First published on StartIsrael.co.il, in March 2016.
As the founder of a startup, you may feel the pressure from colleagues or even from yourself to hire a CMO as soon as possible. After all, marketing will be the key to your product’s success, so what’s the harm in hiring a CMO right out of the gate?
The reality is that there are quite a few reasons why you may want to hold off on bringing a CMO onto the team. Your product may not be ready, or your company might have other, more pressing personal needs. You may not have the funding to hire a CMO or you might even have someone already on board that is doing an exceptional job as it is.
For these and other reasons, you might just do yourself a favor by foregoing having a CMO. Let’s investigate each in more depth.
You’re Still in the Very Early Stages of Product Development
A marketer, however qualified, needs a solid product to deliver results. If you are still a few months away from launching your product, hiring a CMO can be one of those things you can put off until a later time. After all, there are other areas on which to focus, and other expenses you can direct your money towards.
Even if you have the money to hire a CMO, it still might not be a good time to do it. A full-time hire at this point of your startup can result in a talented, capable CMO just sitting around waiting for the development team to deliver results. In this situation, your CMO’s frustration is bound to surface, and this is the kind of highly contagious, negative energy that you don’t want in your startup. Another issue is that your CMO might get bored and start looking for a more exciting place to work. So the outcome of hiring prematurely can result in losing a talented person who probably won’t work with you again.
The Company Has Other Needs, Like Out-of-the-Box Hires
Sometimes, the best marketing action you can take is not to hire a CMO. Your startup might have other needs that, if fulfilled, can help your company grow much more than a CMO ever could.
For instance, many times, the financial burden a CMO has on the company could be used to hire another programmer who can work on a complimentary, free product that can make your marketing efforts a lot easier. Back when I managed the marketing for IM Creator, we developed a free product called IM Free, which is a free images resource for designers. It got a lot of traction and helped us raise awareness of our brand without spending a dime.
Takipi also did a similar thing by creating an events calendar for JAVA developers. And Tonara hired a CMO, but for them, it meant a Chief Music Officer. They felt like an expert in their niche could do far more good than a marketing expert could.
The great thing about out-of-the-box hires like these is that they also make a good story many websites would be interested in covering, so you could get some great press while you’re at it. In short, you don’t need a CMO to come up with good ideas. Just spend some time thinking about solutions you can easily create for your target audience and give it away to them for free.
You Have the Right Team, So You Actually Have Time to Handle the Marketing Yourself
Usually, your first hires won’t be related to marketing or growth, but on product development. It makes more sense to do it this way, so you actually have a product to promote once you’re in the marketing stage. If you have done a good job hiring your small team, you might be able to give up your role in programming the product yourself and take some time to start marketing the product instead.
There are many benefits of a CEO who’s in charge of the marketing for their company. Just look at what Alex Turnbull did with his company’s blog. Tasks that are usually completed by the CMO like competitive research and audience research can have a much deeper effect on the company and product if done by the founder because of the intimate knowledge they have about these aspects of the business.
But, when a new CMO who is taking their first steps in your industry goes about these tasks, they can miss important details that you would have given much more consideration, simply because there’s tons of new information out there. A new CMO may only focus on a small part of that information and not see the full picture in the way you do. As a result, a CMO might not be able to translate the information they find into product decisions.
If you feel you need to brush up on your marketing skills, there are dedicated blogs that provide great information for founders about marketing. Try out marketingforfounders.com and the more updated nocmo.com.
You Don’t Have Enough Money (Or You Aren’t Sure If You Do)
The simplest reason for not hiring a CMO is money. You might not have raised your seed round yet and are still working on a bootstrapped budget from your own savings. Even if you did raise your first few hundreds of thousands of dollars, you might not have enough to hire a CMO as there are more immediate and urgent expenses or hires you need to get to.
One of the most crucial aspects of a startup in its early days is planning its monthly, quarterly, and yearly spending. Don’t hurry to hire a CMO if it’s not yet crucial – there are plenty of marketing activities you can do yourself.
You Need a Salesperson More
The skills of a CMO and an amazing salesperson are quite different. While a CMO has (or should have) the managerial skills, the ability to oversee the marketing process, and the ability to see the whole picture, a good salesperson can make all the difference between failure and success for some startups.
Most of the CMO’s I know possess a unique combination of a creative and analytical mind. But that doesn’t mean they are persuasive in person or on the phone and can push your company into the smallest crack like a good salesperson can. If your target audience is large enterprises that have longer sales cycles that require numerous meetings with several people until you actually reach the decision maker, an amazing salesperson can be a better fit than a CMO. Down the line, after the salesperson has done their job well, you can decide if they have the skillset to be the CMO or if you should hire a new one.
Your Role Description is Too Fluid
So, you think that it’s time to hire a marketing person, but you’re not quite sure which one, let alone what skills they should have. But casting too wide a net is one of the biggest no-no’s of marketing, but also of hiring people. Are you in need of someone that knows more strategy, with a “full-stack” marketing experience that can create a marketing plan and later implement it? Is it important that the candidate has a managerial background? Or are you really looking for someone who will run PPC campaigns full-time? Hiring a CMO without understanding what your company really needs may lead to a mismatch of personnel, loads of frustration, and unexpected costs.
You Found the Perfect Service Provider or Junior Marketer
Many startups, especially ones with zero knowledge about marketing, find themselves in a hurry to hire a CMO. But hiring is tough, and, many times, especially in early startup stages and with new founders, wrong personnel decisions can be made.
But, if you’ve found a service provider who does the job well, it might be a good idea to avoid change and keep going with what’s working. No one said your CMO has to have an advanced degree in marketing from a top university. If the guy you hired online is doing a great job, why not keep him?
And, the fact is that in many cases, a junior marketer that is eager to learn and can follow instructions can be more than enough to take on the job of marketing. Another option is to hire a marketer with a specific area of expertise. For example, if you want to target content marketing, hire a content marketing specialist. Or, if you want to explore an area in which you don’t feel capable, like PPC, hire a PPC expert to take on that task.
Before hiring a CMO, spend some time getting to know the world of online marketing. It’s a huge industry, and there are many channels a new startup can use to facilitate growth. By learning the basics and becoming familiar with all the different marketing channels you have available to you, you will be able to make the right decision regarding when it’s time to hire a CMO.