April 26, 2024

The 6 Dimensions of a Fortune 500 CMO

If you’re a B2B CMO stuck in limbo at the moment—you’re not alone. We’re in a seller’s market for executive talent, and the round peg, round hole expectations of companies looking for their next marketing chief are exceptionally limiting.  

Richard Sanderson of Spencer Stuart brings a glimmer of hope, suggesting a brighter outlook for 2024. In this episode, he shares his expert perspective on the trials and triumphs facing today’s marketing leaders. Tune in as we explore what’s going on with the CMO role right now, the 6 dimensions that capture recruiter’s attention, and effective strategies to showcasing these qualities on LinkedIn. Plus tips on interview prep, 100-day plans, and what mediums to search through.  

Recorded during a CMO Huddles Transition Team Huddle, this episode is more than just a conversation—it’s a part of a supportive community aimed at empowering CMOs through networking, resume and cover letter reviews, and shared experiences. If you’re a B2B CMO in transition, check it out.  

What You’ll Learn 

  • What the CMO job market looks like in 2024 
  • How to stand out to recruiters  
  • How to prepare for the interview process 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 394 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [4:05] The state of the executive job market  
  • [8:58] CMO role eliminations, evolutions, creations
  • [11:40] CMO+ is an internal move
  • [14:38] Stand out to recruiters on LinkedIn
  • [19:40] The round peg, round hole dilemma
  • [22:07] The 6 dimensions of the Fortune 500 CMO?
  • [24:11] How to get LinkedIn right
  • [27:39] From $100M to $500M: Scale vs. Scope
  • [29:22] Preparing for interviews
  • [35:46] Preparing 100-day plans, 30/60/90s, etc.
  • [38:25] Recruiters, executive search firms, solo hunting?
  • [41:16] Brand vs. demand CMOs
  • [44:34] CMO to CRO?
  • [45:48] Motivating advice for CMOs in transition  

Highlighted Quotes  

  • “We are predicting a flat year: Not a year of growth, but none of the declines we saw in 2023. Overall, I would say we are feeling mildly positive about 2024, but the worst seems to be behind us.” —Richard Sanderson
  • “For every company I’ve seen eliminate a role, I’m seeing others actually create it or upgrade the role. There is, however, a lot of role evolution going on.” —Richard Sanderson
  • “You’re not going to get the job because of LinkedIn alone. What you want to get is the call or the email or the LinkedIn message where people want to find out more about you.” —Richard Sanderson
  • “There are certain things people should be doing on either their resume or LinkedIn; I get very frustrated when I don’t see them doing it. One: I want to see quantitative examples of your impact and outcomes.” —Richard Sanderson

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Richard Sanderson


Narrator:Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade, Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. In this episode, you get to eavesdrop on my conversation with Richard Sanderson of Spencer Stuart. Richard leads the marketing practice at this renowned recruiting firm and kindly joined one of our monthly Huddles that support CMOs in transition, as the over 170 members of the CMO Huddles transition team know, it’s a tough market right now. In our conversation, Richard not only covers what it takes to secure a new role today, but also what CMOs in their current roles can do to set themselves up for their next opportunity. So let’s dive in. 

It is my absolute pleasure to welcome you to this very special Transition Team Huddle. Today, we have a distinguished guest, Richard Sanderson from Spencer Stuart. Richard is at the forefront of marketing, sales, and communications officers practice in North America, plays a pivotal role in Spencer Stuart’s consumer practice as well. Based in Chicago, he has a remarkable track record in recruiting top-tier global marketing, digital growth, and customer experience leaders across various industries and sectors. Beyond this, Richard’s expertise extends to advising on succession planning, leadership search and assessment, particularly in consumer durables, appliances, and electronics. In this crazy job market, we hope Richard’s insights can be a guiding light for many of you seeking new opportunities. We recognize how difficult it is out there. As we delve into these strategies, perspectives, and advice, we hope that it will help you navigate and succeed in this highly competitive landscape. So Richard, with that, welcome. How are you? And where are you?

Richard: Thank you, Drew, I’m really well. I’m at home in Chicago. My dog is outside the door.

Drew: There you go. Well, we hope that your dog will make an appearance because it really isn’t a Huddle without a dog showing up somewhere. And you obviously do not sound like you’re a native Chicagoan. So perhaps you want to just explain the funky accent.

Richard: Well, believe it or not, Chicago has been my home for over 20 years. And I was in Boston for three years before that. So I have lived nearly the entirety of my adult life in the United States. But I have not picked up a Chicago accent just yet, by the sounds of it. I was born and grew up in a city called Southampton, that’s on the south coast of England. I went to school there. When I graduated, I started working for a firm I had never heard of, it was called Russell Reynolds Associates. It is another executive search firm. I was with them for a few years, they offered me a transfer in 2000. I remember I had the choice of either New York, Hong Kong or Boston. For reasons that I really don’t remember, I picked Boston. Hong Kong, perhaps, would have been more fun. This is the life I’ve led. I was briefly in management consulting for a while for a company called Booz Allen Hamilton at the time. That company has since split up, and the consulting division of which I was part is now, I believe, owned by PwC. And then I returned to executive search, my second go-round in 2010. I actually rejoined Russell Reynolds in 2010. And then just switched team jerseys and came over to Spencer Stuart in 2018, where I have been for the last almost six years now. 

