How to Hire the Best CMO for Startups | CMO Recruiters | Cowen Partners

      How to Hire the Best CMOs for Startups in 2022: 5 Insights from Executive Recruiters

      By Ash Wendt, President Cowen Partners Executive Search

      5 Insights from Top Executive Recruiters

      A chief marketing officer (CMO) is an essential role within any startup. The right CMO can build out your marketing team, improve brand awareness, and drive sales. Hiring for this role, however, can be a bit complicated, especially for startups. Many startup CEOs have a hard time accurately assessing the right time to hire a CMO. In many cases, the CMO is brought on too early or the wrong person is selected for the role. 

      When Should Startups Hire a CMO?

      Hire a chief marketing officer as your company’s marketing becomes more complicated and it’s time to take your strategies and marketing efforts to the next level. At a certain point, a startup CEO’s knowledge of marketing is no longer adequate for the business’s growth:

      • When you’re first starting, the CEO or chief operating officer (COO) may do a great job managing the marketing side of the company.
      • As the business grows, however, the marketing becomes more complex, and questions arise that require a more experienced marketing perspective. At this point, you’ll notice competitors pulling ahead and your growth flatlining. A CMO can come in and revitalize the business and reignite growth. 

      Another clear sign it’s time to hire a CMO is if your team is telling you they need more leadership. Talk to the marketing managers and get their insight. They may require more direction and industry experience to move the business forward. If your marketing staff needs a leader, it could be time to start interviewing a CMO.

      5 Insights to Hiring the Best CMO for a Startup in 2022

      Now that you’ve determined you need a CMO for your startup, it’s time to figure out what kind of CMO would be best for your company. Below are five tips that will help you find the right person.

      1. Figure out what kind of CMO you need
      2. Choose someone who knows how to structure teams
      3. Ask for specific referrals
      4. Get insight from a marketing professional
      5. Perfect the CMO Job Description

      The following shares a deeper look at each of these tips.

      1. Figure out what kind of CMO you need

      CMOs can specialize in different aspects of marketing. For example, there is the storyteller CMO who will perfect your brand voice and image. The storyteller will help you connect with customers and will build an excellent brand strategy through content marketing, partnerships, and events. 

      The analytic CMO, on the other hand, is more experienced in market analysis. The analytic CMO is experienced in growth marketing and will know how to track trends, measure campaign success, and create lead generation funnels.

      Understanding business needs will help you determine which areas of the marketing strategy you need to improve. It’s difficult to find a CMO who is the full package, often referred to as a unicorn. As long as you understand your biggest areas of need, however, you should be able to find someone to fill your most pressing marketing gaps. 

      2. Choose someone who knows how to structure teams

      No matter the main experience and skill set of your CMO, you need someone who can strategically structure the various marketing departments. During the interview process, ask candidates how they’d structure your teams and have them work together. A few teams that fall under the CMO’s control include content marketing, customer relationships management, brand marketing, marketing communications, and product marketing. Your business may have a few more or could be missing a unit that would drastically improve sales. A CMO should be able to come in and structure the groups into a cohesive working whole. 

      3. Ask for specific referrals

      During CMO recruiting, don’t just ask colleagues for CMO referrals. Simply asking for a CMO referral will get you a wide assortment of contacts. Get specific with your needs and say, “Do you know any CMOs who are expert storytellers with experience in brand building and customer outreach?” The more specific you can be, the more likely you’ll be to find a qualifying candidate. 

      4. Get insight from a marketing professional

      You may think you know what your company needs, but it’s easy to miss the mark when you’re busy focusing on other aspects of the business. Pull in a marketing professional to gain more insight on marketing talent and demands. You may be surprised by the assessment you receive from the marketing advisor.  

      5. Perfect the CMO Job Description

      A big reason startups fail to attract the CMOs they need is because of poor CMO job descriptions. Before posting anything, review the document to make sure expectations are set and realistic. Don’t be too broad with your description either. If you have specific areas of marketing that need attention, cater the job description to fill that role. This will help you narrow your CMO search and it’ll also make it easier for executive recruiters to find you the right person for the job. 

      Take a Deeper Dive into CMO Recruitment Topics

      You can also get answers and information right now from one of the nation’s top marketing executive recruiters.

