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Marketing Leadership Updated on: Mar 29, 2023

What is a fractional CMO?

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Fractional CMO definition

A 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 CMOs, although contracted, are equally as 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
  • 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 campaigns
  • Branding, PR, and trademarks
  • Content marketing & thought leadership
  • Paid search and organic search marketing
  • Hiring and onboarding new team members
  • 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 someone who has done it before––one that has seen the right level of growth that your company has experienced 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.

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.

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 can benefit by hiring from a fractional CMO agency, but there are certain criteria to evaluate if you need one. 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? Most agencies are typically not accountable for results––they just deliver work, and they need to be given direction. So, unless you’re providing the direction and overall marketing strategy, you likely need marketing leadership. Fractional CMOs act as a part of your executive team––they sit in those meetings, and they provide direction and overall strategy for your company’s projected growth.

Find your 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. 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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