Drew: That’s quite a journey. And we welcome the fact that I don’t hear Chicagoan, it’s okay, it’s okay by me. Let’s set the stage here for this conversation. How bad is it in B2B land right now for CMO candidates?

Richard: So I’m going to pause this question a little bit because there’s obviously an assumption built in here on two levels, one that is bad. And secondly, that somehow it’s specific to B2B. So I’m just going to take a step back and just lay out the landscape as I see it. And remember, the lens through which I look at this is through an executive search firm. And so the work that we do is, look, it’s focused, typically on the higher end of the market, it’s CEO, C-suite, you know, C-suite minus one in some instances. So I’m going to give you that lens because that’s important because actually what’s happened at the top end of the market is a little bit different from what’s been happening in other ends of the market. I feel the starting point for most things these days is the pandemic. So, three and a half years, look, as we all know, there was this sort of immediate pandemic aftermath where people didn’t know which way the world was going. But in the summer of 2020, it was pretty clear there was a radical shift in, for example, consumer purchase trends, people were staying home. And you know, we saw a start to be of a big comeback after the pandemic. And in hindsight, what’s happened is, you know, 2021 and 2022 have been years of significant hiring, arguably, over-hiring, in my opinion, and 2023 has been more of a reversion to the mean. So what do I mean by that? Well, for the first time in 2023, we have seen some large companies go on either hiring freezes or significant reductions in force. Most obviously, if you look at the West Coast, technology companies, I think, most famously, Mark Zuckerberg went on record and called 2023 the year of efficiency. Well, we all know what that means. And Facebook has gone on to lay off, I believe, somewhere around 25% of their headcount in 2023. And just this morning, the headline on the Wall Street Journal is, it’s not over yet. Spotify is laying off 17% of the company today. That’s why I’m saying I think 2021 and 2022 was over-hiring. And my evidence for that is, well, just look at the results of the publicly traded executive search firms. So we look at Korn Ferry and Heidrick and Struggles, those are the two major publicly traded executive search firms, and they had blowout years. And as Spencer Stuart is a privately held partnership, we don’t publish our numbers, but I’ll tell you, 2021 and 2022, were off the charts record years. 2023, on the other hand, is going to be a significant down year, the public companies have already announced their results. If you look at Heidrick and Korn, approximately, they’re down 10% over last year, we are down as well. It’s not as much, I believe I hear Russell Reynolds is down as well. So clearly, 2023 is a pullback from where we have been. 

I will go even further and say that the headline data and storyline that you’re telling is a little bit deceptive. If you were to purely listen or read the stats coming out of the Department of Labor, what you are seeing is a generational low in unemployment. Anyone who wants a job has a job. That is true if you want an hourly job, if you want a $15 an hour or $20 an hour job, there are more of those to go around than there are people to fill them. We have seen a significant drawback in the senior end of the market, it has been a difficult year, I would say calendar Q1 of this year was about as slow as I have seen it in a long time, particularly in the world in which I inhabit, in the world, which we all inhabit here, in marketing, it was a really slow Q1. Conversations with our clients started picking up around May. And I’m feeling much more positive coming off the back end of the summer and going into the fall. And now the close of the Q4, I’m seeing much more momentum in the market now compared to this time last year, where it was clear to me we were going into a slowdown. Part of that was macroeconomic, it was driven by we saw the rise of interest rates, interest rates started peaking around 5%. A lot of uncertainty around what that meant for budgeting, for investment, for headcount. This time now, a year later, I think there’s a lot more certainty around the macroeconomic environment. I don’t think we’re going to go into a recession, I’m seeing a lot just in the way that our clients are speaking, I am seeing a lot more confidence in the market now than this time last year. So I am feeling optimistic that 2024, I would say we are at Spencer Stewart predicting, essentially a flat year. So it’s not really going to be a year of growth, but nor are we going to see the declines we’ve seen in 2023. So overall, I would say we are feeling mildly positive, about 2024. But the worst seems to be behind us.

Drew: So I want to stop you for a second because I think you’re operating up here with companies that are not eliminating the role. And what we’ve seen in tech land is that a lot of CMO roles were just wiped out. So even if the large companies that you’re placing are hanging on, and I’m just wondering, did you see any of that in your search is where they simply eliminated that?