      CMO Recruiters | Marketing Executive Search Firm

      Why CMO Turnover Is So High & How to Retain Marketing Talent

      A chief marketing officer (CMO) is the person responsible for managing the marketing side of your company. This c-suite position ensures your company mission and vision is being accurately conveyed to the public. They also keep the marketing strategy on track so your business continues to reach a larger audience. A successful CMO will ultimately have a big impact on your company’s revenue and overall profits. 

      On paper, these roles seem like a great opportunity for an experienced marketing manager to come into an organization and drive results. More often than not, however, a CMO is hired only to discover the role is not as described. The disconnect between CMO expectations and role responsibilities is just one of the reasons why this position has one of the highest c-suit turnover rates. According to Forbes, the average tenure of a CMO is 44 months; that’s less than four years. Turnover isn’t good for any position but especially not at the c-suite level. 

      Top 2 Mistakes That Drive CMOs Away

      The first step to retaining your CMO long-term is understanding the main causes of turnover. Below are two of the main reasons CMOs do not stay long at a company. 

      1. Lack of CEO support
      2. Limited Authority & Trust

      The following shares a deeper look at each of these tips.

      1. Lack of CEO support

      Prior to hiring a CMO, the CEO is often the one assisting with the marketing plans. When a CMO is brought on, it can be difficult for the CEO to relinquish this important responsibility to a new leader. A majority of CEOs also don’t fully grasp the intricacies of marketing and everything that goes into strategy development, yet they expect a CMO to generate revenue. The problem is, it’s incredibly difficult to translate a marketing campaign into dollars earned. 

      A marketing campaign increases brand awareness and gets people talking about your company’s services or products. This is known as demand generation. In the long run, this can lead to a bigger profit as more people know about your brand and what you have to offer. Short-term, however, there’s not a good way to show on paper how the marketing strategy is increasing sales. To some CEOs, the lack of revenue data appears to be evidence that the marketing strategy isn’t working. When in fact, they’re trying to measure the wrong thing. Instead of profit, a CEO should be looking at engagement and brand awareness.

      2. Limited Authority & Trust

      Many CMOs have faced limited authority within a company. Even though the position is at the c-suite level, CMOs find themselves micromanaged by the CEO or other leadership positions. Again, this goes back to trusting in the professional you hire for the role. A chief marketing officer is highly experienced with a solid background in marketing. Being micromanaged by the CEO or COO is a frustrating position for the CMO. Not only is it frustrating, but it also makes it hard for the marketing officer to do their job. When you’re constantly requesting approval to take a new step, it feels like your position is being undervalued.

      How to Keep CMO Leadership

      Now that you understand what could be driving a CMO away, let’s look at what you can do to retain your CMO. 

      1. Understand the CMO Role

      At its core, the CMO role is responsible for demand generation. Demand generation is the use of targeted marketing campaigns to drive interest in a company’s products and services. Marketing campaigns and advertisements require money to be successful, but you might not see this marketing money immediately or clearly translate into revenue. Keep this in mind and remember to pay attention to customer engagement and audience growth. 

      2. Encourage Sales Support

      Obviously growing your audience is good, but most business leaders want to see hard numbers. In this regard, encourage the vice president of sales and the chief revenue officer to work with the CMO to support marketing efforts. The sales description of the company and services needs to mesh with the image marketing is putting out, so having these two departments work together is in everyone’s best interest. 

      3. Follow Through on Your Offer

      Review the CMO job description. Make sure it’s the role that someone will actually be stepping into and doing day to day. If the CMO job description says you’re looking for someone to build a marketing strategy that will drive growth but then you limit the person to marketing communications, your new CMO is going to be dissatisfied. Moreover, you won’t get the results you really want for your company. When you hire a CMO, be ready to relinquish marketing responsibility and strategy management to the individual in that chief marketing officer role so your company can really expand. 

      Discover More About Marketing Recruitment & Hiring CMOs

      You can also talk to one of the nation’s top marketing executive recruiters.

      Startup CMO | CMO Recruiters | Marketing Executive Search Firm

      Why an Outsourced CMO Is Best for a Startup

      A chief marketing officer is an executive position that can make a big impact on your company’s marketing strategy. The downside, however, is that the role is expensive to fill. Hiring a CMO with the right experience, qualifications, and background for a full-time executive role can quickly become costly. As a startup, your business can’t afford to invest in a full-time CMO, which is why you should consider hiring an outsourced CMO instead. 

      What Is an Outsourced CMO?

