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Marketing Leadership Updated on: Apr 26, 2024

What is a fractional CMO?

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Fractional CMO definition

fractional chief marketing officer (CMO) is an outsourced marketing executive who performs the function of a CMO without your company having to commit to a full-time, in-house marketing leader. They come armed with the speed, knowledge, and experience to lead several marketing teams of the right size and growth stage to drive the results your company needs.

Several organizations benefit from being able to get started instantly with fractional marketing leadership, without incurring the tremendous costs and risks associated with searching, training, and ‘ramp-up time’ it takes for in-house CMOs.

Also known as CMO-as-a-service, fractional CMO services encompass strategic insights, branding strategy building, and marketing plan development tailored to their client company's specific needs. Although contracted, these professionals are equally committed to the company they work for––from running the day-to-day function, right down to presenting in your board meetings.

Responsibilities of a fractional CMO

Just like any CMO, fractional CMOs are responsible for all of the marketing in an organization––including managing stakeholders, the marketing team itself, and even third-party contractors. fractional CMOs are typically responsible for the following:

  • Leading the marketing team and overseeing marketing operations

  • Driving positioning, segmentation & messaging

  • Owning product pricing, go-to-market, and launch

  • Optimizing and improving clients’ online presence

  • Building the marketing & sales automation infrastructure

  • Creating prospect onboarding and nurture programs

  • Creating customer retention and loyalty marketing campaigns

  • Branding, PR, and trademarks

  • Content marketing & thought leadership

  • Paid search and organic search marketing

  • Hiring and onboarding new team members to enhance the marketing department

  • Preparation of marketing material for the next round of funding

Find out what to pay for a SaaS CMO here.

What makes a good fractional CMO?

A good fractional CMO is not just someone who has managed growth but is also an experienced marketing professional with a proven track record, including having led a company through the growth stage that your business is in or is working towards, and has managed and/or built the same size team that your company needs.

Fractional CMOs need to be able to manage, lead, and deliver ROI to have all bases covered.

  • Management to be able to organize the day-to-day function of the marketing team, and manage the team’s long-term ambitions.

  • Leadership to earn the trust of the team they manage, but also other stakeholders (CEOs, CSO, VPs, the board).

  • Deliver ROI to make sure that it makes sense to continue to invest (or not invest) in each area of the marketing function.

Aligning marketing strategies with the company's overarching business objectives is essential for a fractional CMO to effectively contribute to the company's success. A successful fractional CMO employs a strategic planning process, ensuring that every marketing effort is process-driven and aligned with the company's goals to facilitate scalable growth.

Why it works

Fractional CMOs work because they’ve done it before—it’s not their first rodeo. They’ve gone through the ups and downs that come with a specific stage of growth for a company. As a result, they are better equipped to handle the typical ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ situations and focus more on delivering the results needed to help the company scale. By providing strategic marketing guidance, fractional CMOs help companies navigate through their growth stages effectively.

Additionally, a fractional CMO also comes at a fraction of the cost. Because Fractional CMOs are typically there to support in the short-to-mid term, companies don’t have to incur the cost of searching for and training an in-house CMO, including the added price of medical insurance, benefits, and signing bonuses. With a fractional CMO. organizations can get started building their marketing function instantly—it just makes sense.

Challenges to consider 

Fractional CMOs are not going to be the industry experts in the field. And just like in-house CMOs, they will need to rely on the company's other executives to feed industry insights as they get ramped up. However, with a fractional CMO, you only have to focus on gaining industry knowledge vs. ‘learning on the job'. Additionally, fractional CMOs are not forever–they do their job best when you no longer need them. This includes setting your organization up for long-term success with the proper best practices for marketing in your industry and hiring an in-house team.  

Who needs fractional CMOs?

Several organizations should consider the option to hire a fractional CMO, especially in scenarios where they cannot afford a full-time CMO, are at a critical growth phase, or recognize the need for additional marketing leadership experience for further growth. This includes organizations and executives who:

  • Are looking to invest in a new marketing function

  • Have an existing marketing team that needs executive-level guidance and leadership

  • Are interested in getting an independent, outside perspective on their business, go-to-market strategy, and tactics

  • Want to get a running start on major go-to-market strategies and take the time to find the right hire

  • Don’t have the time or money to look for a CMO

  • Are spending more time on marketing than CEO-related items

  • Want to explore more demand generation channels

Why not just an agency?

It depends on your company’s needs. Do you fit into the section above? Or are you just looking to execute some marketing initiatives? Unlike traditional marketing agencies that deliver work without being accountable for results and require direction, fractional CMOs provide both strategic direction and execution, managing marketing agencies on behalf of the company if needed. They act as a part of your executive team, sitting in meetings, and crafting the overall strategy for your company’s projected growth.

Finding and hiring a fractional CMO

A good fractional CMO is process-driven and has a track record of helping companies scale that is similar in size or offering to your own––ensuring you have the proper guardrails and strategic oversight to meet your long-term growth needs. A fractional CMO's expertise in digital marketing and their ability to identify and hire the right marketing talent are crucial for driving growth and innovation within your company. Learn more about scaling your SaaS start-up with a fractional CMO here.

Download the complete guide to evaluating and hiring a fractional CMO here

  • Is a fractional CMO right for your company?
  • What makes a good fractional CMO?
  • Get the 10-point checklist to evaluate a fractional CMO

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