Richard: So yeah, so let’s talk I guess at a more micro level about what’s happening to specific roles. So there are role eliminations, there are role evolutions, and there are occasionally CMO role creations. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, it goes full circle, Drew. I am now frankly a bit of a cynic about centralization versus decentralization versus hybrid org structures and what that means along the way. Companies go back and forth on this pendulum of centralization, decentralization and I hate to say it but there’s a lot of collateral damage along the way with roles being eliminated, people being separated. And, you know, I’ve heard enough of these conversations. The role may be centralized because they’re trying to drive efficiency, effectiveness, drive scale out of spending or investments. Five years later, you find out oh no, we need to drive decision making down to autonomous business unit levels and drive accountability at the P&L level, honestly, you hear it all. And so I’m a little bit of a cynic about, oh, woe is me, the CMO role is over, I just don’t buy it. For every company I’ve seen eliminate a role, I’m seeing others actually create it or upgrade the role. There is a lot of role evolution going on. And that is something we should talk about. In various industries, we are seeing an evolution towards a Chief Commercial Officer, or Chief Growth Officer, or Chief Customer Officer. And there are almost endless permutations and combinations of roles. And in some instances, that can be very good news for the Chief Marketing Officer. And in other instances, it may not. I mean, here’s a stat and it may shock you. I mean, we track the Fortune 500 very closely, something like 27% of the Fortune 500 companies don’t even have an enterprise level Chief Marketing Officer, the role just does not even exist in at least 25% of the Fortune 500. Now, to be clear, that is not saying that marketing doesn’t exist, or the discipline or the set of capabilities around marketing doesn’t exist. It’s simply to say it doesn’t exist in an enterprise level, Chief Marketing Officer role. Marketing may exist at business unit level, regional level, geographic level, some other go-to-market channel level. It just simply means there isn’t a chief marketing, a centralized, overarching CMO role. And so when we hear about CMO eliminations Drew, what gets the headlines of the elimination of these enterprise level roles, it doesn’t mean that somehow marketing has been degraded or isn’t important. It simply manifests itself in different ways. Or there is an evolution towards another type of role.

Drew: Let’s talk about the evolution because I mean, what we need to do here in this conversation is help these folks figure out how they can market themselves in order to set themselves up for the next best opportunity. That’s what this conversation needs, that we need to get to. And so the macro situation be damned, these folks are ready to do what they need to do to get the next position. And so one direction is this evolving role and being aware of that and what that means. So let’s talk about if you were a CMO in transition at this second, would you be thinking about, well, at some point in my career, I also did internal comms, and I also did this other thing, or I started my career in sales, or should you be thinking about this notion of CMO plus? And if so, what pluses are seeming to be attractive to the folks that you’re placing?

Richard: Yeah, it’s a good question. So the CMO plus roles, they can be plus to your point to all sorts of things, sometimes they just throw in communications, that’s frequently been a part of the role. Although increasingly I have seen a segmentation between heads of marketing and heads of communications, as the communications roles become a lot more complex, particularly it feels like in this much more politicized world that we live in right now. Commonly, plus can include aspects of experience with customer experience, user experience, digital experience that’s considered there. Most often when I see the role now, it’s some inclusion of commercial sales responsibilities. And that’s most often this quote unquote CMO plus role, Chief Customer Officer role, Chief Client Officer role. The honest truth is, though, when we’ve looked at this, and who gets these roles, in most cases, it’s actually internal promotions. There’s actually not that much direct, external hiring going on into these CMO plus roles. I remember, for example, I realized the audience day is a little bit more B2B focused, I think, but we had specifically looked closely at retail, where the Chief Customer Officer role has now become very common, and at least half of retailers at scale, they have moved to achieve a somewhat opposite structure. In the overwhelming majority of cases, those people in that CMO plus role, Drew, were internal promotions into the role. Many of them did come up the marketing path, some came up the GM of E-commerce path, some came up merchandising, for example. But overwhelmingly, I think there’s a feeling that if a CEO or a Chief HR officer is going to sign off on this, this sort of needs to be a trusted entity or known commodity in the role. And we’re more likely to see an internal promotion rather than an external hire into the CMO plus roles.

Drew: And that makes sense. And I’ve seen that in the Huddles community, there are several folks that have a plus but it was all, they were the CMO and then they got general manager of a division or they got Customer Experience or CSR, whatever it was, it was just—there was a gap in the leadership in the CMO window. So that makes sense. All right, let’s go back to this notion then of it’s a competitive market, there aren’t as many openings. This is hard to generalize and maybe I could start with when I look at CMO profiles on LinkedIn, I see a lot of similarities. In fact, it’s really hard to distinguish and I imagine it’s even harder for you to distinguish between one CMO and another, it’s like develop brand, do demand, you know, leader, ability to growth, drive revenue, all those things are the key words that they know they need to put, and they put them in there. So how does a CMO, you know someone in transition differentiate themselves in order to say, get your attention and or get hired by one of these folks right now?

Richard: Yeah, so it’s a good question. So LinkedIn, to me is actually a very helpful discovery tool to find people. But someone’s LinkedIn profile alone is not going to tell me whether they should be hired or not. I think understanding how LinkedIn is being used, number one is really important. Whatever executive search firms may tell you, the reality is we all use LinkedIn, we all have these sort of recruiter seats, I think they cost 5000 bucks a time. All our researchers have them. Yes, we all have our databases. But the reality is LinkedIn is pretty darn good. And essentially, people uploading real time, their resume or their experience, and typically is more accurate than our own databases. So the reality is LinkedIn is very important. And how you position yourself on LinkedIn is important. 

