What is a Fractional CMO—and Do You Need One?

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a fractional CMO executing marketing strategies for B2B brand

We all know the immense value of CMOs—it’s something our former CMO and current President, Stephanie Chavez, has been very vocal about. 

She writes in Forbes, “CMOs: How many of you have found, at some point in your executive career, that the position you were ostensibly hired for is much closer to being a sales support leader than the head of marketing? You can’t see it, but my hand is definitely up.”

But the hard truth is not all B2Bs can afford a full-time CMO. Enter: the fractional CMO.

A fractional CMO, also known as a virtual CMO, is a contract chief marketing officer that’s hired part-time to provide executive marketing leadership that growing businesses need—minus the quick turnover. They come armed with the knowledge and experience of having led several marketing teams to drive the results a company needs.

B2Bs benefit instantly from marketing leadership without incurring the tremendous costs and risks associated with hiring an in-house CMO. Also known as CMO-as-a-service, fractional CMOs—although contracted—are equally as committed to the company they work for. They run the day-to-day functions, right down to presenting in your board meetings.

A virtual CMO is a simple solution for companies that need strategic, experienced marketing guidance but aren’t ready to fund a full-time hire.

Related reading: 3 More Things Every CMO Wants Their CEO to Know

While demand for virtual CMO leaders is growing, several models of virtual CMO services are emerging, from short-term or interim leadership to providing longer-term leadership and integration into an organization’s marketing team.

The concept of fractional leaders isn’t new; it emerged about two decades ago, when companies learned they could engage finance executives on a part-time basis. Hiring these part-time C-suite execs enabled small, growing businesses to gain real executive leadership in a way that they could afford. And when companies realized the value of fractional CFOs, the model expanded into other disciplines, including IT, HR, and—the topic of this article—marketing.

The Case for Going Fractional

The CMO role is tricky to fill. Due to the complexity of their roles, the average CMO stays with a company for less than three years—and, as you might imagine, short tenures are highly disruptive for new businesses. It’s expensive to recruit, hire, and replace a CMO, and it can negatively affect internal culture and hinder brand-building efforts.

Many full-time CMOs believe they’re up against unrealistic expectations. And as the Great Resignation keeps on truckin’, the value of engaging contracted marketing leadership versus hiring a permanent role is pretty obvious.

At the same time, the gig economy is surging in popularity, and more workers are leaving traditional corporate jobs—and an increasing population of marketing execs are choosing a consulting career path.

As these two trends converge, we are seeing more marketing executives available to fill fractional roles, and higher returns for companies seeking top-notch leaders without the constant turn-over.

What does a fractional CMO do, exactly?

Just like any Chief Marketing Officer, fractional CMOs responsibilities consist of all things marketing for a company—and that includes managing stakeholders, the marketing team, and even third-party contractors. Just a few things they’re responsible for include:

  • Leading the marketing department
  • Determining and upholding company branding strategies 
  • Positioning in the marketplace 
  • Determining audience segments
  • Crafting key messaging
  • Content marketing and B2B thought leadership
  • Optimizing and improving a client’s online presence
  • Paid search and organic search marketing
  • Owning go-to-market and launch strategies and digital campaigns
  • Creating customer retention and loyalty campaigns
  • Prospect onboarding and nurture programs
  • Hiring and onboarding new marketing and PR team members
  • Preparing marketing material for the next round of funding
  • Building automation infrastructure

Why do fractional CMOs work?

For fractional CMOs, it’s not their first rodeo. They’ve experienced the ups and downs that come with the growth of a company, and as a result, they are better equipped to handle out-of-the-ordinary situations. Because of that, they can focus more on delivering on the results the company needs to help them scale.

Add to that the fact that a fractional CMO comes at a fraction of the cost. Companies don’t have to incur the cost of searching and training an in-house CMO, including added pricing of benefits, medical insurance, and signing bonuses. With a fractional, virtual CMO, B2Bs can get started building their marketing function right away and with less overhead. 

Related reading: Why Should B2Bs Consider a Virtual CMO?

Why do you need a fractional CMO?

Many companies can benefit from hiring a fractional CMO, but there are certain criteria to check off to confirm if you need one.

Are you: 

  • Looking to invest in a new marketing function
  • In need of executive-level leadership and guidance for an existing marketing team
  • Interested in getting an independent, outside perspective on your business, strategy, and marketing tactics
  • Looking for a CMO, but don’t have the time or money to invest in a full-time hire
  • Spending more time on marketing than CEO-related items
  • Wanting to explore more demand generation channels

If you answered yes to one or more of the above, it looks like hiring a fractional CMO would be a good fit for your business.

A good fractional CMO is process-driven and has a track record of helping companies scale that are similar to your own—and that ensures you have the proper guardrails and strategic oversight to meet your long-term needs. Ready to make a move and hire a fractional CMO? Reach out

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