      A CMO is responsible for building a company’s marketing strategy. This usually involves managing social media, marketing campaigns, branding, and other online and print media information. An outsourced CMO typically works on a contract basis and serves as a company’s marketing leadership. The outsourced CMO will come in and develop a marketing plan to advance your company’s message, goals, and value. 

      Why Hire an Outsourced CMO for Your Startup?

      As your startup or small business grows, you’ll need strong marketing leadership to continue advancing. At this point in business, however, you need access to capital to implement marketing strategies, so you might not be able to afford a full-time CMO. You also may not need a marketing officer in-office 40 hours a week yet.

      Another reason why outsourcing a CMO can benefit your startup is to fill any marketing expertise gaps in your company. An outside CMO will bring a fresh perspective to your business strategy to help you grow and develop in new markets. Save the company money for further investing by hiring a fractional CMO to consult and manage your marketing strategy. 

      Chief Marketing Officer Job Description

      Reporting to the CEO, the Chief Marketing Officer’s primary objective is to partner with sales and to drive growth and revenue. The ideal candidate can “helicopter up and down,” to be highly strategic in allocating investment and resources to drive outcomes, but also hands-on to ensure successful execution.

      The CMO will thrive in actively partnering with sales, enjoying a high degree of interaction with customers and with the market. The successful candidate will have had exposure to global marketplaces, and have their sights set on exponential growth.


      Demand Generation

      • Create a “land & expand,” web-based, low touch/low friction/high-velocity model to accelerate growth and transform the company’s offerings.
      • Assure that marketing spend is allocated to trackable programs.
      • Ensure that the working pipeline can support the company’s revenue plan.
      • Improve conversion across product solutions working cross-functionally to determine lead quality, quantity, and cost structure.
      • Develop engaging content aligned with the sales cycle to be used across all types of promotion from print to digital.
      • Drive MarTech to analyze and discover customer and data-driven insights to increase growth.


      • Establish a collaborative, results-oriented and data-driven marketing department.
      • Manage all aspects of marketing planning, budgeting, metrics, and reporting.
      • Manage external agencies and relationships with marketing services.
      • In collaboration with senior leadership, develop and execute an on-going strategy and ensure monthly, quarterly and yearly targets are met.
      • Work with the executive leadership to become the organizational “glue” to deliver change.

      Brand Strategy

      • Elevate and differentiate the brand, creating a compelling strategy and market messages.
      • Develop content marketing capacity to establish as a thought leader within target verticals to drive inbound leads and speed the sales cycle.
      • Own positioning, messaging, branding, segmentation, and marketing strategy.
      • Continuously refine comprehensive go to market plan with input from Sales.
      • Generate effective product marketing collateral such as product demonstrations, case studies, white papers, webinars, solution comparisons, to educate target buyers and influencers about a differentiated value proposition.


      • Utilize market & competitive research to segment and define target markets, refine and improve the product value proposition, and implement best market entry strategy.
      • A track record influencing analysts successfully to systematically improve the positioning in the Gartner magic quadrant, with proven tactics and relationships for doing so. Has dynamic personality and credibility to represent the firm in these relationships. Develop a working relationship and alignment with the Product Architect to ensure that marketing is promoting what the company is developing.
      • Ensure rigor and discipline across company-wide programs that support integrated marketing and business development models.
      • Work with business development, alliances, and CEO to support strategic business opportunities.
      • Design the right strategies and processes to carry out the vision in a multichannel world.
      • Align marketing strategy with the CEO and key stakeholders to develop and execute dynamic campaigns that drive growth for their target segments.

        Product Marketing
      • Drive integrated marketing efforts that ‘glue’ all aspects.
      • Build out the product marketing organization.
      • Participate in future product development strategy.
      • Fine-tune both the corporate and product story.


      The ideal candidate will be a proven, results-oriented leader with a history of driving demand in a hyper-growth public cloud, datacenter, or infrastructure software company. S/he will have a successful track record as a category creator and thought leader in high growth B2B (vertical SaaS). This CMO has built and scaled an enterprise marketing organization and hired and led a team of “A” players, while successfully elevating the brand.