Now this topic of positioning yourself is maybe a separate question, which I’ll just put off to the side, because I’ll get back to it. I think what you’re actually asking me is really around, what are the capabilities, the experiences, or the situational examples that someone needs to illustrate on LinkedIn to be relevant to someone like me, for example, or to make themselves more relevant to hiring companies? So I think there’s a few frames, I would put around that when I think about when I’m looking at LinkedIn, or when I’m looking at people, what I’m what I’m looking for, around those areas. I mean, first of all, there’s three things that I think matter most, there’s capability experiences, there’s your marketing skill sets. And then there’s what I call situational experiences. So from a capability perspective, when we write job descriptions, and many of you may have seen that, I mean, a lot of the focus is around capabilities, and trying to line up what our client is looking for between what a candidate offers in terms of capabilities. Some of it may go unspoken, but it is part of our assessment when we look at profiles and when we look at LinkedIn. I mean, fundamentally, there’s probably six key things we look at, from a capability perspective, people’s profile on LinkedIn can do a good job of demonstrating sometimes not. In some of the capabilities that we look at and we actually have a capability framework at Spencer Stuart against which we assess people specifically. So we’re looking for number one, can this person drive results? Number two, does this person demonstrate evidence of acting strategically? Number three, can they lead change? Number four, can they lead people? Number five, can they build talent? And number six, can they collaborate and influence? Clearly, LinkedIn isn’t gonna get you all the way there in terms of determining someone’s capability set, where LinkedIn does, perhaps a better job is I think people can talk about their skills or their experiences there. So broadly speaking , I think of marketing, so the three legs to the marketing story, there are brand, product, and channel experience. So brand, think of this as you know, upper funnel type of work brand strategy, research and insights, media advertising, marketing, communications, think of product is r&d, portfolio management, product planning, content messaging, etc. And then the channel bit which is, you know, what experience do you have on the go to market strategy, side demand generation, ecommerce, lead gen, all that kind of stuff. People can do a reasonably good job talking about their experiences there. The bit that LinkedIn doesn’t do a great job often, which actually matters to us quite a bit is also just what situations they have been in. So what do I mean by that, for example, many of the mandates that we have for private equity firms, they would nearly always like someone who’s worked in a private equity operating environment before. Now, why do they want that? I mean, if I was paid $1, every time I heard one of my private equity clients say to me, oh, I want someone who’s scrappy, scrappy seems to be the word of the year in 2023. I mean, there are just things that LinkedIn can’t obviously get out that you have to look at. But what I’m getting at here is public versus private, large company versus small company. This is purely a function of who you have worked for, and not necessarily of yourself. And so the point I’m trying to get at here is there are some individual skills you can have, but also some sort of idiosyncratic ones as well, or some institutional versus individual is probably a better way of putting it based on who you work for, rather than who you are. That’s a bit of a long winded answer, Drew, but I think of those three dimensions around capability, experience and situation and how do you use LinkedIn to demonstrate some of that, and how do we look at it.

Drew: One of the things that I’ve been talking about, you and I talked about this briefly, is I call it round peg round hole times four that we’ve seen is, yes, they want one of those circles is PE backed or investment structure, another is the vertical, another is the size, and even location, whereas a year ago, that didn’t matter. It seems like tie is going to the local. And I actually encourage the CMOs listening in is to think of that as their ABM strategy, right, to identify 25 companies that you match all four of those things, and put those folks right firmly in your target. I don’t think I made that up. I think that’s what’s happening is that whereas you might be able to get into a job two years ago, completely different industry. It’s not happening as much right now, in terms of buying and placement. Is that a fair assessment?

Richard: Yes, it is. And here’s why we have switched from a seller’s market of talent to a buyer’s market for talent this year, the power equation has completely flipped in 12 months. Yeah, I mean, location, relocation is the single biggest challenge right now in our work. People being hired two years ago, there was frequently some discussion about hybrid working almost being completely remote. It’s fair to say most of our clients now are looking to hire someone who will be in the head office, most of the time. And that does, in many instances, imply relocation. And that is difficult for many people on both a personal level. I mean, particularly they got most often kids in high school. But the added wrinkle now it’s just becoming a financial level. If you’re asking people to step away from their 3% mortgages and lock into an 8% mortgage, I mean, it’s become financially punitive to actually move. And you know, we are in this land right now, this sort of, as I said, I do feel the equation has shifted into much more of a buyer’s market for talent. So that means on the client side, they can control a little bit more, because the market has been a lot softer this year. You know, that said, I find you if you really want to truly understand what a company’s posture is to hybrid working, go and find out where the CEO spends their time over the pandemic. That’ll tell you what their real approach to hybrid working is. And you’ll find a shocking level of flexibility, the CEO happens to spend half his or her year not at the head office.

Drew: Okay, so I want to go back to your list of the sort of six areas driving results showing strategic capability, having lead change, being able to lead people building talent and ability to collaborate as sort of six dimensions of the Fortune 500 ideal candidate. And then of course, is local, and then has, you know, a match with these, these other characteristics. I’m trying to figure out and think about all the folks on this call, could probably lean into all six of those. And if they did, their resumes are gonna look exactly the same. I mean, other than the fact that they worked at different places, and so that some point in time, just like you do with a marketing, you can’t talk about six characteristics. You talk about one big one, right? How would you advise and even when it comes to LinkedIn, there is a chance to show where your superpower is, and to differentiate yourself. But I think there’s a lot of reluctance to do that, because of what you just said, I need to show that I can do all six of these things. What’s your advice there?

