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Interim CMO: All You Need to Know
What is an interim CMO?
An interim CMO is an interim Chief Marketing Officer, a C-level executive that comes onboard with an organization on a temporary basis to act as the final authority on management. (S)he reports directly to the CEO and/or directors, while the VP of Marketing or other middle management in the marketing department reports to the interim CMO.
An interim CMO usually comes on board to fill the vacancy left by a departing full-time CMO. Depending on the availability and performance of the interim CMO, as well as the organization’s ability to meet the leader’s compensation requirements, the interim CMO may be elevated to the role of full-time CMO. Otherwise, their tenure will end once a full-time CMO is identified and able to transition into the role.
Why do you need an interim CMO?
If your organization depends on the role of CMO to keep its marketing on track, you may need an interim CMO if the full-time CMO or marketing director announces his/her intention to leave.
Marketing plays a critical role in scaling and maintaining a business. It is the process by which the company becomes “top-of-mind” for its warm prospects, so they think of the company first when they discover that they need what the company offers. Effective marketing leads to increased revenue, business growth, brand strength, and market dominance.
When should I hire an interim CMO?
An organization may require an interim CMO if their full-time CMO has announced his/her intention to leave the organization.
If this has happened to you, conduct an audit of your current marketing operation. Can the CMO role be eliminated altogether? Can the responsibilities be taken on by the VP of Marketing or other C-level executives? Don’t rule out the possibility that the CMO position has outlived its usefulness.
If it turns out that the marketing department will fall apart without C-level leadership, it may be necessary to hire an interim CMO to pick up the slack and avoid costly interruptions, giving the directors breathing room to conduct a comprehensive search for a full-time CMO.
What are interim CMOs responsibilities?
An interim CMO faces the challenge of “hitting the ground running.” (S)he is stepping into a marketing ecosystem in progress, rather than having the luxury of building it from the ground up. Interim CMOs must be agile, able to adapt, and know their business inside and out.
Here are some of the responsibilities a leader takes on when accepting the role of interim CMO:
- Conduct a Marketing Audit. To immediately assume the role of CMO with minimal interruption, an interim CMO needs to get up-to-speed—fast—on the organization’s entire marketing apparatus as it stands.
The interim CMO must therefore start his/her tenure with an intensive audit, conducted quickly, to help the interim CMO understand what campaigns are in play, which ones work the best, which ones need help, which ones have been discarded that might be worth another try.
The interim CMO also needs to take stock of the marketing team, understanding who fills what role and which segments of the team may have become siloed.
- Establish and/or Maintain Vision. More so than the nitty-gritty of execution, the role of the CMO is to establish and maintain a high-level vision of the marketing ecosystem, and to take responsibility for the team’s progress toward that vision.
An interim CMO is probably walking into a situation where that vision has already been established by the outgoing CMO. The interim CMO must quickly gain an understanding of that vision and come into alignment.
Alternatively, if the interim CMO assesses that vision to be lacking, (s)he may discuss a revamping of that vision. Senior management may be reluctant to execute a major course change on the recommendation of an interim director, but the interim CMO can certainly make the case.
- Brand Management. One of the high-level tasks that falls to the C-level is maintaining the company’s brand—that is, what people think of when they hear the organization’s brand name.
An interim CMO is responsible during his/her tenure for maintaining consistency in the brand messaging, aligning with the brand mission, vision, and future.
If the interim CMO finds the organization’s branding to be lacking or incomplete, (s)he may lead efforts to strengthen the branding and leave the organization better than (s)he found it, from a branding perspective at least.
- Market Research. CMOs usually lead market research. An interim CMO will need to continue and expand upon any market research efforts begun by the outgoing CMO.
Market research includes competitor analysis, customer feedback, and data analysis that can be used to craft better marketing messaging, as well as better offers. This can be obtained from customer surveys, vendor surveys, distributor surveys, and focus groups.
Once data from the research is gathered, the interim CMO is responsible for establishing the statistical analysis model to extract actionable insights from the data set.
