What is a Fractional CMO and Do You Need One?

More and more companies are discovering the importance of marketing in driving growth and establishing a competitive advantage. Of course, not all companies have the resources or the need for a full-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), and this is where the concept of a fractional CMO, or a part-time CMO comes in.

Over the past few years, the concept of fractional CMO has completely taken over the marketplace. It’s a crucial role that continues to gain traction in the business world, especially when it comes to startups, mid-sized organizations, and larger companies looking to transform their business processes into more agile, antifragile and sustainable systems. Companies look for a fractional CMO when they want to make an impact, sustainably but relatively quickly. 

A fractional CMO is a seasoned marketing executive who offers their expertise to multiple businesses on a part-time (fractional) basis. Traditional CMOs are usually absorbed by the day-to-day operations of a single company, they are effectively employees working on a full-time basis. Fractional CMOs operate very differently – the standard workflow between the client and the fractional CMO is B2B-based. Fractional CMOs are business owners who offer these services to their clients. 

You might be wondering “how is that different from an agency or another marketing service provider?” and the answer is simple: fractional CMOs do offer a service, but they aren’t necessarily external to the business. They work with the CEO to establish a strategic marketing vision, while taking care of the team management, and often vetting, hiring and training new marketing team members. 

From my conversations with clients, I’ve learned that this is the #1 reason why even larger companies go for hiring a fractional CMO. It gives businesses the best of both worlds: 1) an expert who handles the marketing efforts and ensures consistent growth, and 2) an impartial take on their business performance that comes with various contacts in the marketing industry. 

The contacts are important as business owners often find that it’s difficult to work with a marketing agency due to the major discrepancy in marketing skills between the founder and the marketing team members who will actually perform the tasks for the client.

This results in the client feeling like they need to build their own internal marketing team, a step which typically proves to be much more difficult to execute than imagined. Companies then spend lots of time to hire new team members, and spend a lot of time to test their new strategies, only to find out that they’re now operating on the sunk cost fallacy (“we’ve invested so much to get this team built, let’s figure out how to make it work”). 

When a business owner learns about the concept of a fractional CMO, it immediately creates an a-ha moment in their mind. So it’s possible to work with someone who is a marketing expert directly, without getting the work outsourced to his team, but who isn’t a standard employee but an actual business owner who works with multiple businesses?

This is also why so many agencies find that they need to start providing fractional CMO services. They are trying to maximize the lifetime value of the client. Fractional CMO contracts tend to lead to a longer relationship between the marketing expert and the client. 

However, they often don’t understand why CEOs love working with a fractional CMO. It’s not just about the nature of the service, it’s about who is actually providing the service. 

Businesses get to work directly with the expert, they have a discovery call with the same person that will be managing their marketing efforts. This is very different from the way agencies typically operate. There’s still a lot of outsourcing and classic marketing team members providing strategic consulting to businesses. 

Outsourcing, overselling and having non-CMOs provide fractional CMO services is a terrible idea and will lead to the same outcome that agencies are trying to avoid: losing their contracts. 

Running a fractional CMO business is not as scalable as running an agency, but it comes with a better success rate among clients and helps create opportunities that agencies typically don’t encounter. The best example of this is a satisfied startup planning an exit offers an equity deal to a fractional CMO to onboard them into a more traditional Chief Marketing Officer.

From the client’s side, businesses are increasingly looking for ways to stay competitive and agile without overextending their budgets and playing hit-or-miss with marketing agencies. After all, a world-class fractional CMO also hires agencies to support their team, but only those that have a proven track record and deliver fantastic results for the clients. Something that is becoming more difficult to find nowadays. 

In this post, we’ll explore more about the actual impact of a fractional CMO, who needs one, and what to look for when you’re hiring a fractional CMO to scale your business. 

Understanding the Role of a Fractional CMO

The role of a fractional CMO is more multifaceted than that of a marketing consultant or even a traditional CMO. Fractional CMOs tend to have a wide range of expertise within the field of marketing, but how that expertise is applied depends on the needs of the client. 