Richard: So this comes back to the topic, which I think you’re getting at, Drew, which is how do you present yourself successfully to recruiters on LinkedIn.

Drew: I mean, presenting to recruiters allows you to get the call that will then get you in the game, but you know, get you in the interview, right? You still have to close. And even within that, I’m curious if you can—you know, some CMOs have a very specific methodology, they have an approach, they’re really good at doing this way and it really works over and over again, right? And so the question is, do they go with their strengths and really put emphasis on that? Or do they try to cover all six of these bases? One just to get in the door, and then you know, do their best to close with it.

Richard: You can’t possibly exhibit all six, and nor should you, in my opinion, in your LinkedIn profile. I’ll come on to this over LinkedIn bit around how to get LinkedIn right, because, look, I have a view on LinkedIn that I think may not be similar to everyone else’s. I personally find it a massive turnoff when people essentially regurgitate their resume on LinkedIn. It looks vulgar, and it looks desperate. I don’t want to talk to that kind of person. I want to see enough clues that I want to go, “Oh, that’s someone I want to know a little bit more about.” That doesn’t mean I’m putting a dozen bullet points under each job that I’ve had; probably means I’m putting three or four. But then it’s like a tease. I want to go to look and go, “Oh, that person seems interesting. I want to get to know more.” Remember, at LinkedIn, you’re not going to get the job because of LinkedIn alone. What you want to get is the call or the email or the LinkedIn message, where people want to find out more about you. So think of it that way. At least I believe that’s what’s important. I think a couple of years ago, a lot of people I could see were putting time and getting referrals on LinkedIn or sort of references. I personally put no value in that whatsoever. I don’t know who these people are, of course, they’re friends, no one’s gonna put something terrible about someone else on LinkedIn. So I wouldn’t, you know, I tell people don’t waste your time on that sort of stuff. But what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to put enough out there, that makes them curious to want to know more about you. You’re not going to seal the deal, just with your LinkedIn profile, that’s not going to happen. Now, to your point, Drew, does that mean you should lead out with one or two areas which are unique or different about you? Absolutely, you should. And there are certain things I think people should be doing on either LinkedIn or their resume and I get very frustrated when I don’t see them doing it. One is I want to see quantitative examples of your impact and outcomes. I get very frustrated when I’ll see a particular resume, let’s say, LinkedIn, because I recognize it may not be appropriate to share, in some cases, confidential results in a public forum. But certainly on a resume, I would expect to see, “I contributed or lead revenue from X to Y,” or whatever the right metrics are, that you can be measured against. I get very frustrated with those people that don’t put any metrics on it, because it does, unfortunately, play into the narrative that marketers don’t lean into commercial outcomes. And that’s a narrative that I think we need to lean out of. And really focus on commercial deliverables, whether it’s revenue, whether it’s contribution, whatever the right measure is, do put something like that, provided can be done in a public forum and on LinkedIn. And do lean into one of the two areas that do differentiate you. But don’t regurgitate your resume, don’t put 12 to 15 bullet points, under each job, your goal is to solicit an email or phone call or a message, whatever it is, that wants to know more about you. So think of it as that, not the be-all and end-all of, “Do I get a job on all through LinkedIn.”

Drew: So thinking about those bullet points in three to four. So first, on the headline, I know one CMO who was able to get a job in the transit—had a 10x. You know, and there’s nothing like 10x, right? If you could say you’re a 10x, CMO, who, you know, literally grew revenue 10x over a five-year period, or whatever period it was, you’re saying that’s a very powerful thing. Obviously, it is, particularly if you’ve done it a couple of times. And then lean in the one thing I would note is it seems like if you put three or four bullet points under one job, and you’ve had three CMO roles, you may want to put bullet points that address other aspects of your capability. So if you’re talking about strategy and brand over here, let’s talk about demand and leadership and building talent and collaborating over here. So there is a way to cover some of these things, but not necessarily in your headline.

Richard: That’s right. It’s the full texture I’m looking for, not just what did you do in the last job. 

Drew: Got it. Okay. So one of the questions is because you know, these searches are it’s taking longer and longer to find a job. And many on this Huddle, are doing interim work, fractional work, as they say, to sort of bridge the gap and stay sharp. But there’s also this question about making moves that say if you were a CMO at a $100 million company becoming a VP of demand, say at a $500 million company, as a way of sort of moving in getting in and chance to move up. Are you seeing that? And is that a smart strategy for this kind of market?

Richard: Yeah, I am. I’m, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that. I often talk to people that their career choices when they think about moving or taking a job, there’s often a trade off between scale and scope. And what I mean by that is a trade off between scale of company and scope of role. It’s quite common for someone to move to a smaller scale business, but be in a broader scope of role. Or you can go the other way, on that spectrum, you can go to a larger company, but you’ll probably have a narrower scope of role. You can go either way on that spectrum, Drew, there’s no right or wrong way. Look, in general, I do find people over the course of their career would rather have a broader job in a smaller company. I do see a lot of people navigate that direction over time. But mid career, I mean, there’s really nothing wrong, in fact, I think it’s to be encouraged around learning best practices, for example, in a larger company, arguably more sophisticated environment in arguably you know, a VP or quote unquote, narrow role, if that’s what you want to call it. As I said, you can go either way, on that scale and scope trade off. I’m okay with someone going either way on that. 

