What Is a Fractional CMO?

In this guide, you’ll learn the ins and outs of Fractional Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and how they are more cost-effective options for seeing real business growth.
Jeffrey Stilwell

Jeffrey Stilwell

Jeffrey A. Stilwell is a marketing strategy expert and founder of Stilwell & Co. Jeffrey's passion is working with leadership teams to help them be successful, which in turn. helps their businesses and employees achieve success.

Hubspot learned in a study that only 61% of all marketers believe their strategies are effective. If that isn’t a wake-up call, what is?

Despite the doubt, marketing spends for media ads is set to hit $389 billion this year alone and is predicted to hit $536 billion by 2024. How can we continue to spend so much without the certainty that our investments are paying off?

For companies worldwide, this should be a major concern. We propose that a fractional CMO is an answer. Why? 

In this guide, you’ll learn the ins and outs of CMOs and how there are more cost-effective options for seeing real results.

What Is a CMO?

A CMO, meaning Chief Marketing Officer, is an executive that takes charge of your company’s marketing efforts. You may have an in-house team or an agency that handles marketing details and executes plans, but a CMO is in charge of the bigger picture. They will ultimately drive the direction of your marketing team.

This position is similar to other executives, who don’t necessarily get involved in the day-to-day details. Instead, they stand back and make big decisions about the direction of the company.

As a leader of your company, it’s likely that you are handling a lot of other decisions and don’t have the time needed to pay attention to marketing. Many companies choose to dedicate an executive position entirely to marketing since it is essential to company success and requires a great deal of energy.

Does My Company Need a CMO?

Marketing can fall victim to scattered techniques, to the point where sometimes it seems like a company is throwing spaghetti at the wall. On one hand, marketing thrives on experiments, using A-B testing and comparing results to KPIs. On the other hand, there needs to be an overall strategy and set goals for there to be any long-term success.

In many cases, businesses can do well enough only using a reputable agency or an exceptional in-house team. You might be seeing satisfying and consistent results. If you are happy with your current marketing efforts, then it might not be the time to invest in a CMO.

If you’re looking to scale your marketing efforts, or you’re unhappy with results you’ve seen so far, it might be that you need better marketing leadership. In that case, you’ll want to consider a CMO.

Here are signs your company needs a new marketing leader:

  • Marketing efforts have fallen flat
  • You’re considering any future large investments in sales or marketing
  • You’re going to take on large projects like advertising campaigns, marketing videos, building a website, etc.
  • Your business is growing and you have less time to devote to marketing
  • You need someone who is an expert of marketing within the larger picture of a company’s growth

If you see yourself in any of the above descriptors, it’s time to start looking for a CMO. 

Fractional CMO vs Full-Time CMO

You may have identified the signs that you need a CMO if your company is going to continue to grow, but when you found out how expensive it is to hire an executive, you panicked. This is true for most companies that have not yet grown into large corporations.

Full-time CMOs are best for companies that can invest a million dollars a year or more in their sales and marketing efforts. Keeping an in-house full-time CMO is expensive due to salary, benefits, and other overhead.

The good news is that there are different options for hiring CMOs. Just like you can outsource marketing efforts, you can also outsource CMOs. You might be able to afford a full-time CMO, and there are many benefits to doing so, but you can also choose to hire a fractional CMO:

What Is a Fractional CMO?

While a full-time CMO works exclusively for your company, a fractional CMO can be hired as a contractor. They will work as a freelancer or consultant for your company while they also work for several other companies. Hence, you receive a fraction of their time.

This might seem unsavory because you don’t want a CMO that will be distracted by several other companies’ problems and goals, but that’s why you need to do your research and find an experienced and successful fractional CMO.

A fractional CMO, however, will accomplish all the major responsibilities that a full-time CMO will. Their responsibilities include:

  • Taking part in pre-marketing conversations to lead messaging development
  • Leading marketing, sales, and commercialization program development efforts
  • Checking efforts and results against the company’s mission and goals
  • Building forecasts, budgets, and reports to monitor sales and marketing success

It’s a great deal to hire a CMO part-time and still get all of the above benefits. You can usually find one through an agency, much like you hire other marketing services.

What Are the Benefits of a Fractional CMO?

If you’re still weighing your options for whether to stick with the marketing team you have, hire a fractional CMO, or go all-in with a full-time executive, there are several points of consideration. Below, we’ve broken down the benefits of a fractional CMO in comparison to full-time CMOs:

Cost-Effective

As you’ve gathered, fractional CMOs are much more affordable than full-time CMOs. This affordability means that smaller companies can bring in marketing leadership without breaking the bank. 

Full-time CMOs are employees of your company that demand very high salaries and top benefits. You also can’t forget the perks, bonuses, retirement investments, and more. As executives, they’re paid an average salary of $174,148 in the United States.

When you’re sharing your CMO with other companies, you’re also sharing the costs. Instead of paying the full salary, you’re paying the contracting fees. In addition, you’re not responsible for the overhead costs you normally would pay for an employee.

You can choose to hire the fractional CMO for as many hours as you require. This means that the fractional CMO is more budget-friendly, as you can choose a plan that works best for your wallet and increase hours if needed. Fractional CMOs on average cost about $200-250 an hour.

A Wealth of Experience

Hiring a full-time CMO is much different than hiring a fractional CMO because of the nature of their work. A dedicated full-time CMO will generally have less experience across the board because they’ve only led one or two companies prior, or this might be their first time.

Fractional CMOs work for several different companies, so they have a lot of experience with different industries and have seen a wider breadth of marketing decisions. They can use this broader understanding of marketing across the board when applying their knowledge to your company. They live and breathe marketing leadership.

An Outside Perspective

Outsourcing marketing as a whole can be a great decision for most companies. Several businesses choose to hire an in-house marketing team because they like that the team is solely dedicated to their company’s success and don’t have their attention elsewhere. In-house teams always demand more costs because they drive up overhead expenses, and they can get caught in patterns of marketing that don’t yield great results.

Outsourcing marketing means you can get an outside perspective whose motivations aren’t necessarily just to operate within your company, but genuinely fight for results to stay hired by you. They aren’t partial to your workflow and can offer objective advice.

If we were speaking about other departments that require an in-depth understanding of your unique situation, then outsourcing might not be the best option. Marketing is different because marketing principles stay the same no matter what industry or product you’re working with. Fractional CMOs know what works across the board and can apply it without needing to be immersed in your company full-time.

Supportive Agencies

Fractional CMOs typically work with an agency of CMOs that support each other. Their agencies provide educational opportunities for growth and communities of like-minded people.

When you hire a CMO from an agency, you can be sure that the agency vetted them for credibility and proven results. Agencies need to protect their brand, so they make sure their team is nothing less than perfection. They also invest in their CMOs-for-hire by offering training, especially with thought leadership marketing, and take care of their fractional CMO’s pay and benefits so that you don’t have to. 

This means that you aren’t just relying on an individual, but can be confident that they are supported by other experienced CMOs and are continually learning.

Hire a Marketing Leader

Fractional CMOs are a great investment for small to mid-size companies that can’t afford full-time CMOs but believe in the power of marketing leadership. You can’t always take the reigns in marketing when you’re leading a company. So a fractional CMO will keep your company’s mission in mind and steer your marketing efforts towards success for you.

Stilwell and Co. is a fractional CMO agency that delivered stunning results throughout its existence. When you hire us, we’ll become a reliable extension of your team and accelerate your business’s growth.

If you’re ready to find a fractional CMO for affordable marketing leadership, contact us today