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What Is a Fractional CMO and How Can It Positively Impact Your Marketing Strategy?

by | Oct 30, 2022

At digifora, we’ve referred to our elite marketing executive talent as “fractional CMOs” from day one. Over time, we’ve found that the term has grown in popularity — and don’t get us wrong. That’s a great thing.

As more people hop onto the fractional CMO bandwagon, though, we’ve found that the confusion over the term has also amped up, which is why we’re here today. 

Let’s dive into the concept of the fractional CMO and answer some key questions behind the phenomenon that is revolutionizing how many small and mid-size companies are doing business. From a detailed definition of the position itself to its many benefits and some thoughts on what to look for when hiring, here is our official breakdown of fractional CMOs and how they can positively impact your company’s marketing strategy.

What Is a Fractional CMO?

Let’s start with the basics.

The “CMO” or chief marketing officer has been a growing and evolving position for a while now. A CMO isn’t just a master content creator or some marketing guru who comes up with the best taglines for your company’s next commercial or social media post. They aren’t even primarily in charge of guiding other marketers as they do those things. 

CMOs operate on a much higher level. They walk the line between the C-suite and the marketing department. They serve as a critical bridge between your company’s promotional staff and the rest of the leadership team. This means, along with a firm grasp of marketing, they must be honest, informed, responsible, and ready to overcome challenges as they navigate the daily activities within a business.

CMOs can be a game-changer for any company. The problem is that they’re too expensive for many businesses to fit into their budgets. Scratch that. They’re too expensive for most businesses. Period.

Let’s get a little perspective here. There are 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. — according to the SBA. In comparison, there are just 20,139 officially titled “large” businesses.

We like to be fair at digifora, so we need to point out that it’s estimated that just 19% of those small businesses actually have paid employees. And yes, most single-person operations don’t require a CMO on any level. But that still leaves over six million small businesses that are hiring employees. These operations are stranded somewhere between solopreneurship and a large-scale enterprise that can afford to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at the CMO issue every year (more on CMO compensation in a bit).

It’s also worth pointing out that, while infinitely helpful in specific moments, often the responsibilities of a CMO don’t warrant a full-time position for smaller businesses with fewer overall responsibilities and considerations.

Enter the fractional CMO.

A fractional CMO (CMOx or FCMO for short) is a fully experienced, equipped, and trained CMO who works with businesses for a set amount of time on a recurring basis — usually several hours per month. FCMOs are tied to a contract, providing a finite and measurable quantity of value for a company. That’s where the whole “fractional” part comes into play. They spend a fraction of their time working for each of their clients (notably for a fraction of the pay, too).

Due to their fractional nature, FCMOs typically work with multiple clients at the same time and operate remotely or in a hybrid capacity. They also tend to focus on performance-related marketing efforts in conjunction with sales growth. They develop comprehensive marketing plans and work intimately with internal staff, striving to earn their trust to improve efficiency and productivity while they’re collaborating together (usually for several months at a time).

Some people call FCMOs “outsourced CMOs,” but at digifora, we prefer the “fractional” adjective because it’s closer to the real thing. You aren’t just passing off your CMO activities to someone else. You’re hiring a fully qualified individual to invest in your company simply for less time and money than a salaried C-suite position.

Okay… What’s the Real Difference Here?

Okay, a fractional CMO sounds great, but what does a fractional CMO really give you that you can’t get with a consultant, agency, or any of the other third-party marketing options out there? 

We get it. It’s easy to blur the lines with these marketing terms. So, let’s take a few minutes to run over some of the main ways FCMOs provide higher value-added services than the other options …and officially clear the air on why traditional choices, like a marketing consultant, really aren’t the same thing as a fractional CMO.

Fractional CMOs Operate as an Employee

Let’s be real. Marketing consultants are hands-off. They give you advice and then go on their way.

Not so with FCMOs. They’re as hands-on as it gets. They can help with instruction, guidance, communication, training, feedback, the list goes on.

Fractional CMOs Actually Outsources Executive Marketing Responsibilities

Like any full-time marketing executive (and unlike a consultant), fractional CMOs are actually responsible for all marketing efforts in an organization. This includes managing the marketing team itself along with stakeholders and even other third-party contractors. 