For example, a client might not even have a marketing team built out but can still utilize fractional CMO’s expertise to build a solid foundation and hire the best specialists to execute the marketing plan. It’s also possible for a client to have all the pieces of the puzzle solved, except the actual strategic management of the team. Perhaps the CEO started out in marketing but now needs to focus on other aspects of the business. 

These are common scenarios, but the overlapping impact of a fractional CMO is the marketing strategy and ensuring that the client can achieve the initially discussed goals in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

Each fractional CMO needs to have a specific core marketing skill that they’ve mastered. The way they started their career in marketing. But before a marketer can comfortably offer fractional CMO services, it’s crucial to have marketing management skills. Not just managing marketing, but managing the actual team of people. This results in the fractional CMO having a core skill, but also having vast experience in managing various aspects of the marketing efforts.

In my case, I started off as a copywriter and moved on to Marketing Director positions, and then started offering fractional CMO services. But at the same time, the copywriting experience alone wouldn’t be sufficient to get the results that I’ve gotten for my clients. I also manage paid ads and media buying, search engine optimization (SEO), UX and conversion rate optimization, revenue management, copywriting, email marketing, retention optimization, and even the pricing and offer strategy. 

I’ve worked with many clients who were simply not aware of the real health of their marketing efforts. Upon auditing their customer acquisition systems, I’d have to notify them that their seemingly profitable paid ads campaigns were actually losing them money

They simply weren’t aware of this and they believed the numbers that their agency was providing to them. But in reality, the agency was running paid ads targeting keywords that the company didn’t need any ads for!

I’m referring to brand keywords being included in the ROAS reports. Now, I want to make this clear: there’s nothing wrong with running brand keyword campaigns. They have a place in the marketing strategy. 

However, if the client is spending their money on getting customers who are already searching for their company name on Google, and they already rank #1 on Google for that keyword – there should be an asterisk next to that piece of data in the ROAS report. 

A fractional CMO without experience in advertising might not pick up on this unethical business practice. There is a lot of misrepresentation in marketing statistics, especially when it comes to working with digital marketing agencies.

Another common theme is a client working with a marketing agency that crafts their ads and emails. But the agency specializes in a specific industry, and they trained their copywriters to churn out sales copy quickly and using templates. Then we read the sales copy and it has nothing to do with our customer. Perhaps the agency is used to working within a specific niche where overly salesy and high-pressure tactics work better, but we know the customer – our ideal customer will be offended and will never buy from us if they read this copy. It would seriously hurt the company’s reputation. 

That’s why the first thing I do after analyzing the funnels is look at the customer prototype. And when companies don’t have one, I help them build one. It’s not enough to say “we know the customer” – we need data. The process is streamlined and I did create a template for the process, but the end result is unique to your business because the data is so different.

Since language patterns and frequent terms are a big part of the customer prototype, every single piece of sales copy that the copywriters write will be informed by this document. Not following the analyzed data should be considered a form of toxic positivity. 

And that’s when we get to the real reason why fractional CMOs must be multi-faceted: not all companies can follow the same strategy and not all companies should drive traffic through the same communication channels.

If you talk to a TikTok expert, you might be influenced into running a TikTok campaign. If you talk to a Google Ads specialist, you might be tempted to start running Google Ads. 

The actual viability of these communication channels depends on your offer, customer, budget, and timeline.

As a fractional CMO, my job is not just to help the business create a cohesive marketing strategy, but also to prevent the business from making costly mistakes.

A client might be eager to run Google Ads to get customers. But now imagine a scenario where the CPC (cost-per-click) in the industry is very high, the CLTV (customer lifetime value) is relatively low, and the necessary conversion rate on the sales page would be beyond any reasonable expectation. In that same scenario, the company has the ability to easily rank for high search volume keywords with proper content, and get the traffic for free over time. If the company is able to work on these SEO efforts while developing other traffic streams as the pages start to rank, this will be the winning strategy for the business. 

Of course, it all depends on the company. As I mentioned: what’s the offer, who is the customer, how big is the budget, and what does the timeline look like. More importantly, can we change the offer and build a value ladder that increases the customer lifetime value and makes these Google Ads profitable? This is why it’s important to discuss the business strategy with the CEO upfront. 

