4 FAQs About Fractional CMOS

The role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) in an organization has existed for many years. Recently, we’ve seen an emergence of the fractional CMO, a new type of leader who helps startups or smaller businesses with their marketing efforts part time. Having played this role at a few startups, we often get a lot of questions around the position; here are the top four.

1. Why are we hearing more about fractional CMOs?

The idea of a part-time contractor is not new, but we are hearing more about fractional CMOs, in particular, because of a fundamental shift in our business landscape.

On the demand side, there has been rapid growth in the number of startups emerging. These startups need marketing leadership but often cannot afford an experienced leader, don’t need full-time management or simply need short-term guidance to get them to the next stage in their business.

At the same time, the rise of the gig economy has seen people of all levels leave the corporate world for independent contractor roles, not just freelancers on the junior side. Traditionally considered consultants, these senior marketers are looking for clients to add value to by leveraging their rich corporate experience.

2. Why should I hire a fractional CMO?

A big reason to consider hiring a fractional CMO is to conserve your budget. The affordability of a full-time CMO can be a huge obstacle for companies to procure marketing leadership, with many opting for junior resources like interns to run the marketing engine. This can pose a lot of risks, but if you can simply not afford someone full time, it may seem like the only option.

A major advantage of leveraging senior talent to guide your marketing strategy and implementation is their experience, and with that comes speed. Having done this before and likely with a number of different clients, a fractional CMO can help you mobilize quickly and reach your goals faster than an inexperienced team while at the same time saving costs and building an infrastructure that will allow you to scale.

A fractional CMO can also help take ownership of the marketing function from CEOs who are currently running marketing teams and juggling many other important responsibilities. By bringing in a senior leader, it can offload a lot of responsibility so that the CEO can focus on managing and growing the business.

Given that these marketing leaders are often working with other clients, you can also exploit economies of scale or synergies by working together. For example, you could combine efforts to meet minimum spend levels, share resources, or do cross-promotions or advertisements. You may also be able to negotiate group rates on certain products, services or activities.

3. Is it better for startups to hire a fractional CMO or outsource marketing entirely to an agency?

A fractional CMO works as an internal member of the team. This means that they’re tied in with leadership meetings and work cross-functionally, coordinating across different departments with ease. This in-house role enables them to absorb and communicate high volumes of information otherwise very difficult to obtain or even know about, even with a partner agency or vendor.

This also means that a fractional CMO is likely to have a much higher level of accountability to the business, responsible for evaluating the overall success of marketing, including the performance, cost and efficacy of an agency. There’s also no conflict of interest in resource management as the head of marketing can objectively decide what work can be done in-house and look to save budget, whereas some agencies may suggest work be done externally to increase their scope of work.

This is not to say that these two parties cannot and should not work together — working with an agency is a great way to expand capacity and take on marketing activities without the commitment of hiring internally when you’re growing and still figuring out what works. However, it’s always a good idea to have an internal leader manage a vendor or cost center.

4. What should I look for in a fractional CMO?

As a member of your leadership team, it is important to hire a fractional CMO with a strong cultural fit with your organization, just like you would a full-time CMO. It’s important that they mesh well with other department heads, embody your company’s values and believe in your mission.