Drew: Let’s assume for a moment that everybody in our community has polished up their LinkedIn profile, maybe they’ve refined it a little bit. They’ve created their unique branded statement, while showing that they’ve moved the needle at any one of their last few jobs. Let’s assume for a moment that— and these are highly capable individuals who get interviews and one of the stories that I hear a lot even from those who eventually get jobs is that it was an arduous process. There were 15 interviews and then the specs changed. You know, they had to do a 30/60/90 plan and more before we get to the 30/60/90 and what they should or shouldn’t do there, let’s just talk about things that you’re seeing for the CMOs that do get placed that do secure the job, what’s happening, and what are they doing that are making it work?

Richard: That’s a really good question, Drew. And I’m not sure I’m gonna have the perfect answer for you here. Because despite everything I said about, it’s a mix of capabilities, experience, so on, there’s also this concept of chemistry between you and the hiring manager or managers plural, and the people you meet, and I can’t always predict for that. Now, by the way, you know, we do ask when we present candidates in our searches, we actually do require all our candidates to take a culture diagnostic survey that simply informs around what is your workstyle that can be somewhat indicative of workstyles, which you prefer. But there’s always this sort of X Factor, which I can never quite be certain which way it’s gonna go. Sometimes I’ve interviewed someone I thought, maybe they came across a little bit flat to me, but they crush it when they go in and do the interview, or vice versa. Right. And I think we need to acknowledge this. Interviewing is a wildly inaccurate science. And yet we make these critical hiring decisions based on something that is not particularly accurate more than 50% of the time. And yet, that is still how we do hiring in most cases.

Drew: Yeah, because the thing is just absolutely unpredictable. And then I love this notion that there are Game Day players, right? There are people who just when it’s showtime, they’re on. 

Richard: And I caution my clients about that, because look, there are some people who are just good at interviewing, it’s how do you get to the substance beneath the style in many cases, I mean, that’s where you need a good interviewer. And I think I’ve spoken about this on a couple of occasions elsewhere. But you know, when you’re interviewing someone, there’s things that you can easily assess one see above the surface. So career path and capabilities, you can easily assess where your career path is contained in your resume and get a half decent interview and they can ask behavioral questions that get at capabilities. But then there’s stuff that goes on beneath the surface, capacity, how far can someone go in their career, for example, what is their potential character, which you can get through various assessments that sits beneath the surface that you can’t really pull out from an interview. And so you know, what we encourage our clients is be aware of what you’re seeing above the surface, but also think about, are you testing for what’s below the surface. And that’s where now for those that have seen this, there are all sorts of psychometric instruments out there, there are a whole wave of assessment firms that now exist purely to conduct deep dive executive assessments as a whole sort of cottage industry around that now, but it is getting at a point which interviews alone are somewhat inaccurate, that there are these quote, unquote, Game Day players. And there are other tools needed to accurately assess you know, whether this person is the right person for the job.

Drew: As you were talking, it occurred to me—and the encouraging folks in the transition team to do is to buddy up with someone else, and rehearse and ask really terrible questions of each other beforehand. But I don’t know how many do. When you think about rehearsing and preparing, what do you encourage your candidates to do?

Richard: That’s a great question, actually. Because I actually ask my clients this as well around. Because often when I’m interviewing people, in some cases, it’s pretty clear to me, they may not have taken an interview for years. And they’re actually not ready. I mean, I know they’ve got the substance because I’ve already done some, perhaps behind the curtain reference checking on them, we do a lot of what we call some third party sourcing, which is speaking to other people who’ve worked with them. So we’re doing a lot behind the scenes before we even get to the interview. So I know the substance is there, but it may not come out well in person, I actually ask my clients, you know, would you like me to do a little bit of coaching for them? Would you like me to encourage them to focus on certain areas? Interestingly, the answer is nearly always no. They tell me, I don’t want you to coach them. I want to see who they are and how they show up. Even if that may not be you know, as a particularly compelling experience. I want to see them the way that they are. There are many situations where normally, there’s a handful of situations where, look, if people are just too verbose, I will just tell them,” you went on a 10 minute monologue, you can’t do that”. Got to be just a little bit more aware. Realize I’ve done it maybe a couple of times today. So I’m guilty as charged. But you know, even just small pointers to drive self awareness. Whether you do that through buddy partners or record yourself on your iPhone or phone or whatever it is, and watch yourself back how many people have done that that can sometimes be an eye opening experience when you just record yourself and then play it back. You may not sound the way you think you sound and you don’t look the way you think you look.

Drew: Yeah, and it’s hard. I mean, it is hard to watch oneself on camera, but I can’t emphasize enough and I’ll set up a Zoom meeting. Here’s the thing you would never do a presentation to a board without practicing. You would never consider almost any meeting without preparing. And it feels like at this moment in time, again, what you’re trying to do is prepare to be spontaneous, which means you don’t have to think because you’ve already gone through the answers. And then you can be in the moment and sort of judge that. So I just can’t imagine not preparing it feels like today, unlike just a year ago, you could go on Gen AI and you could assess business strategies of top five competitors like in a heartbeat, and say, okay, if you were this company, how would you compete with this company? And chances are, you’re gonna get some insights that you can apply. So, again, it feels like there’s no excuse not to be prepared, both in terms of the content in your answers, but to be able to be pithy. So now, a bugaboo that some CMOs have is they hate it when they’re asked to put together a plan of any kind. Yes or no, they should do it if they’re asked? 

