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What is a Fractional CMO?

November 2, 2021
5 Min Read

A fractional CMO can go by many names — interim CMO, outsourced CMO, on-demand CMO, even “plug-and-play CMO” — but their function remains the same: to establish, lead, and grow your company’s marketing activities on a short-term, part-time basis. 

The fractional part of the name hints at this temporary arrangement. You’re getting an experienced marketing leader on a part-time contract. And, as they won’t work with you for 40 hours a week, most fractional CMO arrangements end up costing a fraction of what a full-time, executive-level hire would — but there’s more to it than simply saving money. 

So, what does a fractional CMO do? What makes a good one? And why should you hire one? 

In this article, we answer everything you need to know about this increasingly common marketing role. 

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What to expect from a fractional CMO: timeframes & experience

Just how part-time and short-term your arrangement is with a fractional CMO will depend on your needs and circumstances. We cover some of the more common scenarios that call for an interim marketing leader later in the article. Yet, no matter your reason for hiring one, you’ll typically work with your fractional CMO for around 10, 15, or 20 hours a week

Contracts usually last for six months to a year (sometimes longer) to allow marketing strategies to take shape, and the CMO will often split their time between your company and one or two others to fill their weekly hours. 

Meanwhile, as your temporary Chief Marketing Officer, a fractional CMO brings deep marketing knowledge and insights to proceedings, not to mention leadership and direction. They’ll help you implement strategies, adhere to best practices, and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) across your marketing activities to drive revenue and growth. And that’s just for starters. 

What does a fractional CMO do?

Generally speaking, a fractional CMO will oversee your entire marketing function, taking full responsibility for:

  • Building, managing and leading your marketing team
  • Branding and PR
  • Positioning, segmentation, and messaging
  • Onboarding and nurturing
  • Retention and loyalty
  • Content marketing
  • Paid search and social media marketing
  • Organic search marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Product pricing
  • Go-to-market and launch strategies

It’s worth noting that most fractional CMOs focus on strategy, not execution. They’ll provide advice and direction, but you’ll still need other marketers on your team to execute those ideas. 

So, what makes a good fractional CMO?

The best fractional CMOs have been there and done it all before. They’ll have delivered growth for a company similar in size and ambition to yours, or they’ve built and managed the type of marketing team you need.

But it’s not solely about experience when hiring someone on an interim basis. You also have to factor in personality, temperament, and organisation. 

Because the role is part-time (and short-term), you’ll want your fractional CMO to be “on it” when they turn their attention to your business each week. They need to:

  • Manage and organise the day-to-day running of your marketing team while aligning their activities with long-term targets
  • Work closely with other teams and stakeholders (including other C-suite executives) to align marketing with the core business
  • Ensure marketing initiatives are delivering the expected ROI

It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s the reason good fractional CMOs can charge a premium.

Why should you hire a fractional CMO?

Although made more accessible (and more prominent) by the rise in remote working and work-from-home tech stacks, the idea of a fractional executive isn’t a new one.

Startups and scale-ups have been using interim C-suite hires for years as a means of overcoming short-term barriers to growth. Most notably, outsourced CFOs have long been popular with small and medium-sized businesses, helping them obtain funding and interpret long-term financial data without the associated costs of a full-time hire.

Now it’s marketing’s turn, and the reasons for hiring a fractional CMO are essentially the same: you get the expertise and leadership of a full-time CMO without the overhead. But that’s not all; here are four scenarios where you might need to hire a fractional CMO.

1. Add structure to your marketing and create effective marketing systems

Without the right marketing team structure and leadership in place, your marketing activities (and costs) can quickly spiral out of control and lose direction. 

A fractional CMO can help you add structure to your marketing and piece it all together, allocating budget to the most effective channels and implementing measurement to track your return on investment.

2. Bring a fresh perspective to your marketing

If your long-since-established company needs to rebrand or rethink its approach to marketing, a fractional CMO offers a fresh perspective. Whether you want to test new marketing channels, implement new strategies, or build a modern marketing infrastructure based on data analysis and automation, an interim hire can bring new ideas, contacts, and knowledge to the table.

3. Unify your marketing and sales team

Sales and marketing often need to be closely entwined to deliver success. But if your sales team is off designing their own pitch decks and PDFs, your branding and messaging could be out of sync with the rest of your marketing. Bringing in a CMO on a short-term basis can be a great way to unify your messaging and get everyone singing from the same product sheet.

4. You need a stopgap leadership solution

Maybe you’re planning to hire a full-time CMO, but you don’t want the world to stop spinning while you carry out a talent search. Or perhaps you’ve already got the ideal CMO in place, but they need to take a leave of absence. Either way, a fractional CMO can step into the breach and make sure everything stays on track.

In summary: fractional CMO vs other marketing options

In the not-so-distant past, getting high-level help and direction with your marketing boiled down to A) hiring a full-time CMO (or Head of Marketing) or B) outsourcing to a marketing agency or consultant. 

However, if a full-time hire is out of reach financially for the time being, and you don’t want to relinquish control of your marketing to a third-party marketing agency, a fractional CMO is an excellent option. 

Hiring a fractional CMO lets you keep things in-house. They slot in as a valuable team member rather than simply consulting at arm’s length. Their experience will help them work with you on developing a structure and strategy that should, ideally, outlast their short stay as your marketing leader, paving the way for a full-time hire further down the line. 

Ready to hire pre-vetted marketing talent? Do it with Traktion.

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