C-Suite Strategies

What’s A Fractional CMO?

If you’re a marketer, entrepreneur, or small business owner (or executive) you might have heard the term Fractional CMO. It seems to be popping up everywhere these days. So what the heck is a Fractional CMO, and do you need one?

What's A Fractional CMO? - Rishi P. of Growth On Call Explores

Put simply, a fractional CMO (sometimes known as an fCMO) provides strategic guidance to organizations that have (or should have) a marketing team but aren’t large enough to justify a full-time Chief Marketing Officer. A fractional CMO’s purpose is to work with your executive team to establish a Growth Vision then build or coach your marketing team to deploy it.

Fractional CMOs are typically seasoned, strategically-minded marketers who thrive on solving the bigger problems in achieving revenue growth. They focus on building and deploying sound, sustainable, and measurable marketing programs.

Exploring Your Marketing Leadership Options

Approaching this from a very high level, there are four ways to structure your marketing program:

  1. A fractional CMO Leading a Technician Team and/or Agencies
  2. An In-House CMO
  3. A Marketing Agency
  4. A Technician-Only Team

Let’s explore how #2, #3, and #4 differ from an fCMO-led team. (Short on time? We’ve included a cheat sheet too)

Fractional CMOs vs. a Full-Time In-House Chief Marketing Officer

CMOs are typically highly experienced marketers who have experience growing large enterprises (think Fortune 500 or publicly traded companies) on a strategic level.

Functionally, a fractional CMO and an in-house CMO fill a similar role: they aim to build, measure, and improve your growth strategy and team.

In the right situation, a fractional CMO can offer a few advantages over an in-house CMO. For example, your fCMO:

  • …doesn’t require a large full-time salary + benefits
  • …can adjust their level of engagement according to your needs and budget
  • …likely brings experience and perspectives from a wide variety of industries
  • …can quickly jump into the mix and deliver results fast

Bottom Line: Fractional CMOs are often an ideal solution for the period of growth when your organization has one or a few marketing technicians (coordinator level up to manager level) on staff, but can’t justify the considerable salary a full-time CMO would command.

Fractional CMOs can help you get over that hump and to the point that an in-house CMO is economically prudent.

Fractional CMOs vs. a Marketing Agency

What about the multitude of marketing agencies that offer “marketing strategy” as a service? Marketing agencies tend to excel in execution and tactical strategy. Another trait common amongst agencies is channel or tactic specialization.

Depending on your circumstances a fractional CMO can benefit your brand over an agency. For instance, your fCMO:

  • …doesn’t have the large overhead of an agency
  • …drives long-term growth that’s aligned with your bigger vision
  • …likely works with fewer clients than an agency; you have a larger share of their attention
  • …focuses on building and coaching your proprietery marketing programs, processes, and team

Bottom Line: Agencies are an apt option for smaller businesses that only advertising on one or two channels and smaller budgets.

Once an organization starts spending a significant budget on marketing, a fractional CMO can ensure that marketing dollars are spent most efficiently.

Fractional CMOs vs. an In-House Technician-Only Team

Are you an owner, COO (or another executive) that spends too much time managing the marketing team? Perhaps you’ve hired a talented team, but results are stagnant. You might even be growing, but unsure how that growth can be sustained, or how it fits into your bigger vision.

These are all symptoms of a brand that has a marketing organization in place but lacks strategic leadership. Enlisting a fractional CMO can improve your outcomes. To give you an idea, your fCMO:

  • …unifies your marketing team and steers them towards executing your vision
  • …gives you candid, real-world, and data-driven insights
  • …builds, coaches, and develops your marketing team
  • …drives growth by defining short- and long-term outcomes for your team
  • …holds employees, outside agencies, and vendors accountable

Bottom Line: Much like the agency model, a technician-only team can work well for smaller businesses. As your budget grows, so do the stakes; a thoughtful and holistic strategy can ensure that you’re investing in marketing, not spending…

Fractional CMOs align, lead, and coach marketing technicians to ensure your marketing investments are moving you towards your vision efficiently.

Here’s a handy table to sum it all up for you:

Fractional
CMO
Traditional
CMO
Marketing
Agency
Technician Only
Team
Cost
Accountable, KPI-Driven Strategy
Holistic Approach
Long-Term Alignment
Scales As You Need
Executive Experience
Builds Your Proprietary Marketing Systems

What Makes A Great fCMO?

Given that the concept of fractional CMOs is relatively new, there’s not a whole lot of definitive information about how to qualify an fCMO. Even the role of the fractional CMO varies wildly depending on who you ask.

