Fractional CMOs: What They Do & How They Help Businesses

Ready to take your digital marketing strategy to the next level, but not sure if hiring a full-time chief marketing officer (CMO) is the right next step? A fractional CMO may be just what you need.

What is a Fractional CMO and What Do They Actually Do?

A fractional CMO does a CMO’s job for your company but only works a fraction of the time a traditional CMO does and only receives a fraction of the pay. This allows your company the opportunity to level up with a lower investment. Let’s dig into the roles a bit, so it’s easier to visualize how a CMO or fractional CMO might help your business.

What Does a CMO Do?

A chief marketing officer, usually referred to as a CMO, serves as a business’s overall head of marketing. This includes the planning, developing, and executing of all advertising and marketing initiatives. A CMO is also a visionary; someone who brings in new ideas and technology to drive business growth. Yet, they also maximize the value of your company’s resources and strengthen collaboration between departments to improve overall results, not just results for your marketing department. That means they’re working alongside your sales and product development heads and managing your vendors to ensure you’re delivering what customers need and want.

It’s a big role that can profoundly impact a business, which is why the average base salary for a CMO presently sits at over $175,000 per year, according to PayScale. Some base salaries approach $300,000 annually. While a great CMO absolutely brings comparable value to a company, most businesses can’t bring on a CMO until they’ve reached a particular stage of growth in which they have the cash to invest in the role.

This presents a catch-22 situation. You can’t reach that level without investing, and you can’t make that investment until you grow. This is where a fractional CMO comes in.

What Does a Fractional CMO Do?

A fractional CMO, sometimes referred to as an fCMO, does all the things your CMO might do but only works part-time and is often hired as a contractor with a pre-determined term rather than a traditional employee. For example, an fCMO may be able to provide strategic direction in as little as ten hours per week, giving your in-house team the direction it needs to accomplish key objectives.

Contract terms vary depending on a business’s marketing goals. Some fCMOs will start with a six-month contract, though most will fall in the range of 12-24 months to start. This is because the strategy and technical setup can take a couple of months to begin with. Following this, it takes about six months to see results from certain initiatives, like SEO and social media marketing.

How Does Hiring a Fractional CMO Compare to Other Marketing Options?

There are many different models marketing teams use. I’ll break down the differences across some of the most common options below.

fCMO vs. Full-time Marketing Executive

Companies in the early stages of growth often have just a strategist or marketing expert in place. More often than not, this person knows the business and its customers well. They’re also generally quite adept at carrying out specific campaign types. For example, your digital marketing manager may be a social media powerhouse. However, they likely lack in areas like strategy, budgeting, and bringing teams from different departments together.

An fCMO would not replace this person. Instead, they’d help ensure their work aligned with business objectives and other marketing initiatives, so the results of your overall marketing efforts can be improved. The fCMO would also ensure the marketing department had the right technology and resources while cutting out wasteful spending.

fCMO vs. Internal Full-Time CMO

Because an fCMO performs the same duties a CMO does, there’s little or no difference in the outcome. However, businesses spend on salary when working with a CMO.

fCMO vs. Marketing Agency

Many businesses work with marketing agencies or digital marketing agencies as they’re scaling. Working with a digital marketing agency can be problematic to begin with. The agency is removed from the business, which makes it hard for the professionals carrying out the work to carry the brand philosophies and voice throughout the content. Plus, work is often subcontracted out, and businesses wind up with multiple layers between them and those performing marketing functions.

These issues are amplified when businesses turn to their agency for fCMO services. Perhaps what’s more concerning is that an fCMO is responsible for managing vendors and ensuring they’re performing well. Therefore, it’s impossible for your fCMO to be unbiased if they’re part of your agency.

fCMO vs. Consultant

Your experience with a consultant will vary depending on how the consultant works. Some consultants work as agencies do. They’re removed from your company, which makes it difficult for them to keep a pulse on what’s really happening and address your marketing strategy as an insider will. However, there are consultants like me who become part of the team. I work with key stakeholders throughout a company and ensure the right mix of in-house and outsourced talent is leveraged to ensure the business receives the best possible results.

How Much Does Hiring a Fractional CMO Cost?

Working with a fractional chief marketing officer typically costs between $200 and $400 per hour. If you want to work with an experienced professional who knows your industry, expect to land on the higher end. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the base salary for a full-time CMO with this background would be around $300,000 annually, and that’s before you add in things like bonuses and benefits, you’re easily saving six figures by opting for an fCMO.

