Marketing Hires: The Potential Trap of Big Brands & High Titles, with Mark Donnigan

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Whether you are a SaaS founder looking to make your first marketing hire or a CMO building out your team, the rocky tech economy has created a surplus of marketing talent. VPs and directors from big tech companies are free agents…fantastic hires, right?

According to Mark Donnigan, virtual CMO and consultant, the answer isn’t always yes. In this episode, we tackle choosing the right type of hire (generalist or conductor?) and then dive into how to think more strategically about the top talent available today.

A tale of two marketing paths

According to Mark, initial marketing hires typically fall into two categories: generalists or conductors.

Generalists are usually earlier in their careers. They’re scrappy and probably haven’t led a team before — but what they lack in experience, they make up for in execution. Generalists are ideal for the daily minutiae of marketing, including setting up activations and posting on social media. 

Meanwhile, conductors (or CMOs) are higher-level executives who can orchestrate comprehensive marketing campaigns. Although these hires won’t be running around setting up marketing activations or drafting copy, they will delineate a long-term strategy that ties back to revenue.

“And [the conductor] approach is always more effective. But depending on the positioning of the company, sometimes the generalist path is the quickest way to get started. And it is… I would say the easiest way to start getting your marketing reps in… because the other path is definitely going to have a period of planning, a period of strategy,” said Mark. “[Conductors] may or may not have a team that’s on call…. So, they may have to go out and recruit.”

But that’s OK because there’s a surplus of exceptional CMO talent on the market, and these individuals always make for great hires… right?

Not always.

Hire smarter, not larger

The past 18 months have been challenging for B2B SaaS professionals. Massive reductions in force (RIF) have impacted thousands of generalists and conductors alike. Moreover, remaining marketing teams have been tasked with accomplishing the same results on a much smaller budget.

Mark mentioned that many startup executives may consider hiring newly #OpenToWork, big-name talent to fill their resources gap. However, he advises these leaders tread carefully and assess the candidate’s previous experience — and their former resources.

 The budget will look very different for a Fortune 100 company vs. an early-stage startup. Thus, conductors trading into this environment must be ready to pivot and think big on a small budget.

“It takes some self-awareness — or just some professional awareness — on both sides. I really do believe that the [conductor] also — unless they want to be a part of that churning CMO chair — they need to be very, very aware and cognizant and even have that discussion right up front,” said Mark. “[Say] like, ‘Hey, look, you know my background, you know the resources I had, you know the size of my team. I am very well aware that’s not what I have here. But we’re going to have to work together on this because there is a part of my strategies and my playbook that are going to come out of that.’”

Listen to episode 368 of SaaS Half Full for more of Mark’s insights.