- Marketing Communications. Marketing communications refers to the effectiveness with which the brand’s message reaches and resonates with the target audience. The interim CMO has high-level responsibility during his/her tenure for the quality and success of marketing communications.
This may involve taking a leadership role in the building and review of customer personas, refining the message, and establishing consistency of the messaging across all channels, as well as responding to feedback and making adjustments where needed.
- Product Management. A CMO usually has a high-level role in product management. A product manager is an interdisciplinary role that acts as the product’s ambassador to both the public and senior management. His/her role is to collect customer and stakeholder feedback and advocate for the product to make it as good as it can be.
Since public relations and market research are essential to this process, it falls under the leadership umbrella of the CMO.
- Best Practices. Marketing best practices never stay still. They are always moving forward. As old campaigns become exhausted, new technologies and evolving customer behaviors open up new doors for brands to get their message out to their target audience.
Organizations stuck in old marketing practices may find that they produce diminishing returns. CMOs must therefore stay abreast of movements in the marketing landscape and arm the team with best practices that work today.
- Team-Building and Training. A leader is responsible for the performance of his or her team. A CMO must therefore be proactive about team-building, making sure that the team communicates effectively, works together, and avoids turf disputes.
Ultimately (s)he must make sure that the entire team is moving in one direction towards the strategic vision, not pulling in different directions.
Since the CMO is responsible for making sure that the marketing team executes based on current best practices, (s)he is also ultimately responsible for making sure that the team is properly trained in those best practices.
- KPI Monitoring. The C-level is much less about soft skills and much more about hard numbers—setting quantifiable goals and then holding the team accountable for meeting them. This means identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) and setting targets for those KPIs.
KPIs relevant to marketing include web traffic, cost per lead acquisition, cost per customer acquisition, customer lifetime value, and marketing ROI. Others might include SEO-related metrics like page ranking, organic traffic, and bounce-back rate.
- Reports to the CEO and Directors. A CMO is responsible for the performance of the marketing team at the highest level—the CEO, the directors, and/or the owners or shareholders.
Being able to sit at that table and take that level of responsibility is a skillset unto itself, usually reserved for leaders at the highest levels. There’s a reason the CMO is part of the C-suite.
Interim CMO Frequently Asked Questions
How do you hire an interim CMO?
It isn’t always easy to find an interim C-suite executive, as most people with that skill set enjoy full-time employment with no time to spare for another organization. Possible sources of interim CMO talent include;
- Promote From Within. The VP of Marketing or another C-level executive may be able to fill the shoes of the CMO on an interim basis. If they do a good job, perhaps elevation to full-time CMO is appropriate.
- Executive Recruiters. Executive recruiters usually source talent for full-time positions, but an executive recruiter may be able to unearth a qualified CMO interested in a temporary or interim position.
- Third-Party Marketing Agencies. A more consistent solution is to approach a third-party marketing agency that offers “fractional CMO” services. There’s no long, frustrating search. A fractional CMO can be sourced quickly, hit the ground running, and fill the shoes of your outgoing CMO with little or no interruption.
What is a fractional CMO?
A fractional CMO is a qualified, C-level marketing expert or marketing director available for organizations to hire on a temporary—or “fractional”—basis. An organization may hire a fractional marketing leader for a contract ranging from six months to twelve months or longer.
The fractional marketing director usually works for a “fraction of the week”—10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, perhaps more—and may have contracts with more than one organization at a time.
The cost of a fractional marketing director is typically $200-$300 per hour—more than a full-time CMO adds up to hourly, but less expense overall considering the outsourced CMO will only bill the organization for the fraction of the workweek dedicated specifically to that organization.
For a company with a departing CMO and in need of an interim CMO, an outsourced marketing director could be the perfect solution. Hour for hour the compensation may be hired, but it isn’t a long-term commitment, and it also avoids costly interruptions. Marketing agencies that offer fractional CMO services can get a marketing leader into the vacant position quickly, with minimal interruption.
