Consulting Due Diligence Success Stories Book Newsletter Blog About Schedule Consult

How to Hire Marketing Leaders for PE-Backed Companies

Whether you’re filling gaps in the current marketing strategy, growing the marketing function, or restructuring the team to merge products, hiring new marketing leaders is a common step after an acquisition. 

Without the right leaders, Marketing won’t have the management and expertise it needs to scale demand generation, improve nurture, and support Sales. But finding marketing leaders that suit the company, its objectives, and your ideal roadmap can be a challenge.

The right marketing leaders will accelerate your growth; the wrong marketing leaders will keep you stagnating at status quo, or make rash decisions that could damage your brand. If you hire a CMO who isn’t a good fit for your business, the best-case scenario is several months of slow progress on your growth levers, money wasted on initiatives that go nowhere, and the expense and hassle of hiring a replacement within a year.

For PE firms, that kind of outcome is disastrous. With a limited time to grow the company’s revenue and deliver a return, you can’t afford this kind of setback. But what many people don’t realize is that PE-backed companies also have specific needs that are more complex to hire for. 

The ‘wrong marketing leader’ is often a great candidate—they’re just not the right pick for a PE-backed company. Some marketers who have had great success growing businesses in the long term won’t thrive in a business that needs a short turnaround.

In this article, we’ll show you how to hire marketing leaders who have the skills and attitude to collaborate with PE firms and help the business hit your targets.

You can also download our marketing leader job description template to adapt for your hiring process.

 

Why Hiring Marketing Leaders is Different For PE-backed Companies

Working with PE puts companies in a very particular situation, so you need to make sure the leaders of your portfolio companies are suited to that challenge. 

With ambitious targets to hit and a limited time scale to hit them, investor-backed organizations need leaders who are truly growth-focused. A marketer might thrive in a company that wants a reliable figure to keep the engine running, but flounder when a PE-backed company needs them to take risks, adapt in fast-moving situations and find creative solutions. 

Leaders working with PE portfolio companies for the first time will have to adapt to different objectives, strategies, relationships, and timescales than they may be used to. To cope with these differences, the following four characteristics should be top of your priority list when looking for marketing leaders:

  1. Excellent communication
  2. Data-driven
  3. Adaptability
  4. Coachability

 

Excellent communication

Communication is the single biggest skill a marketing leader can possess. Introducing a PE investor into the mix makes this even more important. As well as communicating with their team and with company management, they also need to balance the PE firm’s requests and objectives. 

A great marketing leader needs to be able to:

  • Communicate downLead their team, set goals and objectives, and bring people together. Particularly if the marketing team is now selling new product lines or adjusting after restructuring, your marketing leaders need to be adept at supporting their direct reports to reach their new goals.
  • Communicate outwardTalk to the market about the problem they're facing and how your product solves it. If your growth levers include capturing greenfield and whitespace opportunity or a pricing increase, these involve careful customer communication to be successful.
  • Communicate upWork closely with the people above them (the CEO, the board) and set expectations on marketing performance. The board needs to feel secure that they are getting a clear picture of Marketing’s initiatives and KPIs, but also that the marketing leader is confident in sharing their own expertise. 
  • Communicate inwardEducate the rest of the organization on Marketing's plan and how other functions are critical to that plan. Increasing alignment between Marketing and Sales, Product, and Support not only makes sure your customers are getting continuity; it also identifies major savings for your investment.

Data-driven

PE speaks the language of data; any marketing leader needs to be fluent in this language too. 

It isn’t enough to have a marketing leader with vague promises and gut instinctthey should be basing their strategy and decisions on accurate, relevant data on how their function is performing, their projected future performance, and how they will distribute your investment. 

Look for marketing leaders that have an analytical mind and can talk in specifics about how they moved the needle in previous roles. Ask them to talk about key metrics from their most recent role, including the close rate, pipeline conversion rates, and average sales cycle.  If they don’t have these numbers at their fingertips, they likely aren’t as data-focused as you need them to be.

Adaptability

If a marketing leader thinks they know what works and want to stick with it, this isn’t the right person for a PE-backed company. 

Being acquired is inevitably a time of major flux for any business. Your marketing leaders need to be open to exploring new strategies and channels to scale revenue, and they need to support their team in keeping up with these changes. 

Pick someone who can adapt quickly to new situations, so you don’t miss out on revenue opportunities while your leaders get up and running. 

Coachability

Many marketing professionals haven’t worked with PE before. Finding someone with this first-hand experience isn’t as important as having someone who is open to being coached. 

As well as getting investment to grow, one of the key benefits companies get from working with PE is having your team’s expertise and strategy. To make the most of this, the leaders need to be passionate about growing and learning, and be able to ask for help. 