That means FCMOs offer a way to truly delegate your CMO responsibilities. They take ownership of the success or failure of the position. No excuses or cop-outs. 

Fractional CMOs Aligns With Company Objectives

Often third-party marketing solutions come in predictable formats. They offer smart but canned or repurposed advice that isn’t tailored to the unique needs of the client.

FCMOs go much further than these simplistic consultative answers. They learn about and invest in your company goals and KPIs. From there, they align their leadership accordingly — and not just with outward-facing marketing strategies, either. They also apply this intimate and personalized approach to things like content production and external partnerships. They even help with various aspects of internal culture, such as helping to build marketing and sales automation infrastructure.

Fractional CMOs Bring Fresh, New Views

FCMOs bring a unique, outsider perspective to your company. They can evaluate your marketing in a new light and bring in fresh ideas from their own perspective.

This external influence, built on experience and industry knowledge, builds confidence and stokes a willingness to try things that may not be in the marketing playbook yet.

Fractional CMOs Also Have Elite Views

Many FCMOs, including Justin and Haley at digifora, are highly experienced individuals. They aren’t newbies trying out marketing for a change. They aren’t even representing a larger marketing agency conglomeration. 

FCMOs come with their own self-possessed executive marketing experience. This allows them to lead and guide your enterprise with elite marketing thought leadership.

Fractional CMOs Save Time

When you hire an FCMO, it doesn’t just bring elite talent into your team. It also frees that same team up to focus on their own strengths.

A fractional CMO enables marketing teams and C-suite members alike to focus on other things. This leads to better efficiency, boosted productivity, and saved time.

Fractional CMOs Come With a High Degree of Flexibility

One of the simplest benefits of an FCMO is the fact that they’re a flexible marketing option. They don’t come with a long-term commitment, and they don’t break the bank.

That means you can find an FCMO that you like, sign up for a single contract, and then decide if you want to re-up a few months later based on their performance.

Fractional CMOs Equal No Drama

It sounds silly. But any experienced entrepreneur or CEO knows how much drama can sap a team’s efforts. 

FCMOs aren’t involved in intra-office politics. They aren’t gunning for that next promotion. They don’t create drama and help your team stay focused on the bottom line.

FCMOs Are Cost-effective, Too

We’ve been hinting at and referencing this point all along, so we’re gonna give it its own full section. How much money do you really save with a fractional CMO?

Let’s break it down — starting with the cost of a traditional CMO. 

An average CMO salary is a six-figure affair. Salary.com puts the average annual salary at $337,470. Payscale has the number at a more modest $176,113. Glassdoor splits the difference by putting the average at $192,164 …oh yeah, with another $206,325 in additional pay through cash bonuses, commissions, tips, profit sharing, and other extraneous financial perks.

Again, the goal is super-duper honesty here. We would be remiss if we sold the FCMO position as some kind of hourly bargain. On the contrary, the hourly rate for most FCMOs is very high, usually in the hundreds of dollars per hour. But that’s not the point here. 

As with all contracted work, the goal is to replace a full-time salary with something significantly smaller. If you pay a fractional CMO three times your current CMO’s hourly equivalent, but they work for a tenth of the time (and without benefits or all of that pesky onboarding paperwork), you’re coming out on top in every way. It’s a win-win situation, no matter what way you slice it.

How to Hire a Fractional CMO

If you’re considering hiring a fractional CMO, there are two primary steps involved.

Start by considering what you need, not just in a fractional CMO but in any CMO. Ask these questions to get started:

  • How much experience do they need for you to feel comfortable?
  • What markets and industries do they need experience in?
  • How do they work, what is their business model, and what systems do they have in place?
  • How well do they mesh with your team?

Once you’ve laid the foundation for your FCMO search, start looking for talent pipelines that you can access, including:

  • Posting an ad on a job board.
  • Looking on contractor and freelancing websites.
  • Asking for referrals.
  • Finding a reputable FCMO brand.

That last one is key for us at digifora. We built our brand to create a safe space where those in search of elite outsourced CMO talent can easily consider if a high-quality fractional CMO is worth it. If you fall into that camp, we’d love to talk more

Reach out, and we can set up a time to chat. Together, we can explore what a fractional CMO can do to take your company’s marketing efforts and strategy to the next level.