In an ideal world, a fast-growing B2B SaaS hires a super-smart marketing executive to lead the charge.
They develop detailed strategic road maps, oversee tactical execution, and build marketing teams, technology stacks, and processes.
For many companies, however, a full-time CMO is a stretch financially. They can’t afford to hire a senior marketer who demands a six-figure salary plus bonuses and perks.
It may also be a matter of competing priorities. For example, there could be a more pressing need for other types of talent like leaders in sales or product development.
This doesn’t mean a company shouldn’t hire a CMO or retain someone with relevant experience and expertise.
The fractional CMO model is particularly attractive to companies looking to scale but don’t have a strong marketing leader to raise marketing to the next level.
A fractional CMO offers companies financial and HR flexibility and agility. A fractional CMO can be hired to fill a strategic gap for a specific period. If the engagement is successful, they can stay for as long as required.
On the other hand, a fractional CMO can be fired if they don’t perform or if there isn’t a good fit without a major financial penalty. No severance, no holiday pay, or vested options
Given the tenure of a CMO has been shrinking in recent years (it’s now only 41 months), hiring a fractional CMO mitigates strategic and financial risk. As a result, companies can avoid locking themselves into an expensive commitment. In other words, date rather than get married.
What is a fractional CMO?
In simple terms, a fractional CMO is a part-time CMO. A fractional CMO brings your organization experience, expertise, knowledge, and guidance. Having worked with many different companies, they can show you what to do right strategically and tactically and, as important, how to avoid costly mistakes.
A fractional CMO is paid less than a full-time CMO, usually on a monthly retainer. For companies with limited marketing budgets or competing priorities, a fractional CMO is a cost-effective way to get what you need.
What does a fractional CMO do:
Well, “it depends” on your strategic objectives or how you’re looking to jump-start marketing.
A good fractional CMO can help:
Establish a marketing foundation by developing processes, workflows, and structure. Then, they can build a well-oiled marketing machine that delivers predictable results.
Create a strategic and/or go-to-market plan so a company can move forward with clarity and confidence.
Develop positioning, messaging, and branding, which is important given every company faces fierce competition.
Assemble a technology stack to drive efficiencies, productivity, and scale.
Establish metrics and benchmarks so marketing performance can be assessed, analyzed, and optimized.
Build a cohesive, motivated, and talented marketing team and provide mentorship and coaching.
What a fractional CMO doesn’t do:
They’re not a tactical resource. For example, a fractional CMO shouldn’t write marketing and sales, manage the Website, do PR and media outreach, social media management, address customer service problems, or create videos. Instead, they manage and oversee internal marketers or third-party suppliers.
They’re not employees or order takers. Instead, a fractional CMO provides insight, direction, and guidance. They’re an external resource.
An important consideration: very few fractional CMOs have in-depth knowledge of everything.
As my friend, Kevin Whelan, says, “nobody is an expert on all channels. Nobody is perfectly creative and technical. Nobody is a one-stop-shop, although many can do a little bit of everything.”
A good fractional CMO will leverage their strengths and, as important, recognize their weaknesses. They will find the best people to get tactical work done and manage people, so marketing is effective and successful.
The biggest reason to hire a fractional CMO
Marketing is underperforming. The results simply aren’t there. There’s no ROI, and marketing is falling short on key metrics. It may be a people problem, processes, strategic direction, or tactical execution.
Fills a leadership gap. An organization may have sales, product, and IT strength but no one who can effectively move marketing forward in the right ways at the right time.
The marketing team needs to be improved and grown. Marketing is happening, but there are concerns that the team doesn’t have the right people and/or these people lack someone who can make them better and are focused on doing things the right way.
A marketing engine needs to be established. The best marketing happens when there are repeatable processes for success. It involves plans
Specific expertise is needed to address challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
How to hire a fractional CMO
Fractional CMOs come in different shapes and sizes. They bring a variety of skills and experiences to the table. The common denominator is they’ve been there and done that. They bring much-needed insight and guidance so that marketing becomes a business catalyst.
Be clear about your needs and priorities. Why is now the time for a marketing leader? For example, sales may be red-hot, and there is an expectation that marketing will accelerate growth.
Identify the required skills and experience. Determine the type of marketing you want to do and/or the expertise needed to achieve your goals. Fractional CMOs have different talents so align your needs with their expertise.
Hire someone with the right personality and temperament. They must have the ability to adapt and thrive within your organizational structure, speed of business, and expectations.
Focus on hiring someone willing to collaborate, engage, and share their knowledge and wisdom.
Look for someone happy to work themselves out of a job. Fractional CMOs understand that many companies will eventually require a full-time marketing head. So hire someone who will establish a strong marketing foundation for their successor.
You’ve hired the right person. Now, what?
I would recommend starting with a three-month engagement. It’s enough time for a fractional CMO to show their stuff while not getting locked into a long-term relationship. Then, you’ll hopefully address the strategic gap or initiative, as well as determine if there’s a good fit.
In general, the 90-day window would be split into three phases:
In the first 30 days, the fractional CMO would learn about the business, products, customers, market, and competitors. They would collect the key elements to create positioning and a strategic plan and identify the key channels in the process.
30 to 60 days: developing positioning and/or a marketing plan to establish a rock-solid foundation. A fractional CMO will also achieve some quick wins like creating a one-pager, case study, or updated Website content.
60 to 90 days: push forward with tactical execution. The marketing channels would have been identified, and the fractional CMO will oversee an internal team or work with agencies, contractors, or freelancers.
If hiring a fractional CMO is successful, you have to decide the next steps.
Continue the relationship under the same rules of engagement. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If both parties like working together, they can take the relationship to the next level by having the fractional CMO become the full-time CMO.
Enter into an amicable divorce. Then, the company can carry on with an internal team led by the CEO and/or work with third-party suppliers.
Hire another fractional CMO with different expertise. Again, it’s about having the right marketing leader at the right time.
Hire a full-time CMO, armed with the confidence that you will get value from having a senior marketer on the management team.
Hiring the right fractional CMO at the right time can be a game-changer. They can establish marketing as a dynamic and effective growth engine, build brand awareness, and leverage marketing to outflank competitors.
There is no perfect time to hire a fractional CMO.
It’s not like a company can predict when it will happen. However, there are times when a company needs to address a strategic gap or a seize an opportunity.
This is when you need a fractional CMO to step in and make things happen. They can be a catalyst and positive influence until you decide that a full-time CMO is required.