Those are some examples of common pitfalls companies face if they don’t hire a fractional CMO. It’s not just about the opportunity cost, it’s about the direct cost

In my intro, I mention that we should utilize the resources of marketing agencies. As the company grows, even with a great marketing department, agency options should be explored to streamline the strategy and scale the marketing efforts. But we have to make sure we can measure their results, that their business practices are ethical and in line with our brand and our desired reputation. 

The Rise of Fractional CMOs

The concept of a fractional Chief Marketing Marketing (CMO) is still relatively new, but is a rapidly expanding trend in the world of business. Especially when it comes to SaaS & EdTech sectors, which is the industry I specialize in (all of my clients are either SaaS businesses or they transition into a SaaS business model after we start working together, and many of these SaaS businesses are actually EdTech and online learning companies – so there’s a strong overlap between the SaaS & EdTech companies I work with).

And it makes perfect sense why these industries in particular have the need for a fractional CMO. Software-as-a-Service businesses earn revenue through monthly or annual subscriptions, and the revenue growth can compound very quickly. So it becomes obvious that with the right marketing strategy, the return on investment would far exceed the investment for hiring a marketing professional – as long as that professional knows exactly what they’re doing. 

But these companies don’t have to be smaller companies looking to scale quickly, many larger companies find that hiring a fractional C-Suite executive gives them the perfect balance between the expertise and the hands-on guidance that is needed. 

The truth is, with the oversaturation of new companies and products, smart business owners understand that the marketing side of the equation not only helps them differentiate the product in terms of how it’s being presented to the audience, but the marketing side also influences the development and enhancement of the product itself

This mix of problem-solving services tends to appeal to tech startups the most. It’s an efficient use of company funds and allows for sustainable growth over time. 

The first time I encountered a fractional C-Suite executive was during my time as a Marketing Director for a marketing agency. The C-Suite executive that was hired at that time was a fractional Chief Financial Officer. The fractional CFO was extremely helpful in ensuring that the company’s financials were not just in good health, but that the earnings and payouts were structured correctly. 

The service that he provided cost much less than a full-time CFO employee, yet the fractional CFO ended up making a lot more money than a full-time CFO did. What a win-win situation. So the company is benefiting from the expertise of this C-Suite executive but saves money and time, and the fractional C-Suite executive diversifies risks and works with multiple companies – leading to a higher overall hourly rate and a massive increase in revenue. 

That is the main reason why so many companies are excited about hiring a fractional C-Suite executive (whether it’s a CMO, CTO or a CFO). Because this type of service benefits everyone involved in the deal. 

As companies increasingly explore remote and virtual teams, the necessity of a purely corporate environment is also decreasing in popularity. It’s no longer considered cool to attempt to mimic very traditional organizations – but it is certainly cool to build something different

Companies increasingly prioritizing innovation and embracing their unique advantages has led to this extremely dynamic new market. Both marketing experts and their clients are choosing service providers regardless of their location and office size. This shift has created two key goals for the client and the service provider (in this case, the fractional CMO). Fractional CMOs must obsess over the actual quality of their service and the results it brings to the client, while the clients obsess over the streamlining of their marketing efforts and creating a cohesive brand identity that is recognized in their target market. 

That being said, we’re still in the early days of fractional CMO services being an important part of the SaaS business world. Over the coming years, all the trends are showing that both the demand and the supply of these services will gradually increase. 

Benefits of Hiring a Fractional CMO

This section might be a little bit uncomfortable to read for some. The benefits of hiring a fractional CMO over a traditional Chief Marketing Officer go way beyond the budget-saving, lean growth strategy. 

The reality is that a fractional CMO works in a marketing advisor capacity for numerous companies. Companies will hire a fractional CMO based on the track record, there is typically no influence of corporate politics and the companies tend to choose the absolute best fit for their organization. 

I’ve been in the marketing industry since I was 19 years old, and over the past 10 years I’ve worked with over 35 companies. It would be virtually impossible for me to have over 35 different full-time jobs in just 10 years. 

