Fractional CMO

Hiring a Fractional CMO: Why, what, when & how

When I founded Growth Street over six years ago, the idea of hiring a fractional CMO was pretty much non-existent. There were firms offering fractional CFO services and a few firms offering interim CMO and CEO services but the idea was still nascent. As a practicing CMO, I was well-trained in thinking ahead of the market and customers. Plus I felt the pain first-hand as an in-house executive and CMO. There were no options at the time to get meaningful, results-driven, fractional help.

Fast-forward to today. Fractional has taken off – everything from fractional shares of a stock, to fractional ownership in real estate to fractional leadership for a business. More companies are seeing the value in fractional CMO leadership and I often get asked “the 411” on a fractional CMO, so I thought I’d share the Why, What, When & How as you consider your options to fill a Marketing leadership gap in your organization.


Hiring a fractional CMO needs to start by answering the question: “Why go fractional?” The value of the right fractional CMO is that your business benefits from:

  • CMO-led strategy & execution
  • Team leadership, coaching and mentoring
  • Flexible short and long-term engagements
  • Accelerated momentum
  • Fresh thinking and creativity
  • Well-defined hiring and staffing
  • Measurable results

Can you get these benefits from a full-time person? Sure you can, but a fractional CMO is meant to fill a gap, which often leads to hiring the right full-time person. Let’s talk about What.


So, what does it mean to hire a fractional CMO? Here are some types of businesses that benefit from a fractional CMO:

1- Businesses with non-strategic marketing: The business might be in a more traditional industry or grew-up during a time when marketing was execution versus strategy. These businesses pump out campaigns and marketing execution at a rapid pace, but lack CMO-led strategic thinking. A fractional CMO helps to guide and optimize the work, develop thought-leadership, grow the brand, accelerate growth and stay connected to customers and the market.

2- Businesses in a leadership transition: The business has a CMO who is making a transition or had a CMO who has already left the building. These businesses need a fractional CMO badly. There’s typically a team, that, in the case of a less-than-stellar CMO, has been thru the wringer, and in the case of an impactful CMO, just had their leader walk out the door. Morale drops, people are unmotivated and the ship is sailing aimlessly. The average CMO search takes 3-6 months to find the right person. Plugging in a fractional CMO fills the gap and keeps (or gets) the train on the track giving leadership time to find the right person vs. a hasty hire.

3- Businesses with a leadership gap: The business is managing a specific gap, such as a maternity leave or leave of absence. These businesses suffer from what I call “The CMO shuffle.” Typically, during a leave of absence,  leadership decides to shuffle the CMOs responsibilities around to a bunch of other people who are already stretched thin. And, in most cases, the work is shuffled to people who don’t know how to run marketing. The ripple effect of digging out from this course of action is huge and a fractional CMO keeps things humming, making it an easy transition when the CMO returns.

4- Businesses building a team: The business is at a stage where they are building their team. They could be an early or mid-stage start-up or a business that hasn’t really invested in marketing leadership. Marketing is the catalyst for growth. If you hire junior marketers first, they need day-to-day leadership, coaching and direction to achieve results. If you’re running a business without a marketing leader in some capacity, you’re likely wasting time and money on cycles of execution. A fractional CMO is money well-spent to optimize activities, grow the brand and deliver bigger thinking.

5- Businesses with complex Marketing needs: The business is heavily invested in Marketing with an existing CMO charged with delivering on KPIs that produce revenue. The CMO is leading a team, sizable budget and multi-channel streams of activities, including agency management, executive team communications, cross-company committees and other responsibilities. It’s impossible to do it all well. Bringing in a fractional CMO gives the CMO the ability to offload some key, strategic programs, such as RFPs, agency leadership, budget planning etc., to focus and accelerate results.


When is the right time to bring in a fractional CMO? I’d love to say you should do it before you feel the pain, but the reality is that we’re typically called in when there’s a problem to fix, fill or support. A good gauge  is to look at the “What” above and see if your business fits into any of those categories. If it does, let’s talk about the situation and I can give you some guidance on the best approach.


The most important part of how it works is making sure the fractional CMO you hire is the right fit. You wouldn’t hire just anyone to join your organization so getting to know the fractional CMO and how she/he communicates, thinks, leads, strategizes, measures, executes, etc. is the most important step. Once it’s a good fit for you both, you’ll decide how many days per week you need and structure an engagement. A fractional CMO engagement is typically a minimum of 3 months so that everyone can be successful and some go on for years, depending on the needs of the business.

The bottom line is that fractional is an efficient model for a number of different types of businesses. Next time you’re considering a full-time hire or have a gap to fill, explore the fractional CMO option. You can read some of our case studies here to learn more about the power of a fractional CMO and we’re happy to help when you’re ready.


Photo by Marvin Kuhn on Unsplash


Tags: fractionalcmo, fractionalmarketing, growthstreet, interimcmo
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