What Are Some Benefits of Hiring a Fractional CMO?

Aside from paying less compared to hiring a full-time CMO, an fCMO can help your business in many ways.

How a Fractional CMO Can Help Your Business_Graphic

  • Less Risk: Hiring an in-house CMO is a big commitment. An fCMO will be working on multiple projects, so you can gauge their abilities in advance and aren’t committing to permanent placement. If your fCMO isn’t a good fit, you can usually end the contract.
  • Improved Marketing Efficiency: fCMOs are focused on your bottom line. They cut out inefficient processes while bringing in the right tech and people to improve your efficiency.
  • Innovation: Fresh eyes will likely spot new approaches to improve your marketing results.
  • Expert Knowledge: An fCMO may be the only way your business can afford to bring in a true expert, which means you’ll get better results and improved ROI.
  • Save Time: Because an fCMO has the experience, you can skip the learning curve and jump straight to strategies that really work.

Signs Your Business Needs a Fractional CMO

Now that you know what an fCMO does and how one can help your business, how can you tell it’s time to start looking for one? If any of the following signs apply to your business, it’s time.

You Want to Grow, But Your Budget isn’t There Yet

If you’re caught in the catch-22 of needing a CMO to grow but can’t afford one yet, an fCMO is the ideal choice.

Your Team Needs Expert Marketing Leadership

You may have a fantastic in-house marketing team, but if they don’t have the right leader, or their leader can’t connect their work with other departments, you need someone who can.

Your Past Marketing Strategies Haven’t Worked

You should expect your marketing team to fail at least some of the time. If they never fail, they’re never trying new things and that means you’ll never get ahead. However, if you do not see incremental improvements or it seems like everything that they’re trying fails, it’s time to bring in an expert.

You Feel Your Business Needs a New Perspective

Again, your marketing team must constantly be innovating to drive results. If your strategies and campaigns are starting to feel stale, it’s time for a fresh perspective. An fCMO can give you one.

You Want to Make Your Marketing Operations More Consistent Across All Channels

Fractional CMOs understand how everything from your website to your social media and SEO works together to produce results. They also know how to craft campaigns and implement specific marketing tactics in a way that you get maximum mileage from each asset produced. If you feel like each channel in your marketing arsenal is doing something different, it’s time to bring everything into alignment with an fCMO.

You’re Not Ready for the Commitment of a Full-Time CMO

Opening an in-house CMO role adds to your business overhead with salary, bonuses, and benefits. Adding the role also means you may need to restructure your company before you hire and must plan for a long-term engagement. If you’re not ready for this, the next logical step is an fCMO.

You Need a Marketing Professional to Boost Your Business Growth

An fCMO will have the skills necessary to level up your marketing to create measurable growth for your business. They’ll know which approaches work for any goal, be it increased retention, growing your customer base, strengthening your company with the intent to sell, or any other reason.

How to Find a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer

Ready to look for an fCMO? Here’s where to start.

  • Your Network: You may already be connected with someone who can help.
  • Referrals: If you know someone who has great marketing, ask them who handles it and if they offer fCMO services, or just put out a general request to your network and ask for recommendations.
  • LinkedIn: Check your connections or run a search for marketing consultants and fCMOs. You may find someone connected to you or who already has endorsements from people you know.
  • Trade Groups: Sometimes specialty marketers link up with industry trade groups. Although it’s not quite as good as a referral or endorsement, it’s at least a sign that the professional has some experience with your industry.

How a Fractional CMO Can Help Your Business_Graphic

Contact Me for a Complimentary Consultation

Although I refer to myself as a digital marketing consultant, I address many of the same areas a CMO or fCMO does. I work with stakeholders to build high-performance marketing teams and implement strategies that get results. This is all done from within the company. My goal is to help you reach your objectives and ultimately set your team up so that it can be successful without me. Although I have decades of experience helping Fortune 100 companies scale, I prefer working with small to medium-sized businesses that are as passionate about growth as I am.

 If you’re on the fence about whether a CMO, fCMO, or another professional is best, let’s chat about where your business is now and where you want to go. Contact me for a complimentary consultation.

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Husam Jandal

Husam Jandal is an internationally renowned business and marketing consultant and public speaker with a background that includes training Google Partners, teaching e-business at a master's level, receiving multiple Web Marketing Association Awards, and earning a plethora of rave reviews from businesses of all sizes.

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