit one-on-one with a prospect to win a deal. If your candidate has sales experience, they know first hand the needs in the field. And if not, at least make sure they understand that marketing can never truly be great if exists in a separate silo from sales.

Bottom line is you need a rounded out set of skills on your marketing team. Great future CMOs can come from a variety of backgrounds, so it's best to assess your unique needs and target your search in that way. In a perfect world you can find a candidate that has done it all, but in today's high tech job market, we are far from a perfect world.

Related: The Law of Attraction: Finding the Perfect Hire for Your Company

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