How much is just enough?
When you are the CEO of a small or mid-market business, this time-honored question isn’t just a euphemism, but a way of life. Obtaining just the right amount of resources – at the right moment in the company’s maturity – can be a game changer.
Enter the fractional executive – an experienced, highly-credentialed CMO-for-hire who can be plugged in for a right-sized engagement, without the expense or expectations of a full-time senior marketing executive.
The rise of the fractional CMO comes at a great time: CEOs are still looking to make sense of both the digital transformation and the pandemic; CMOs thrive on the opportunity to pursue our passion for problem solving, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a chance to leave a lasting impact on the companies that we align with.
As a former startup CEO myself, I have worn both hats. As a CEO, I experienced the challenges that come with navigating uncertainty, and the struggle to find product-market fit. We undertook an expedited process to determine market needs, target customers, and develop and execute a cost-effective go-to-market plan. The resulting success not only catapulted the company into a new market, but caught the eye of a like-minded company, who purchased us outright.
Solving this conundrum required a unique blend of marketing and entrepreneurial experiences – an approach that is equally effective whether you’re launching a new company or product, or trying to expand to a new market.
Though your results may vary, the benefit is clear – if you are looking to break a logjam, position your company for a new market, or gain a greater handle on the essence of a contemporary marketing, sales, and operational alignment, a fractional CMO can be of great benefit.
To help you better understand the CMO value proposition, here are some typical questions I hear from prospective clients, and my responses:
Q: How are you able to quickly respond to a company’s problems and serve their needs?
A: Embedding with the executive team is critical. It gives us a top-down perspective so we can quickly assess where to focus to drive short- and long-term results, and what additional skillsets might be needed to drive initiatives forward cost effectively. CMOs bring a ton of varied experiences – which means we have the tools needed to be nimble and responsive.
Q: What is the difference between a fractional CMO and a marketing consultant?
A: Though both may be great at developing and executing marketing strategies for a specific industry, channel, or type of target audience, only a fractional CMO tends to have the type of experience and expertise needed to excel as a mentor. We coach and guide the team and help them focus on the big-picture insights and strategies. Also, the typical fractional CMO engagement, by design, is temporary – typically 3-6 months.
For a deeper dive into the differences, check out this blog.
Q: What is the difference between hiring a fractional CMO to execute upon a specific campaign or channel vs an agency?
A: A fractional CMO supports the development of growth strategies that will positively impact your entire business, and is adept at spotting and filling in gaps in execution that might exist in your team. We are also better positioned to execute a quick pivot in strategy. In contrast, an agency often has a set way to approaching a project or opportunity, with little flexibility to adapt to your unique situation. A fractional CMO also should be able to adapt to your culture, and embed with your staff – conversely, an agency will always be more of a third-party resource.
For a great primer on these differences, check out a recent blog by my colleague, Dawn Werry.
Q: What is the typical working arrangement for a fractional CMO?
A: Though the engagement generally is part-time in nature, we support you as needed, and are flexible to meet in-person, via Zoom, or at a third-party location for client meetings, cadences, and other regular or recurring tasks.
Q: Do I have to provide the tools and equipment I would normally provide for a full-time employee?
A: Not necessarily. A fractional CMO will use their own laptop, remote working space, and possibly research tools such as Semrush or Survey Monkey. You may want to provide an extra seat or license for tools such as Slack and Hubspot.
Q: As a CEO, how do I manage a fractional CMO?
A: As with any employee, it’s best to establish goals and objectives up front, then establish regular check-ins to review progress and make occasional modifications to scope or priorities based on the dynamic needs of your business. Clear communication is key, and if a fractional CMO is managing your employees, make sure you schedule regular check-ins to ensure that company policies and culture are being maintained and that everyone is happy with the arrangement. Be direct and up front about your cultural norms, and how you want them to behave with your team.
One final thought: Ultimately, the alliance between a CEO and fractional CMO is made – or broken – on relationships. To open the books, and share your most closely-held hopes and dreams for your business, requires a deep level of trust in order to work. Once that hurdle is crossed, you’ll find that a fractional CMO is likely the one ingredient that can help to propel your business forward in a measurable and impactful way.