Richard: So, I would say, I’m seeing it happen in about one in four of the searches I’m working on, the most common situation is not so much the 30/60/90 day plan, but often I’m being asked to plan a case study. So in other words, I’ve had a couple of situations where my client will basically supply some sort of proprietary data about a particular active problem they are facing right now. And ask the candidate to come with some perspectives or points of view. And that’s pretty more akin to the way that I think consulting firms, famously, there were case study problems. And they’re testing for first principles. But I think there’s a sense of moving an interview from a hypothetical, which is, you know, just asking general questions about yourself to what would you actually do? What plan would you come with? So I have seen for case studies, okay, they might be 100 day plans, these can go really badly wrong unless there are some very clear guidelines put upfront, I mean, just as a marketing leader, you might write a brief for your agency, I’ve had to tell my clients, you can’t just expect them to rock up with a 100 day plan, you’ve got to be you got there’s got to be a lot more specificity around what questions need them to answer. Do you want them to talk about strategy? Do you want them to talk about structure? Do you want the immediate mix? I mean, what is it exactly that you’re looking and so in many cases now, where this is being done, I am typically supplying and working with my clients to write a just a template no more than a two page brief, but it’s been very clear around these are the questions we’re expecting you to answer this is the information we expect you to have this is who’s going to be in the room, if you’re going to bring a presentation shouldn’t be more than eight or 10 pages, and we try to put some really clear guardrails around it and if you get asked to do this, you must absolutely insist on specificity because otherwise, you’re digging your own grave, and is far more likely to go off the rails and you’re not going to give the interviewers or the panel the answers they’re hoping for because no one’s thought to ask them upfront. So what is it you actually want to know about and being very specific. So it’s a great idea and concept, it is fraught with risk. And you’ve got to be very, very specific, if you’re being asked to do this exercise around deliverables, outcomes, expectations, content, discussion topics, who’s going to be in the room, if the CFO is going to be in the room, there’s going to be topics the CFO is gonna want to talk about, but probably related to return on marketing investment and other things. So you know, also be cognizant of who the audience if you’re doing this sort of presentation, 100 day plan, whatever it may be.

Drew: Let’s switch gears for a second, it’s funny, when you and I were talking, you described recruiters as the sort of source of last resort, and that you actually didn’t have that many CMO placements per year, even at a firm the size of Spencer Stuart, which means that CMOs need to be finding jobs directly or through their network. And just want to clarify, maybe you could put a little more meat on that thought, but I did hear you, right?

Richard: Yeah, you did. So the phrase I used with you, Drew, is executive search firms are often the option of last resort, not first resort. And what I mean by that is even for pretty senior mandates, a company of any size or scale will probably have some sort of talent acquisition team. And they will nearly always take a go at trying to fill a mandate themselves, even a fairly senior one. We get called in in specific situations, either the search mandate is particularly complex. And what I mean by that is they may be looking for skills or capabilities outside of their industry or their verticals. So the internal talent team just doesn’t know the companies to go for. The company could be in a turnaround transformation mode, where we’ve actually got to go out and kind of really sell the job that needs to be filled, or the company is pretty early stage, scaling pretty quickly. And look, they just don’t have the internal resources, they need to solve the problem pretty quick and they just need to bring in the recruiter who can deliver them five or six candidates in a short period of time. There’s a certain number of scenarios where they’ll come to us, but my anecdotal evidence is when I see senior people make a move in their career, I will ask them, you know, how did this move come about, who did it, I would still say, let’s say seven out of ten times, it’s through someone’s own network or connections, three times out of ten, it’s through a recruiter or an external executive search firm, like myself. So that’s just to put some dimensions around it, Drew, around how often we get used, and in what sort of circumstances we get used.

Drew: So if I just did the math and reversed it and talking to this audience right now, seven out of ten, 70% likelihood, that’s the job that you’re going to find, you’re going to find through your network on your own. And that changes, it may change your perspective. And this goes back to what we talked at the very beginning about this, how you can create your own ABM campaign based on how you align in terms of industries and grow scale and investment and location, and use your network to do it. And I just point out that there are 30-40 people on this call, every one of them knows somebody, and so you just can’t underestimate the power of your network and the importance of building it. It’s something I preach a lot to CMOs with jobs, because that’s really the time to be building that network. Are there any specific industries or sectors? I mean, I know cyber is still strong and AI and generative AI is obviously strong. Is there any other area that seems to be having its own kind of economic growth? 

