An Interim CMO is a fixer. If your business is going through a growth transition or you need to trade up your marketing leader, consider hiring an Interim CMO while you search for your next full-time head of marketing.

It takes six to nine months to hire the “right” Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). That can be a long time for your marketing team to be leaderless. This vacuum causes marketing programs to stall and morale to fall. To mitigate these risks, you may want to consider hiring an Interim CMO.

The CMO position is a highly strategic asset to your business. Because of this, the hiring process can and should take time. If you are looking to hire your first CMO, or if your prior CMO left for greener pastures, or perhaps you want someone new, the path to finding your next CMO should be considered carefully. There are many types of CMO candidates with an array of training and experience. But finding the one that will help you achieve your business goals can be tricky.

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For the past six years I’ve been guiding B2B companies poised to grow from $50M – $100+M in annual recurring revenue (ARR) as their Interim CMO. Here’s how the role is defined and what you should expect for an interim marketing leader.

Why hire an Interim CMO?

There are three reasons to hire an Interim CMO.

  • You need a marketing leader now! Let’s assume it will take you six months to hire your next CMO. It is very risky to have your marketing team sit idle without a leader for that long. You may be thinking that your Chief Revenue Officer, or Chief Operations Officer, can fill in as your CMO. It’s possible, but I don’t recommend it because your CRO and COO have other priorities and are not (usually) skilled marketing strategists or demand gen experts. What about promoting from within the marketing organization? If you have qualified candidates internally, then promoting one into an active CMO role could be appropriate. But if major changes are needed in your marketing organization, this can be a tough assignment for a first-time CMO. This is a critical time for your marketing team. Whatever you decide to do, you need a seasoned pro who can parachute in, tighten up the marketing ship, and tune the marketing organization so it attracts the type of CMO your business needs and deserves. As I mentioned earlier, there are many CMO archetypes. The Interim CMO is a specific niche of marketing leaders who are skilled in guiding businesses and marketing teams through exactly this type of transition.
  • Your Interim CMO will drive quick results. As an experienced executive leader, my approach to the Interim CMO role is to be the sprinter: assess the team, craft a 90-day plan, and forge immediate improvements. As the CEO, you already have a good sense of what is broken but you may not know how to fix it. Your Interim CMO is a fixer.
  • The interim CMO can be the “bad guy” and make any necessary, unpopular organization changes. Let’s say your marketing organization has not been functioning to your expectations. Marketing’s failure to drive leads and pipeline growth might be due to poor processes, bad organizational design, poor leadership, or a combination of these. An interim CMO has the skills to jump in and quickly assess the situation. They can also be the “bad guy” on organizational redesign and staffing. They will conduct an unbiased assessment and provide specific recommendations on processes, internal relationships, and staffing. Let your Interim CMO be the “bad guy” so your next new full-time CMO can play the hero.

How long is a typical “Interim CMO” engagement?

A typical assignment is three to four months. If a new permanent CMO is found earlier, then the contract can conclude earlier. If the hiring process takes longer, the engagement can be extended. It’s very flexible.

What are the objectives of the Interim CMO?

The primary objective of the Interim CMO is to tune the marketing organization to attract the right, best CMO candidates. A good Interim CMO will provide you with the time to find the right, best candidate, while strengthening the marketing foundation for growth and continued success. They will work closely with your leadership team and your recruiting agency.

But this is not enough to make an investment in this interim position worthwhile. Your Interim CMO should be held accountable to achieve three supporting operational objectives. Three objectives (and only three) provide focus. Success in the short term is all about adhering to your top priorities. These three objectives will be different for every company. This is where the real work gets done. In my most recent assignment, these were my operational objectives:

  • Stop all “marketing popcorn” and coach the marketing team to improve productivity immediately;
  • Build a 6-month marketing plan, complete a product-launch calendar, properly structured Integrated Marketing Campaigns with detailed go-to-market blueprints, and a line-itemed budget; and
  • Restructure the marketing department, clarify roles & responsibilities, and document OKRs (objectives, key responsibilities, and results) for the entire marketing team.

What is the difference between an Integrated Marketing “Campaign” (big C) versus a “campaign” (little c)?

What can CEOs expect from an Interim CMO?

CEOs should expect a lot from any Interim CMO:

  • a go-getter with a proven track record of Interim CMO assignments;
  • a marketing strategist who knows how to execute Integrated Marketing Campaigns and lead gen programs;
  • a marketing leader who is a straight-shooter and who doesn’t play games; 
  • a collaborative partner for the CEO, CRO, and CFO; and
  • a coach and advocate capable of restructuring the marketing department while motivating the team with clear goals and objectives.
Your Interim CMO will be required to make some tough recommendations. Even so, for me, my biggest success comes not from firing marketers, but from “firing them up!” When marketers have failed to perform, it is usually a sign of poor marketing leadership, following improper Integrated Marketing Campaign design, or maybe they are just in the wrong role. These can be easily fixed by reinforcing go-to-market priorities with directional clarity. It’s all about focus. I invite marketers to step up their game in order to drive meaningful improvements to the marketing and sales pipeline. This helps them not only in their current role, but in their career. A little bit of active, real-time coaching can go a long way.
Success comes not from firing marketers, but from “firing them up!” 

How do Interim CMOs transition out?

You can imagine that during a four-month engagement, a lot of knowledge has been gained and the team is responding well to your Interim CMO. Transitioning this knowledge and recent success is the final step of the process. This is why I stay engaged for another 30 days after the permanent CMO is hired. I work behind the scenes to bring the new CMO up to speed. We go over all the details of the new go-to-market plans, Campaigns, budget, and organization structure. This makes it easy to pass the baton. Instead of their needing three months to perform their own assessment as they look in the rear-view mirror, they can now focus on the future with full confidence.

You win because you have now found the perfect CMO. Your marketing team wins because now they are poised for greater success. And your new CMO wins because they inherit a much-improved marketing foundation that they can build upon.

About the author

Mike Gospe is a skilled marketing strategist acting as an Interim CMO helping B2B technology companies grow from $50M ARR to $100M ARR. He brings 37 years of marketing expertise and leadership experience across demand gen, product marketing, and brand disciplines. As an Interim CMO, Mike designs and delivers a 90-day plan tailored to address specific marketing needs, cut “marketing popcorn” (random acts of marketing), and improve efficiencies, all while guiding the executive team to hire the right CMO. Mike is the cofounder of KickStart Alliance, a marketing leadership consulting team.

What makes Mike unique is his lengthy experience as a customer advocate. He coaches marketers to be more empathetic with their customers so they can forge tighter relationships with them. As a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) & Partner Advisory Board (PAB) strategist with more than 20 years of experience and 200+ advisory board meetings under his belt, he’s worked with hundreds of C-suite executives to understand what drives their business, what’s changing, and how B2B companies can provide increased value. His CAB Resource Center, a website sharing a variety CAB strategies and best practices, has become a trusted resource for CAB managers and executive sponsors around the world.

For more information and best practices for working with your CMO  and marketing team, please contact Mike Gospe.