Thoughts and Thought Leadership

What is a Fractional CMO?

by | Nov 1, 2019

Chief Marketing Leadership

A fractional or outsourced CMO is typically leveraged to provide leadership and guidance to your company’s marketing and communications efforts. They are engaged as a part-time consultant that provides strategy and direction for your brand and messaging priorities. They are often focused on primary and secondary business goals but can support sales, service, operations, and human resource initiatives as well.

You have likely been pretty successful with your own skills as you continue to build your business. You’ve certainly been able to stretch those skills beyond what they were when you started. Now, maybe you’re feeling that stretch may not be as effective in garnering the results you are seeking. That’s when you begin to look around to see what options you have for some help.

Over the course of any endeavor, there comes a time when you require some help. Whether it be with sales, operations, technology or finances, your business needs expertise and leadership. This is when the world of outsourcing or “fractional” help can become an attractive option.

These days outsourcing is no longer confined to execution and delivery. Options have now expanded to include executive and leadership resources. Fractional C-Suite team members have been around for a few decades now with CMOs joining the likes of outsourced CFOs and CIOs that have grown in popularity over the past 5-8 years.

These outsourced executive options allow startups and growth-stage businesses the opportunity to gain the value of expertise for a price-point well below that of a traditional executive hire. While they are not an official member of your executive team as defined by an FTE (full-time employee) they can be just as effective and offer a range of flexible options to fit your company’s needs.

Engaging a fractional CMO will invariably provide greater value to your marketing objectives over more junior talent options or continuing to facilitate marketing from the CEO, COO or founder’s office. Above that, a CMO is essentially your consigliere. They act not only as a representative and advocate for your brand but also as a strategic advisor to executive leadership so that they can make decisions based on experienced insight and actionable data.

Fractional CMOs bring a wealth of experience and leadership skills to a growing business. They understand what is effective and understand how to navigate some of the pitfalls that can arise when building your brand. There is a variety of CMOs working in this capacity which offers an opportunity to select a partner that will fit your company’s needs and culture.

One benefit of a fractional CMO that is not talked about as much as others is their ability to maintain objectivity. While the dedication and loyalty of a full-time CMO have their benefits, they can lose some of their fresh perspectives once they’ve partaken from the company Kool-Aid. Outsourced executives maintain a fresh perspective overtime which can provide the insight and thoughtfulness that can wane in those who become too close to the business.

Typically, a fractional CMO will engage based on a share of time or capacity. This can be defined in terms of hours or a specific set of deliverables. Retainers are generally preferred ways of engagement as this allows them to focus on outcomes instead of hours. If they are able to deliver results efficiently, they’ve earned their margin. Performance-based compensation is less common but not unheard of. This can be hard to define and the ambiguity can lead to conflict that will merely distract from real work. We only recommend engaging on an equity basis under some very rare circumstances.

Contracts of around six months are generally preferred as this allows the incoming CMO time for discovery, focus, and impact. A fractional executive is the same as an FTE in this regard. They are not a silver bullet or magic wand, they need time to understand and iterate in order to provide value.

Overall, you must make the decision on what is best for your business needs when it comes to marketing leadership. Full-time or fractional is simply one of many strategic decisions you’ll make as you grow your business. However, the opportunity cost of a fractional relationship is far lower than a traditional executive hire and the impact can be just as valuable if not more so.

If you need a little help with your marketing, give us a ring or send us a note. We’d be happy to discuss some options that can give your marketing efforts a little adult supervision.

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