When a traditional full-time Chief Marketing Officer gains experience, the standard number of companies a traditional CMO has worked for over the course of a decade is two to three

This isn’t to diminish the vital experience of a full-time CMO. The CMO is still extremely knowledgeable about marketing, but most SaaS companies understand that the real value of a CMO is in dynamic and versatile marketing experience. Essentially, adaptability is the highest form of experience one can have in the SaaS environment. And what better way to gain versatile experience and become extremely adaptable than to grow more companies, sell more products, and manage more teams?

Therefore, the #1 benefit of hiring an experienced fractional CMO is the direct expertise the business will receive as a result of CMO’s versatile background in that field. 

So many companies are spending their hard-earned money on strategies and tactics that a fractional CMO can immediately recognize as money pits – often with pattern recognition, but in many cases using the data that is available to them. 

The incredible value of data is the #2 benefit of hiring a fractional CMO. And I’m not just referring to the ability to interpret data correctly, but even knowing what data you need to collect

Research and data analysis systems that come with an experienced fractional CMO go well beyond the marketing team. The fractional CMO uses data to improve the offer, the functionality of the team, as well as the product itself. 

Benefit #3 of hiring a fractional CMO is getting unbiased, real feedback about your company. A fractional CMO is not likely to prioritize “keeping the job” over delivering actual value and providing truthful feedback to the CEO. This makes perfect sense as fractional CMOs work with multiple companies and do not experience the same financial risks and anxiety as an employee (who typically loses 100% of their income if they lose their job). This frees them to advise what needs to be done, and not calculate what someone wants to hear. 

At the same time, this is precisely the type of feedback that CEOs actually want. They want their company to grow, and not be in a situation where they never receive groundbreaking or innovative feedback because employees have a hard time sharing ideas. To be fair, many companies do have a very open culture regarding ideas, but unfortunately most do not – and this isn’t necessarily their fault, this bug is intrinsically tied to the nature of the relationship between the CEO and their employees. It’s unfortunately a problem that is quite difficult to solve. 

Being able to build a marketing dream team quickly is the benefit #4 of hiring a fractional CMO. I mentioned previously that fractional CMOs tend to work with a lot more companies than traditional employees typically do. This results in fractional CMOs having a plethora of contacts that can help boost the client’s efforts – email marketing, SEO, copywriting, design, data analytics, you name it. An experienced fractional CMO will be able to form a winning team very quickly. 

More importantly though, the fractional CMO can also take charge of the hiring process when it comes to full-time employees. Let’s say we’re trying to build an in-house team. Most of the time, the CEO is a knowledgeable tech person, but does not have the ability to quickly recognize expertise in specific marketing domains. Because of this, I always help the CEO narrow down the list of candidates, conduct interviews, understand if they can be beneficial to the company, and then proceed to send the applicant information and video recordings to the CEO. I generally recommend that the CEO does one more interview with the person before making the decision, but it’s much different trying to hire the best out of 200 applicants, and simply choosing the best fit from a few applicants that meet the marketing criteria. 

Mentoring and the team growth is the benefit #5 of hiring a fractional CMO. The fractional CMO not only vets, hires and trains individual team members – but mentors them to become leaders in their own field. This requires more than just marketing experience, it’s often about helping team members release their brakes and fully embrace their skills. I’ve seen talented employees start working at a company but hold back because of their lack of confidence in their abilities. Over time, we help them grow into true professionals and crucial assets for that company. Helping team members understand their strengths and weaknesses, and helping them develop, is a mandatory part of the process for any skilled fractional CMO. 

Flexibility is the #6 benefit of hiring a fractional CMO. The truth is, you’re not hiring an employee. You’re hiring an external business resource to support your company. That also means that you can terminate the business relationship at any time. While I’m aware that some experts do try to lock their clients into annual contracts, I personally don’t and I don’t believe that it’s beneficial nor necessary. When you work with a fractional CMO, you’ll likely be paying a monthly fee for a set amount of hours per month. If you decide to leave, you’re able to terminate the contract without hassle. You likely won’t need to do that, but it’s useful to know that you could do that easily if you needed to. 