You may have spotted some trends in the comparisons we made earlier. Based on those trends we can (subjectively) establish some traits that great fCMOs share:

Your Fractional CMO Should Be Selective

The best fractional CMOs will audition you—the client—as much as you select him or her.

Why is this important? Because fCMOs that are selective in their engagements tend to be more invested in and attentive to their clients.

Your Fractional CMO Should Focus on Developing a Holistic Strategy

Fractional CMOs should concern themselves mostly with devising and deploying macro-level marketing strategies. Your fCMO should use their leadership to guide specialists and technicians in deploying those strategies through tactical execution.

Further, your fCMOs must have the ability to marry short-term results to your larger vision. Short-term initiatives should be stepping stones to achieving your vision (not a deviation from that path).

Lastly, an effective fCMO will guide you in establishing metrics and KPIs that tell you that macro story rather than bombarding you with vanity/activity metrics (not that those shouldn’t be tracked).

Your Fractional CMO Should Commit to Building Your Marketing Organization From The Inside-Out

Your fractional CMO should act as an extension of your team. Their role is to propel you towards your vision by building your marketing organization. He or she is a coach and mentor to your team, not a vendor.

A great fCMO’s goal is to build a marketing team and processes that outlast the engagement, sustaining growth for the long haul.

Your Fractional CMO Should Aim to Deploy a Proven Set of Marketing Processes

One of the hallmarks of any CMO (full-time or fractional) is that they bring experience. Look for your fCMO to bring a set of processes and procedures that have proven successful in the past.

Your fCMO should be adept at taking those processes and tailoring them to work for your brand.

Your Fractional CMO Should Prioritize Candid Communication

A great fractional CMO won’t shy away from difficult conversations. Expect a good fCMO to lay the facts out as they are, even if you don’t want to hear it.

Your Fractional CMO Should Be Willing to Push Boundaries

The right fCMO is an expert communicator and manages expectations. He or she takes calculated risks, but those risks should never be a surprise.

However, when those bets don’t pan out, an effective fCMO will own it. More importantly, your fCMO should learn and codify the lesson for the rest of your marketing team.

Should I Consider an fCMO for my organization?

Fractional CMOs are ideally equipped to scale most companies, but not every brand will benefit from hiring a fractional CMO. In our experience, the best candidates for marketing leadership through an fCMO fall into one of a few buckets:

  1. $2M – $25M revenue; Companies in this revenue range tend to have a marketing team in place that could perform exponentially with strategic guidance and clarity. Enlisting a fractional CMO can help increase ROI, while building a platform for sustained growth.
  2. Funded Companies; Many funded startups are under intense pressure to scale quickly once they have a product. Putting an fCMO in place can help accelerate the customer acquisition process.

Signs You Need an fCMO

Not sure if a fractional CMO is an answer to your marketing challenges?

Here are some telltale signs:

You’ve Got A Talented Marketing Team—But They Don’t Know What to Execute

For most organizations, the first few hires on the marketing team are doers. At some point, executing campaigns without alignment will hurt the bottom line more than help.

An fCMO can bring clarity and alignment to your team during that awkward in-between phase.

Your CEO (or COO, or VP of Sales, etc.) is Spending too Much Time Wrangling Marketing Vendors

Are you struggling to keep track of which agency handles what? Maybe you’re stuck figuring out your next marketing move. Whatever your affliction,

An fCMO can help ease the burden & put an efficient, accountable, and sustainable marketing system in place.

Your Marketing Isn’t Meshing Across Channels

If you’re marketing messaging at tradeshows doesn’t match your campaigns on digital channels, you might need to install marketing leadership.

An fCMO can benchmark your messaging and positioning, solidifying your brand and increasing your marketing efficiency.

All Your Revenue Comes from One Channel

Relying on a single source of revenue is a dangerous proposition for any brand. If you notice that all of your sales are coming from a particular channel, you may need a marketing leader

If this sounds familiar, an fCMO can help to uncover new ways to attract customers.

Marketing Costs Seem Disproportionate to Results (Or You Can’t Tie the Two Together)

If you feel—or know—that marketing results don’t line up with your investment, it might be time to put an experienced marketing leader in place. Possibly worse, you may be spending on marketing with no idea if it’s working or not.

An fCMO can put accountability in place and guide your team to getting the most out of your marketing budget.

You Need Leadership in Place Fast

If your marketing leader needs to take an unexpected leave, you see a surprise surge in sales, or you’re under pressure to scale fast from your board & investors, a fractional CMO could be an avenue forward.

An fCMO can quickly take the reins of your marketing team and get the situation stabilized (on a short-term or long-term basis).

If you find your organization in any of these scenarios it may be time to consider bringing in a fractional CMO.