What is a fractional CMO and why should I hire one?
In a recent post we discussed the best time to engage a fractional CMO. We also talked about the impact an outside perspective can have. However, with so many different elements and potential influences a fractional CMO has, it’s hard to know where to start or what to expect if you commit to working with one.
With that in mind, we interviewed our founder and fractional CMO Rahul Raj to get insight on what exactly a fractional CMO does and what you should know before investing in one.
What is a fractional CMO?
A fractional CMO is an experienced marketing leader that can help a business craft their value proposition, develop their go to market, and/or accelerate growth. As they aren’t necessarily needed full-time, they’re ideal for businesses who don’t want to, or unable to, take on the overhead.
What does a fractional CMO do?
They are engaged to identify barriers to growth and overcome them, leaving the organization better than they found it. These barriers vary by business but have involved: funnel optimization, market prioritization, paid and organic growth strategy, team design and hiring, value proposition development, rebranding, evaluating and rebuilding the marketing organization, new product development, pitch deck development, and the introduction and management of OKRs.
Ideally, I engage as part of the management team so that I have a deep understanding of the business and its aspirations, and can direct my energy toward the highest leverage items.
Why should I hire a fractional CMO? What are some signs I need one?
Hire an expert when time is of the essence. Fractional CMOs with a track record of success should be great at pattern recognition, enabling them to quickly identify the challenges holding your organization back, knowing the solutions most likely to yield success, and then directing the majority of their energy to unblocking you.
Common signs you need a fractional CMO include: slow growth, unsustainable customer acquisition costs, great product but little market traction, low brand awareness and absence of marketing leadership on the management team.
Should I hire a fractional CMO or should I outsource marketing to an agency?
There is a famous Einstein quote: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes solving it.”
This frames up my response beautifully. If you’re confident in the problem definition, hire an agency that specializes in that problem. If you’re uncertain, hire a Fractional CMO.
Agencies specialize in website development, advertising, PR, growth and will most often give you what you ask for, but that doesn’t mean you’ve correctly defined the problem. That’s where an experienced fractional CMO can help.
What should I look for in a fractional CMO?
A track record of success. Past success is a solid indicator of future success. Make sure they have a pattern of winning. Consider this in two regards. First, the depth of experience in your industry, be that sustainable brands, D2C or B2B SAAS. Second, breadth of experience across industries, enabling them to bring best practices and innovative strategies to your challenger brand and sector, not just the standard textbook responses.
Chemistry. Context matters and contributes to success, be that an organization’s culture, the dynamics of the management team, or their stage of growth. Make sure you and your team have great chemistry with your fractional CMO.
Team and/or network. As your fractional CMO understands your business and identifies barriers to growth, they’ll turn to addressing them. This will often require a team. If you don’t have those individuals in place, you’ll need to hire them, which is time consuming. And, even when they’re in place, the team will need time to build chemistry. Engaging a Fractional CMO that comes with their own team helps deliver results, fast.
Strategy. Marketing doesn’t exist in a silo. It needs to work in collaboration with product, sales, customer support, finance and operations. A great fractional CMO gets that, and is eager to be integrated into the team to both lend support and ensure that the solutions advanced are feasible.
Should every startup have a fractional CMO?
No. There are some extraordinarily competent marketers who can punch above their weight class and help fuel business growth. If you don’t have this capability, are having troubles finding someone, or you’re feeling the time pressure to put points on the board, engage a fractional CMO. You are going to pay a premium to engage a consultant, but you’ll benefit from their experience. The adage “measure twice, cut once” applies nicely here. Engaging a fractional CMO should end up saving you money in the long-run.
What’s a standout example of a project you’ve worked on as a fractional CMO?
Greenlight, a fintech Challenger helping parents raise financially-smart kids, is a definite standout. I helped position them to be the modern tool to reach that goal, developing a strategy that was as inspirational to young people as it was credible with parents, as well as position them for a Series A. By the end of our engagement, we had grown their customer base 3x, helped author their pitch deck and close a $20M series A led by Amazon, land an impressive range of Tier 1 press, launch an affiliate program, an advocacy and referral program, and built an in-house marketing team. You can read more about it here.