Richard: Well, yeah, I mean, particularly in marketing word there’s this perennial tension, I think, probably the best way of putting it between brand marketers and “performance / demand” marketers. I think CEOs or hiring managers seem to think you are one or the other, you’re the sort of traditional versus the modern, and I don’t quite see it that way and nor do we experience candidates that way, either. But I just would remind people, there are some myths, perceptions that exist out there about you. I have heard one CEO of actually a Fortune 100 company, when I was taking the brief, sort of describe his marketing leader as running the “arts and crafts department.” I was sort of flabbergasted to hear that. There are others that view marketing as actually—and I sit in this camp firmly, that this is actually the golden age of marketing, the digital tools that marketers now have at their disposal, and particularly what happened immediately post-COVID, when sort of made legacy Field Sales Team somewhat redundant, many leadership teams will look into their marketing leaders to drive revenue, demand and leads in the market. And I firmly believe we’re still in that era, and will be now, which is why I get very excited. I don’t look at the elimination of the CMO role as an issue because I think the role, in most cases, is actually evolving to become a much more revenue-centric role. And in many cases, I might be talking to our clients around, should we call this “Chief Marketing Officer?” Or should we actually call this “Chief Revenue Officer?” I mean, what is this really, and let’s own it. So, I just say, Drew, be aware that I think some misperceptions still exist. Marketing is a wildly used and abused term, it means different things to different people. I think one of the reasons why, unfortunately, marketers are perceived to have high turnover is there’s just a misunderstanding of what it is that marketers do. And more importantly, in nearly every situation, we take a brief, a question we will ask is, “How will you know if your marketing leader was successful? Define success.” The amount of umming and ahhing and just nonsensical answers or sound or just not compelling answers I hear to that question is shocking. And so there is, I still think the biggest risk is this misalignment, I think exists between marketers and business leaders and trying to overcome that.

Drew: It’s funny, it’s like the art buyers that are well, “I don’t know what all, I can tell, I see it” kind of thing. I mean, it’s, and it’s impossible for me to believe given the last 10-20 years, I mean, every single B2B business had a wonderful case history opportunity. And in April 2020, when they turned off the marketing engine, and those that did saw six months, 12 months, 18 months down the road, they saw the dips that caused about that they didn’t have anything in the pipeline suddenly, but it is still rare in a huddle where a CMO will say, “Hey, I know you want 10-20% growth next year, we need to grow the budget to,” and when the CFO says, “Well, no, you’re not going to get it,” the CEO says, “No, marketing is one of our growth engines, they should get it.” That doesn’t happen enough. I mean, it doesn’t happen. Like it’s one out of ten, unfortunately, where the CEO sees the impact of marketing, and maybe that, you know, marketing is to blame for that. But regardless, this disconnect that existed 10 years ago, still exists. One quick question. If a mid-late career CMO doesn’t have a lot of sales experience, how does that CMO position themselves for that kind of role? I mean, could a CMO go to a head of sales or a joint CMO-CRO role without having sales experience?

Richard: I’m gonna say, depends on how we define sales. I mean, increasingly, I am seeing many marketing leaders scope of the role is responsible for filling the funnel. Now we want to think about that in terms of qualified leads. And then maybe there’s a question—who owns conversion? Do you have experience there or not? You could think about that as sales. So again, I would say, look, I’m hedging. I’m hedging a little bit here. The answer to your question is, “It depends.” It’s not as simple as, you know, can a marketing leader take on sales, yes or no. It depends on what exactly they’ve been doing. This comes back to my point around, you know, marketing is a very inconsistently defined set of functions and capabilities.

Drew: I think what I heard was, within the CMO Huddles community, there are some CMOs who are—inbound is 90% of revenue. And that’s marketing. And then I know others where inbound is 10% of revenue. And that’s, you know, obviously, when you have a sales-driven organization. Alright. Well, let’s end on an optimistic note. And let’s find one piece of advice you can offer the folks on the transition team to stay motivated and hopeful in their job search.

Richard: Oh, okay. That’s a good one. First of all, I mean, I’ll come back to where I started just about the macro picture, which is, if the last few months have been a struggle, you are not alone. This has been, as I said, one of the more difficult, challenging years that we have been in. It’s not just about you, it’s about the state of the market that we have been in. And the sense that I think has not been well publicized is there has been a little bit of white-collar recession this year, although that is hidden beneath the surface of, you know, what’s going on overall, with positive macro trends. So I would say the message is you’re not alone. I’m feeling, as I said in the beginning, more optimistic about where we are in 2024. There is some seasonality, at least I noticed seasonality to recruiting work, but I am feeling positive for the beginning of 2024 and where the market goes.

Drew: I love it and I appreciate that. I’m going to add one thought, which is you all have the beauty of being marketers. You understand what it means to market brands and get them to market and to drive sales. You’re selling yourself now. Have you positioned your product as effectively as you can? Have you distinguished your brand from your competitors? And have you created a go-to-market strategy that you’re following through with consistently? Because if you’re dependent on Richard, you know, he might not be able to help you. But if you can create your own marketing plan and go-to-market, I suspect you’ve got that seven out of ten chance working for you. So Richard Sanderson, thank you so much for joining us, and I really appreciate you being here. So, Richard, thank you.

Richard: You bet. Thanks for having me on. Really appreciate it. Thanks to the audience.

Drew: If you’re a B2B CMO, and you want to hear more conversations like this one, find out if you qualify to join our community of sharing, caring, and daring CMOs at CMOHuddles.com.

Show Credits
Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, Ishar Cuevas, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!