The Most Important Skills and Experience to Look for in a Transformative Marketing Leader

If your next major executive hire is coming with the goal of bringing in a leader who can fundamentally transform and improve your business, you need to shift your executive search strategy accordingly.

Maybe your business is already in an ideal position, already at the cutting edge of all things digital, cultural and organizational. But more likely, you have major room for improvement—and you know it. Archaic business structures that kill internal collaboration, a messaging strategy that’s only a year old but somehow already outdated, technology that was state-of-the-art in 1999 but for some reason is still the foundation of a key business operation…even very successful businesses have some cobwebs they need sweeping out.

When it comes to capacity to lead an evolution in the right direction, your head of marketing will typically be best positioned. A successful transformation in today’s business environment almost always requires a reorientation towards a customer-centric focus—something successful marketing departments realized years ago. So it only makes sense that a high-performing CMO would be well-equipped to clear the antiquated systems out of your organization and orient it toward a future of growth.

If you’re making a new executive hire with the ultimate goal of bringing in an agent of change, we as CMO recruiters recommend looking for some essential experience and traits:

Outstanding History of Consistent Success in Digital and Marketing

No matter what kind of transformation your business needs, someone with a strong background in digital and marketing will probably be best suited to lead it.

In the words of Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Those words were spoken a long time ago, but they’ve never been more true. Marketing should be leading your evolution, and digital has become an intrinsic part of marketing. So it only makes sense that any leader hired primarily to be an agent of change for your business be a master of both.

Ability to Diagnose Your Organization’s Capacity to Change

CMO recruiters transformation

Your organization’s capacity to transform is dependent on a lot of factors; its size, your company culture, the business structure, your budget, the technology available, etc. It’s like exercising when you’re out of shape; working out too much and too frequently can lead to an injury; it’s better to start with stretching and warm-ups before committing to a rigorous routine. Forcing it into change at a pace it’s not ready to digest can be almost as bad as not transforming at all.

A Successful History in Project Management

A corporate transformation is a project in the grandest sense of the term, and it will take masterful oversight to carry out something on this scale. Lessons learned in extensive project management can be scaled up to facilitate a successful evolution.

Someone with a history purely in advertising strategy or creative execution probably won’t be the best choice if you’re looking for a transformer. When hiring marketing executives for transformation, look for candidates that have experience getting their hands dirty with meticulous project management or similar wide-scale oversight like product management or customer experience management.

Flexibility and Responsiveness

CMO recruiters flexibility

Most leaders find success doing something really well one way–their way. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in some cases that could be the kind of executive you need.

But if you’re looking for a CMO to act as an agent of change, then you need someone who can be flexible in their strategies and approach to transformation. After all, if they’re going to demand change from your organization, then they should be able to similarly shift gears when the need arises. True transformation can take a long time, and they may find their original plans to enact it need adjustment based on new understanding of your business or in response to market forces.


An analytical mindset is crucial for any successful marketing executive in today’s business environment. Transformation may be less of an analytical process than some other CMO responsibilities, but it still requires a methodical, data-driven approach to have any hope of being completed.

Your evolutionary marketing head must be able to thoroughly assess the current state of your business, determine the right KPIs to measure progress, and measure the ROI of their efforts. Seek out candidates that turn to data first to develop their strategies, are comfortable interpreting complex reports, and hold themselves and others accountable to meaningful and measurable metrics.

An Inspirational Unifier

Transformation means change, and most people (especially entrenched professionals) are extremely change-averse. It’s also something that requires cooperation and buy-in from across the organization, and can be held back by even one critical business pillar that’s dragging its feet. If your CMO recruitment brings in someone who is unable to build consensus among key players on the executive team and throughout your company, the entire endeavor will be a waste of time.

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