There is a lot to do in marketing
But a new VP of Marketing will really only do 3 things
Ask them what those top 3 are before you hire them
You may need something different
— Jason ✨BeKind✨ Lemkin ⚫️ (@jasonlk) August 4, 2021
I’ve interviewed 100s of VP of marketing candidates over the past years and I can tell you one thing — it’s easy to spot the ones that won’t work out. How? It’s not that they aren’t smart, or driven, or thoughtful in most cases. It’s that they are a mismatch. Especially in skills and interests. There is just so much to do in marketing, from product marketing to brand marketing to customer marketing to, of course, demand gen. And really, most VPs of Marketing just want to focus on their 2-3 most favorite things to do. You have to make sure those are your top 2-3 needs, as well.
So with that, let’s add to our classic Top 10 Interview Questions for a VP of Sales and also our Top 9 Interview Questions for a VP of Customer Success with … Our Top 10 Interview Questions for a VP of Marketing!
1. What are the top 3 things you think we should upgrade in marketing? This is my #1. I used to think the next question was my #1, but now I’ve seen this is so telling. It tells you everything they will actually do. If you hear PR, awareness, and product marketing … and what you need is demand gen, events, and helping sales (what most of you need up to $10m-$20m ARR) … well you know. You know no matter how smart and seasoned they are, they’re aren’t really going to do what you need. Make 100% sure what they say they think you should do is what you really want done. A bit more here.
Most importantly, if demand gen isn’t in their top 2 things to upgrade, if they don’t tell you that off the bat — you don’t have a demand gen focused VP of Marketing. For 90% of you, you have the wrong candidate before $20m ARR or so, at minimum.
To help your candidates here though, make sure you’ve share enough data on how your funnel works today. If you haven’t, they may not have enough information to make the right educated guess.
2. What “commit” did you hold in your last roles? How much of it did you meet? This is a great catch-all to see if you really have someone that can do demand gen for real. If they didn’t hold a real commit — in Opportunities, in Pipeline, even in just leads — they didn’t own anything that really matters in the revenue cycle. Steer away from these candidates, 9.5 times out of 10. Because 9.5 times out of 10, you need more pipeline and qualified leads. Probably 90% of marketers never actually have owned a commit themselves. They are good at making blue pens and more, but not getting you leads and pipeline. More on that here.
3. How have you worked with the sales team in the past? Another catch-call question to learn if the candidate really has supported sales for real. In most SaaS companies, marketing’s job at the end of the day is to help sales close more. How have they done this? Were they close to the VP of Sales? What issues and bumps did they have together? How do you think sales and marketing should work together?
4. What should our marketing budget be? If the candidate knows your ARR today and your ARR goal 12 months from now, they should have a good answer. You may not like the answer. But a candidate that can execute will have an answer. You’ll also learn if they need too large a budget for your comfort level.
5. How big a team do we need? Many marketing leaders these days just want larger teams. They are tired of doing it all themselves, which is fair enough. But too many candidates will need just need too large of a team. Better to find out upfront.
6. What have you done to increase win rates? This is another great question to see how your candidate has supported sales. Do they build anti-FUD collateral? Do they do the right types of product marketing for your stage? Marketing isn’t just getting folks into the funnel. It’s also increasing close rates. Knowing how to beat the competition more often is key to that.
7. What should we do to market to each of our top 3 segments? If you sell to customers Small, Medium, and Large, ask them how they’d split up their limited time and budget into each segment. What you’ll often learn is they really only want to work on one of the segments in particular, and just hire folks to handle the other segments. That may be OK, but make sure it’s your most important segment.
8. What agencies would you bring in to help us? Agencies are a double-edge sword in marketing. Too many weak marketers just hire a ton of mediocre agencies and spend a ton of money. On the other hand, great agencies are terrific leverage for a great VP of Marketing — without having to make full-time hires here. So just ask, listen, and learn. Ask in particular for the results from their top 2-3 agencies. The best VPs of Marketing will tell you exactly the results from the top 2-3 agencies they work with.
9. How much should we focus on building up brand and product awareness? This is a good catch-all question. This always matters, especially after you have a mini-brand. But most VPs of Marketing you hire before $5m-$10m ARR likely shouldn’t put this #1. If they do, be wary. They may be better suited from a startup further along, with a much bigger brand.
10. What sort of customer marketing should we do? I love this question because while most VPs of Marketing aren’t doing enough customer marketing (i.e., marketing to the base), the best ones all know we should be doing more. It’s a great opportunity to chat strategy and best practices and where to grow and improve. If they have no ideas here, or don’t even really know what you are talking about, you don’t have a real VP. More on customer marketing here.
Even just questions 1-5 above will get you there. If you ask them and just listen, you’ll be able to screen out 90% of the candidates that look good, sounds good, maybe even are good — just not at your startup.
And finally, note the playbook in marketing really is different at different ACVs. Make sure they know your ACV — and want to run its playbook.