      Chief Marketing Officer Business and Domain Expertise:

      • 12+ years of well-rounded modern marketing experience in positions of increasing responsibility. Ideally a combination of large companies and emerging growth companies.
      • An undergraduate degree is required; an MBA or other advanced degree is a plus.
      • Marketing success with a high growth company required. Marketing leadership for a market-making company strongly preferred.
      • Experience successfully running ABM campaigns, with quantifiable results in pipeline and closed won results.
      • Ability to identify prospects through analysis of needs, usage behavior, and account potential.
      • Proven success creating a strategy to sell to line of business owners at the department level, and “expand”/ build out to scale.
      • Industry related experience. Significant success scaling marketing programs within software or SaaS/cloud at the enterprise level.
      • A track record influencing analysts successfully to win prominent 1st position the Gartner magic quadrant, with proven tactics and relationships for doing so. Has dynamic personality and credibility to represent the firm in these relationships.
      • Proven success record of partnering with sales to drive lead generation and revenues up while driving the cost of sales and time to close down.
      • Track record of building a metrics-driven, highly accountable marketing organization focused on measurable outcomes. Analytical expertise including measuring both lead and lag measures such as #MQL’s, #SQL’s, $ value of pipeline created.
      • Proven success at internal communication to gain buy-in on corporate strategy and marketing strategy and plans.
      • External communications expertise including branding and messaging to different target audiences, online advertising/promotion, and working with the press and other media.
      • Exposure to all facets of global marketing, including Sales Support, Channel Marketing, Branding, Strategy, Messaging, Marketing Programs, Market Communications, Public Relations, and Analyst Relations.
      • Proven success developing and executing integrated business to business marketing campaigns, including goal setting, budget management and results measurement.
      • Broad knowledge of internet marketing tools and CRM data. Ideally in a “land and expand,” lower touch higher volume SaaS/cloud environment.


      • Must have strong relationship acumen: ability to build strong relationships at all levels of the organization.
      • Flexible and quick. Culture carrier who is facile with change management.
      • Holds the company and team’s best interests at heart while building and scaling a world-class company.
      • High EQ; leadership and decisions are situation appropriate, not using a blanket approach.
      • Incredibly strong conviction and vision along with the requisite interpersonal, presentation, organizational and planning skills.
      • Cool under pressure, able to prioritize and deliver.
      • Hires slow, fires fast; a proven track record of attracting, hiring, retaining, and motivating top-class marketing talent.
      • Communicates clearly, regularly and appropriately.
      • Fosters an open work environment and generates excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment.
      • Highest standards of personal and professional integrity and ethics.
      • Invests in the growth of people to match future company needs.
      • Customer-centric.
      • Able to take a laser approach to high value-projects.
      • Steady, supportive and naturally collaborative.
      • Business maturity, persistence, adaptability, and work ethic/drive.
      • Intellectually curious, problem solver, eager to learn, a persuasive and charismatic change agent.

      Best Marketing & Demand Generation Recruiting Firm


      The experienced marketing recruiters at Cowen Partners have a long-standing reputation for excellence when it comes to connecting companies with the brightest marketing minds in their industry. In fact, our marketing executive recruitment team are up to date on the latest marketing trends, strategies, best practices, and technologies, and we take great care while applying deep expertise to identify the best candidates for our clients’ needs.

      That is why the executive headhunters and chief marketing officer recruiters at Cowen Partners are the partners who leaders trust and rely on for their marketing and demand generation recruitment needs. It is also why Cowen Partners is one of the top marketing recruitment agencies in the U.S.

      Clients span every industry, are typically $10 million plus in revenue, and successful placements include SaaS Chief Marketing officer CMO, Product Marketing, Demand Generation, and include VP Marketing, and Director Demand Generation leadership roles.

      Check out our industry-leading executive search resources to see why Cowen Partners is a top sales and marketing executive search firm in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

      Cowen Partners Executive Search provides marketing and CMO recruitment services to all major and minor industries including:

      Accounting, Advertising, Aerospace & Defense, Biotechnology, Banking, Credit Unions, Board and CEO Services, Computer Hardware, Construction, Consulting, Consumer Products, Computer Software and Hardware, Education, Energy & Utilities, Entertainment & SportsFinanceFinancial Services, Food Products, Government, Human ResourcesHealth Care, Hospitality & Tourism, Insurance, Industrial, Internet & New Media, Legal, Tax, Crypto, Bitcoin, Private Equity, Journalism & Publishing, MarketingManufacturing, Medical Device, Non-Profit, Pharmaceutical, Private EquityReal Estate, Retail & Apparel, SalesTechnology, Telecommunications and Transportation.

      Get in Touch.

      Fill out the email request form to learn more about our approach.

        [honeypot website]