When to Consider Internal VPs In a CMO Executive Search
CMO recruitment firm

So you’re looking for a new CMO. When marketing is moving fast, you can’t afford long delays in filling key leadership positions. What do you do?

If you let your CMO go because your marketing results weren’t what you wanted, then it’s likely an internal hire isn’t for you. When your marketing is problematic, drawing someone from the same administration that put you in that situation is far too risky.

But if your CMO retired after a long tenure with great results, or got pulled away by another company due to their great performance, it can make sense to turn to those who worked directly under him or her first in your CMO executive search.

The Perils and Perks of Hiring from Within

There are obvious advantages of choosing to draw a CMO from your existing marketing executive team.

  • It’s fast; they’re already on-hand and ready to take charge.
  • They’re already intimately familiar with your company, industry, and employees, drastically cutting onboarding time.
  • They are already respected (and hopefully, liked) by your marketing department.

Need someone to step in and take charge while you select the perfect CMO replacement? Try an interim marketing executive!

But some drawbacks can make it an unviable solution for your organization.

  • You could overestimate your VP’s capacity to step in as a C-suite executive—if they fail, you’ll end up losing both a VP and another CMO.
  • Selecting the best out of a group of peers can damage some egos and cause internal tension and resentment. It’s difficult to transition to a boss relationship over colleagues who were formerly peers and often friends.

Identifying CMO Material

Despite being just one step removed, the responsibilities of a marketing VP and CMO are drastically different.

While second-level executives are responsible for maximizing the value of their domain, the CMO is responsible for the growth of the entire company.

Great VPs of all kinds—Digital, Product Management, PR, whatever—are often subject matter experts first, leaders second. They’re adept at creating a strategy in their field and managing a team to execute it. But they don’t necessarily have the head for wider business strategy, collaboration, leadership and thinking on an organization-wide scale that is required of a CMO.

While second-level executives are responsible for maximizing the value of their domain, the CMO is responsible for the growth of the entire company. That’s a huge priority shift, and not one that can be taken lightly.

Look for some key characteristics that will help you tell if your internal candidate is ready to take the next step up the ladder.

Still Capable of Learning

This is absolutely critical when transitioning to a C-level marketing role. It requires the intellectual capability to acquire new skills and stay up-to-date at a higher level within the organization in a rapidly changing function. Someone who is incredibly smart and an expert on their field but is stuck in their ways and thinks they know it all will make a poor fit.

What made a marketer successful historically will not be enough to guarantee success at the next level, and they must be willing to grow to make it as a C-level executive.

But perhaps more importantly, it necessitates the emotional maturity to realize and accept that, no matter how much marketing experience you have, you’ll have to fundamentally adjust the way your approach your job as a CMO. What made a marketer successful historically will not be enough to guarantee success at the next level, and they must be willing to grow to make it as a C-level executive.

Handling Budget and Personnel Responsibilities

Is the CMO candidate mentally and professionally equipped to oversee a budget and team size that’s considerably larger than what they’ve dealt with before? It’s one thing to have your resources doubled—but what about taking on five times what they’re used to?

Marketing Translation

Most VP’s are right in the thick of marketing processes on a day-to-day basis. They’re talking high-level strategy with their peers and directing talented marketers around them. They speak a certain language appropriate for advanced marketing execution.

But that language will often be meaningless to a CMO’s audience, which is often non-marketers. Whether it’s coordinating with the rest of the C-suite members or reporting to the Chairman of the Board, they need to be able to express their capabilities, plans and results in a way that other senior executives understand and appreciate.

When Promoting from The Team Isn’t an Option

But what if you can’t pull from within?

Maybe the raw marketing aptitude or the leadership experience simply isn’t there. Or maybe “picking favorites” would cause more internal turmoil and discontent than it’s worth.  Maybe you just want to keep your options open and see what’s available before confirming that an internal hire is right for you.

You’ll probably have to select from two potential candidate pools in your CMO executive search.

  • A Marketing VP or Director from a larger company. An ambitious individual that, even as a second-level executive, already has similar experience with the scope of responsibility your CMO will be facing.
  • A current CMO from a smaller company. Someone who’s comfortable operating at the highest levels in an organization and is looking for a way to move up.

Either way, make sure you clearly understand and define what type of industry expertise is most critical for success. Strong candidates are already employed and very difficult to reach. When you realize you’ll need to look externally for a CMO candidate (or need to fill a VP vacancy from an internal promotion), work closely with a CMO executive search firm that specializes in finding extraordinary marketing leaders.

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