The cost is the #6 benefit of hiring a fractional CMO. I mentioned this one earlier and I don’t believe it is the most important reason why fractional CMOs are in such a high demand, but it’s definitely a major plus for clients to know that they don’t have to break the bank to work with a true marketing expert. 

Hiring a top-notch full-time CMO in New York or other marketing hubs of the US can cost companies upwards of $500,000 and while that number can go down to a few hundred thousand dollars in other areas, you’re usually still spending at least $25,000 per month to hire a solid Chief Marketing Officer.

Investing in a fractional CMO will typically cost you a fraction of the full-time employee. As of 2024, you can expect to pay anywhere between $3,000 to $12,000 per month for an experienced fractional CMO. Depending on the number of hours, as well as the availability and the skill level of that particular fractional CMO. 

Marketing acceleration is the #7 benefit of hiring a fractional CMO, and it’s also the last benefit that I’ll be covering in this article. Unlike a traditional CMO, a fractional CMO is agile and works quickly. Because of the time constraints, it’s in everyone’s best interest to move things quickly and achieve the outlined KPIs and complete the quarterly rocks on time. The key reason for this agility is the fact that an experienced fractional CMO serves many companies and is able to recognize patterns, solve unique problems extremely quickly and then follow-through on executing the strategy without delays.

There are more benefits to hiring a fractional CMO, but the ones I listed in this section should be regarded as the most important benefits for you and your company. While there are clearly many benefits, does your company actually need a fractional CMO?

Who Needs Fractional CMO Services?

In the previous sections, I explained that various companies need fractional CMO services. But that does not mean that all companies need a fractional CMO. So what type of company would not benefit from a fractional CMO service? 

The most common reason why I refuse to take on a client is because they do not need a fractional CMO. And the most common reason why they don’t need one is because their budget is not sufficient to both hire a fractional CMO and also pay for the execution of the entire marketing strategy

Let’s use an example. A company’s total marketing budget is $8,000 per month and they are looking to hire a fractional CMO to boost their marketing efforts. But they don’t have a team in place and they’re trying to run paid ads. They believe that they can start off lean and hire the fractional CMO at the lowest rate possible – they find a fractional CMO who gives them a pretty good deal at $5,000 per month. Okay, so they hire the fractional CMO to drive the strategy, but where’s the ad budget? And where’s the budget for the additional resources that are needed to execute the strategy? Only having a few grand a month to cover everything else is not a good idea.

Essentially, the burden of hiring a fractional CMO would be too high for such a company, and they would not be able to invest any of their budget into other marketing-related things. In a case like this, the company should not hire a fractional CMO. Instead, they are better off hiring a classic marketing manager, who perhaps isn’t a high-level expert, but has sufficient knowledge to improve the company revenue and still allows the company to have some marketing budget. 

At the same time, let’s say that the same company has the exact same $8,000 monthly budget, but already has some marketing resources available and their strategy will not immediately consist of ads. The company has a business that is generating revenue and has marketing processes in place, but the company needs to improve these processes, they need a better strategy. In that scenario, the company can easily invest into a fractional CMO and expect to receive that investment back many times over. 

Virtually any company that has the resources to hire or maintain an existing team and has a proper marketing budget in place (not all companies should run paid ads, but all companies should have a marketing budget to execute a specific strategy), should consider hiring a fractional CMO to drive their marketing efforts. 

In an example, one of my SaaS clients hired me as their fractional CMO to build out a marketing team and boost their revenue. In under a year (11 months), the company increased their Annual Run Rate by $1,800,000 while investing just $120,000 into the fractional CMO services. At the same time, we were able to cut a lot of costs as the company had several unfavorable contracts with certain predatory marketing agencies. 

Contracts that I can best describe as exploitative. We terminated those contracts, hired internal and external resources at much better rates and with a higher skill level, and boosted KPIs at every stage of the funnel: from traffic, signup rates, conversion rates, all the way to engagement rates and retention rates. To put things in perspective, the increase in revenue helped the company increase their valuation by over $30 million – and that’s what really matters for this specific type of business. 

But if the company had no resources to begin with, would the company benefit? It certainly couldn’t expect the level of scale that was achieved with a company that had an existing infrastructure and a decent budget. 