Marketing needs to be upfront about what is working, and what isn’t, so you can cut off activities that are a waste of budget and reroute that money into areas of opportunity. If your marketing leaders are defensive and unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes, it will be an uphill struggle to get them to be responsive to your suggestions, and the business won’t unlock the full benefits of working with a PE firm. 

 

Which Marketing Leadership Role Do You Really Need?

Many businesses assume that ‘hiring a marketing leader’ means hiring a CMO. But a CMO isn’t always the right marketing leadership role you should be hiring for. 

There are four common marketing leadership roles to choose from that have different skill sets, levels of experience, and salary expectations: Director of Marketing, VP of Marketing, CMO, and CGO. Depending on the scale of the business and the gaps in the existing team’s skill set, the marketing team may need one of these leaders or a combination—e.g.a CGO and VP of Marketing working together.

The decision of which role (or roles) to hire for shouldn’t be a check-box exercise to fill out the marketing team with all the traditional roles. Hiring for the wrong role can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake. 

To determine which role offers the right type of support to deliver on the business’s short-term needs and long-term goals, ask these questions:

  • What do you have in the roadmap for this company that they need extra support with?
  • How will Marketing be supporting the investment thesis growth levers?
  • What is your key focus for Marketing for the next 12 months?
  • Where do you want the business to be in 3 years' time?  

Let’s say you need a marketing leader to handle the daily management and monitoring of the marketing team. If you hire a CMO, that person will be focused on high-level strategy and integration, and likely won’t have time to hold regular one-on-ones with junior team members or complete the hands-on reporting and analysis work themselves. You might have a great strategy, but without the right support to help your team implement it, you won’t get the revenue growth you would expect a new CMO to drive. At this stage, what you really need is a VP of Marketing. 

On the other hand, if what you need is someone to present for Marketing at board meetings and advise on new product lines, hiring a VP of Marketing isn’t going to cut it. They won’t be equipped to make these kinds of big-picture decisions, and won’t have experience working as part of the C-suite.

Let’s take a deeper dive into which role is the right fit and what to look for when you’re hiring.

 

Director of Marketing

A Director of Marketing is focused on implementing strategy and improving how the marketing department functions, rather than developing the strategy and building out the overall vision. 

You can expect a Director of Marketing to plan and coordinate marketing efforts, communicate the marketing plans to those involved, and ensure that everyone on the team is upholding brand standards. They will make sure that everything is completed on schedule, to budget, and to the right specifications.

If you need a marketing leader who will also be involved in implementation, a Director of Marketing will likely be the right choice. They might represent the brand at conferences, build reports to be shown at meetings, and write some key communications pieces. 

What to look for:

  • Bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, communications, or related field.
  • Highly competent in project and stakeholder management.
  • Proven marketing campaign experience.
  • Effective time management skills.
  • Strong copywriting and content creation skills.
  • Proven ability to manage budgets.
  • Excellent interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills.
  • Experience working with key technology in the marketing stack.
  • Problem-solving and content resolution skills.

 

VP of Marketing

A VP of Marketing will take more of a lead in building marketing plans as well as implementing them. The VP of Marketing may report directly to the CEO or report to the CMO or CGO, depending on the company structure. 

The VP of Marketing should monitor industry trends and make strategy suggestions relating to them, including conducting analysis and interpreting market data for short- and long-term market forecasts. They should prepare marketing budgets and allocate resources appropriately. A VP of Marketing will also set and monitor weekly and monthly targets to make sure Marketing delivers.

However, even though a VP of Marketing will look at a bigger picture of where the marketing department should be, you can still expect a VP to be actively involved with tracking Marketing progress, coaching junior members, and taking responsibility for the team hitting their targets. They will have oversight of all marketing campaigns and will make decisions on when and how they need to be adjusted to meet business objectives

A good VP of Marketing should build relationships with the leaders of Sales, Product, and Customer Success functions to make their initiatives a success, and in particular, should work closely with the sales department to align on metrics and objectives.

What to look for:

  • Bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, communications, or related field.
  • Master’s degree or MBA preferable.
  • Knowledge and practical experience with SEO, digital marketing tools, and related software.
  • Strong leadership skills, and the ability to make difficult decisions. Experience building, managing and coaching a high-performing marketing team
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal abilities.
  • Analytical, data and research skills.
  • Experience building and monitoring marketing plan performance.
  • Track record of identifying and planning differentiated and impactful marketing strategies.
  • Experience managing marketing budget and expenditures

 

CMO

The role of the CMO has transformed significantly over time. It’s shifted from a role focused on building brand awareness and vanity metrics to a revenue powerhouse responsible for generating qualified leads and directly impacting the bottom line. Today, the new CMO is responsible for more than ever before.  