What skills does a CMO need?
First of all, what is a CMO? A CMO is not the same as a VP of Marketing, nor is (s)he a technician directly involved in the writing of copy, creation of ad creative, or interfacing with prospects and customers.
As a C-level executive, the CMO is a leader. When it comes to the marketing efforts of the organization, the buck stops with the CMO, and the CMO is responsible to the CEO, directors, and shareholders for the successes and failures of the marketing department.
Here are some of the skills that contribute to a leader being a great CMO.
- Strategic Planning and Vision. A CMO may have a broad understanding of how to execute marketing campaigns, but execution is not a part of the CMO’s day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, the CMO must set a vision for the marketing team and create a strategy for them to achieve that vision. Then they must put systems of accountability in place to ensure progress toward that vision.
- Strong Leadership Skills. As a C-level executive, the role of a CMO is to lead. This involves some of the soft people skills that it takes to motivate a team and encourage synergy. This soft leadership role, though, may fall to the VP of Marketing. The leadership role of the CMO is about setting standards and benchmarks, then holding the team accountable. They are the bad cop to the VP’s good cop.
- Excellent Verbal and Written Communication Skills. Responsible for both leading the marketing team and reporting to senior management, a CMO must be impeccable in writing as well as verbally. (S)he also requires these skills to evaluate brand messaging and marketing collateral.
- Understanding of Data Analytics. To set KPIs and hold the marketing team accountable for hitting KPI targets, a CMO must have a working knowledge of data analytics, including the tools best-suited to measure the established KPIs. Marketing teams often have large quantities of data to work with, but little idea of how to interpret it. A CMO’s expertise may be needed to make sense of the dataset and draw actionable insight from it.
- Adaptability. A CMO must be able to evolve in step with the discipline of marketing, discarding practices that no longer work and adopting practices that show potential. Within campaigns they must be able to react to feedback and changes in the data, as well as the willingness to pivot if a hypothesis is disproven by the numbers.
- Up-to-Date With Latest Marketing Best Practices. A CMO must continually audit the practices and processes being used by the marketing team. If a process becomes obsolete, the CMO must be willing to take the lead in phasing it out, replacing it with a new best practice. (S)he must similarly be immune to fads and evaluate each new marketing practice on its merits. The CMO must have the judgment to know when to try something new, and when to stick with the tried-and-true.
- Experience with Industry-Best Marketing Tools. A marketing campaign is only as good as the tools used to implement it. Especially in the realm of digital marketing, there is no shortage of software solutions purporting to be the “magic bullet” for successful marketing. An effective CMO has the experience and judgment to cut through the noise and select the marketing tools that will be most effective in helping the marketing team achieve its objectives.
- Experience Designing and Coordinating Marketing Campaigns. While the CMO role is largely a leadership position, even the best leadership skills in the world will fail a CMO if the executive is a complete marketing neophyte. In addition to C-level executive skills, a CMO should have a broad understanding of how to design and coordinate marketing campaigns. The CMO doesn’t do the grunt work day-to-day, but (s)he could do that grunt work if push came to shove.
Where does an interim CMO fall within a company’s hierarchy?
An interim CMO may be a temporary solution, but (s)he is still a C-level executive and sits at the same position within the company hierarchy as a full-time CMO would.
In a typical corporate structure, the owners and shareholders sit at the top. The next tier down is a board of directors, elected by the ownership. Some directors may be internal—for example, the CEO and other members of the upper management could be on the board—while other directors may be external, nowhere else on the org chart.
Below the directors is the top level of the C-suite—the CEO. There may be a President below the CEO.
From there, org charts can become complicated and varied. The rest of the C-suite, including the CMO, may sit right below the CEO, above vice presidents and middle management. In this kind of “pyramid structure,” the VP of Marketing may directly report to the CFP, who reports directly to the CEO.
Alternatively, the C-suite might sit parallel with middle management and front-line management. Usually, the larger the organization, the more complex the organization chart becomes by necessity.
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