This is why I don’t use my discovery calls to sell my services, I use these calls to figure out if the company can actually benefit from hiring me as their fractional CMO. I look at the math, the company’s data and discuss where they’re currently at and where they want to go. The right client – CMO fit can bring massive results in all aspects of the business, but I wouldn’t have my track record if I was onboarding any client just to get that retainer. 

The question that I have to ask myself is “can this company earn millions of dollars in extra revenue using my guidance”. And sometimes, the answer is NO. I would never recommend a restaurant owner to invest in fractional CMO services – unless the restaurant owner runs a massive chain of restaurants and is planning to transform their business model into something more profitable.

In general, I work with businesses that sell digital products, and the best examples are SaaS companies delivering software solutions and EdTech companies delivering online education platforms. 

While I’ve spent a fair amount of time in e-commerce early on in my marketing career, I generally don’t work with e-commerce stores that sell physical products. And the reason is simple. I’ve found that SaaS companies in particular benefit the most from my fractional CMO services. They have better margins for the business, so each sale brings more profitability, they allow for more creative ways to maximize the LTV, have a more dynamic valuation (which means that the impact of a fractional CMO service can be profound on companies that are planning an exit strategy), and because I personally believe that the SaaS business model is the future of commerce

Besides the examples I’ve provided, another type of company that can greatly benefit from fractional CMO services are companies going through a transition. Perhaps they’re rebuilding their team, or they grew entirely organically and it’s time to really focus on purposeful growth now, or companies preparing for a big exit in the next 48-60 months. 

If there’s potential, if there’s budget, and if there’s ambition, you should consider hiring a fractional CMO to accelerate the growth of your company.

How to Work with a Fractional CMO

If you’ve read about the potential impact of a fractional CMO and believe that your company might need fractional CMO services, let’s go through how you can get started. I’ll outline the process for working with me as your fractional CMO. 

The first step is to book a free discovery call. During this first session, we’ll discuss your business model, current standing, your revenue goals, as well as the buyer persona, your existing funnels and the team that you have in place. 

If you don’t currently have a team in place, or don’t have any of the data that I request for the onboarding process, we will discuss that to make sure we’re on the same page and that you’re okay with me helping you build that team and collect the necessary data.

If the client is a good fit, we’ll start a monthly contract and do a kick-off meeting to plan out goals for the first month. The first month typically involves data analysis and focuses on quick wins that can unlock bottlenecks in your funnels and bring revenue quickly. At the same time, we’re working on a cohesive marketing strategy and planning out the quarterly rocks and KPIs. 

Building out a key data dashboard where we can track the business progress over time is crucial. Businesses rarely have this ready, and that’s fine. Once we define the key metrics, I take charge of creating the central dashboard for crucial data. 

Team tasks must be organized properly, whether you’re using ClickUp, Notion or Asana, the environment needs to be clean and optimized for productivity. I assign and manage team members as a part of this and maximize their performance. If you’re not using a project management tool yet, we will have to change that to ensure that everyone is aware of their tasks, duties and ETAs. 

While I do understand that business owners often don’t like having too many meetings, recurring meetings are crucial when working with a fractional CMO. Within the departments, I organize meetings directly with team members, however I do schedule a recurring meeting with the CEO to discuss progress and resolve key issues. This can be done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. 

My clients quickly find out that these meetings are not a waste of time. Each meeting has an agenda set in advance and we carve out a time at the start of the meeting to go through some notes and key points. It helps us have a much more productive discussion. The meeting agendas are located in a central document and updated with each meeting. This type of organization prevents things from slipping through the cracks, we note it – we can always go back and look for it. 

The free discovery meeting is crucial. As I stated initially, each time I onboard a new client for my fractional CMO service, the actual role varies. Not all companies need exactly the same type of work done. Some companies will rely on PR, some companies need email marketing, hiring and improving their copywriters, some companies just need the overall marketing strategy and team management. That’s why we’ll use our first meeting to outline the exact need your business has and see if it’s a good fit for fractional CMO services. And if it isn’t, I’ll let you know and point you in the right direction. It’s a free call and you can book it here.