There are 8 roles the modern CMO needs to play: 

  1. Revenue accountable
  2. Sales leader
  3. CX Designer
  4. Brand builder
  5. Pricing committee member
  6. Strategic growth driver
  7. Corporate development officer
  8. Financial steward

The CMO's strategic vision, understanding of customers, and advocacy for Marketing are critical additions for company-wide decisions. They represent Marketing at all tables and are responsible for ensuring that Marketing is at the center of revenue generation. 

If your growth levers include initiatives that could significantly impact the company’s brand—for example, capturing whitespace opportunities or introducing additional products—you’ll likely benefit from having a CMO. In this situation, a CMO can strategize how the brand will need to adapt and can be an advocate for the customer experience in key decisions. 

What to look for:

While experience is valuable in a CMO, it can be short-circuited. The real value to look for in a CMO is an understanding of the following:

  • Connecting business strategy to marketing strategy, understanding the full picture of the business and how Marketing fits into it.
  • Connecting Marketing to business results and expectations, so Marketing is working towards the same objectives as the business.
  • Leading the partnership with Sales to ensure alignment on the Go-To-Market plan.
  • Deep partnership with Product to drive growth from product initiatives.
  • Leveraging data and building a relationship with the CFO and finance team.
  • Driving the brand narrative forward with the CEO.
  • The leadership skills you need to lead other leaders, including directors, VPs, and managers, often in situations when those people aren’t their direct reports. 

 

CGO

The most natural career path for marketers is to move from a Director of Marketing to a VP or a CMO position. What’s less obvious is what comes next. Where do you go from CMO?

The logical path that progressive businesses are taking is to evolve CMOs into the Chief Growth Officer. Chief Growth Officers bring together Product, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success to work on the biggest growth levers of a business. 

You could argue that this is the role of the CEO, but as organizations grow (typically when they cross the $10M ARR mark), the CEO transitions their efforts to leading bigger picture items like vision, culture, M&A, investor relations. This leaves a gap in the organization. Who has responsibility for leading the overall growth strategy of the organization?

The answer to this question should be the CGO. 

A great CGO helps organizations to boost growth by having an executive-level member who has the clout and the focused responsibility to build collaboration and growth opportunities across sales, marketing, R&D, and other departments.

In some companies, the CGO displaces the role of CMO and works directly with a VP of Marketing instead. In other companies, the existing CMO and CSO roles stay in place and the CGO sits at the step above, acting as a bridge between these two function areas.

It’s important to note that a Chief Growth Officer is not the same as a Chief Revenue Officer. Generally, a CGO is the evolution of a CMO; a CRO is the evolution of a CSO. A Chief Growth Officer should drive revenue growth by collaborating across all functions—including (but not limited to) Sales. A CRO will often focus on how the other functions can support Sales to increase the revenue here.

What to look for:

A CGO needs to have a working knowledge and understanding of the value of Marketing, Sales and Product, so they can bring these functions into alignment. The Growth function requires a leader who understands Data, UX, Engineering, Product and Strategy on top of Marketing and Sales.

As a result, most effective CGOs have significant CMO experience. CMOs are better positioned to execute on the role of the Chief Growth Officer than any other role (for example, former CSOs or CFOs) because they are already connected to the market, customers, product, sales and customer success. 

A great CGO candidate will think about strategy at the highest level across functions and bring people in the organization together to execute. They are capable of developing longer-term visions and to challenge the status quo in the organization. A CGO should come with the confidence and experience to make informed and innovative plans to achieve exceptional revenue growth.

 

Why You Shouldn’t be Looking For a CRO to Lead Marketing 

We haven’t included a CRO in this list of marketing leaders, and there’s a good reason why. A CRO shouldn’t be thought of as a marketing leader. In fact, Marketing reporting to the CRO is one of the worst ideas generated inside the hierarchy of so many organizations.

The thinking here is that by having Marketing report to the CRO, you have one unified revenue organization. But, in reality, because the CRO is usually a sales leader, they often default to sales thinking when it comes to critical marketing decisions. 

This is not a recipe for Marketing success. Given the choice between hiring another sales rep or increasing the marketing budget, a sales-leaning CRO is likely to invest in another sales rep, without necessarily digging into whether the marketing budget is the right call instead. In sales-driven models, marketing is often viewed as an expense rather than a source of revenue, which means it doesn’t get the investment it needs to grow. 

That's not to say there aren't a few rockstar CROs out there who can lead both, but they are in the minority. Without a direct link to the CEO or CGO, Marketing won’t have a seat at the table and the organization will continue to be sales-led. With customers now interacting with sales far later in the buyer journey, only looking at Marketing as a sales-support function is a costly mistake.

 

If you’re ready to get started hiring your new marketing leader, feel free to download our marketing leader job description template you can customize to suit your company. 

 

Subscribe to SaaS Marketing Simplified!

Get bite-sized insights on SaaS marketing, growth and strategy in your inbox a few times a week.

Close

Schedule a consult

Tell us more about you and your SaaS company.