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What is a fractional CMO? Why many tech SMBs choose this model


What is a fractional CMO?

A Fractional CMO is a senior level, marketing executive who works on a project or full-time basis for several clients at once.  Fractional is an emerging term that originated in the technology sector.  It relates to the ‘fractional’ nature of the engagement.  A fractional CMO spends a portion of their time with multiple businesses.

What to expect?

A fractional CMO provides strategic direction and oversees marketing initiatives and activities.  They develop and implement plans to raise awareness, generate leads, convert leads, and grow revenue from existing customers. At the same time, they support and motivate marketing and sales teams and manage performance.  On an annual basis, they work with CEO to set budgets and go to market strategy and keep all activity aligned behind a clear set of objectives.

Why choose a fractional CMO?

Firms choose to work with a fractional CMO for several reasons.  Cost plays a large part.  Typically, smaller, or medium sized businesses don’t want the expense of a full time, full salary chief marketing officer.  Hiring for a number of days per month or to deliver a project is cost effective and provides all the input needed.

In uncertain economic times, contracted part-time employees give businesses more flexibility.  A fractional CMO can flex up and down to accommodate business needs. They can work intensively during planning periods, launches, mergers and acquisitions and less intensively when the business is in a steady state.

A fractional CMO who works in a specific sector builds up deep industry knowledge and expertise allowing them to share best practice and learnings from others’ experience.

What are the advantages?

Business benefit from strategic advice and experience of a professional without the commitment and expense of a full-time head.  For smaller high growth technology businesses, sales and marketing is often led by the founder or CEO.  There is a point at which that becomes unsustainable. A fractional CMO takes the pressure off the leadership, industrialises customer acquisition processes and develops a skilled team.

10 benefits of the fractional CMO model

  1. Cost: CEOs have experienced professional resource without heavy financial commitment
  2. Flexibility: A fractional CMO can adjust their input to meet fluctuating business needs
  3. On-demand expertise: CEOs have an expert trusted resource to call upon
  4. Objectivity: They bring external viewpoints and perspective
  5. Speed: An experienced professional gets straight in, sees what needs doing and rapidly implements the right strategy
  6. Access to a network: They work with a range of marketers, and business leaders who face similar challenges.
  7. Customised engagement: Tailor the engagement to suit the exact needs of the business
  8. Reduced risk: A fractional CMO can scale their input up or down to accommodate external changes
  9. Training and development: They use their breadth of experience to develop sales and marketing skills
  10. Free up CEOs: By overseeing customer acquisition strategy they free up leadership to focus elsewhere

What are other terms for a fractional CMO?

Fractional CMO is becoming an increasingly popular and commonly used title but there are other terms that may be used.

  • Part-time CMO: A term that illustrates that the role is not full time but works on a part-time basis for the organisation.
  • Outsourced CMO: This description emphasises the external nature of the role, they are an external person providing a project based or ongoing service.
  • Interim CMO: A temporary appointment to cover a leadership gap or deliver specific objectives.  For example, after an acquisition an interim CMO might be engaged to integrate the marketing strategy, customer acquisition teams or brands.
  • On-demand CMO: For when a business may call on strategic marketing expertise for a specific project or during a period of transition.
  • Project-based CMO: Usually when ongoing support is unnecessary, but some external resource is needed to deliver a specific goal or objective.
  • Freelance CMO:  A somewhat tautological expression as most fractional CMOs are self employed and therefore freelance.
  • Contract CMO: This definition emphasises the contractual nature of the arrangement stressing that the CMO is engaged for a specific time or for a specific task.
  • Agency CMO: A term used to describe a part time Chief Marketing Officer contracted via and agency.

Virtual Marketing Director, Remote Marketing Director, or Portfolio Marketing Director are also terms for the same thing. In this case portfolio refers to a collection of projects, businesses, or investment assets that the person is involved with. They provides strategic leadership and guidance on a remote or virtual basis.  Remote when used in this context may refer to the fact that the person is ‘outside’ of the organisation or that they work digitally using Microsoft Teams or other platforms.

What type of businesses have fractional CMOs?

This model is particularly popular with technology SMBs. These businesses, typically don’t want or need a full time, marketing director or CMO. They benefit from the collective learnings of similar businesses and up to date best practice.  For most SMBs hiring a fractional CMO for a year or more is a valuable and cost-effective solution but there are pros and cons.  We’ve listed 10 considerations in this piece.  Drawbacks of a fractional CMO

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