How to Hire and Manage a Fractional CMO

If you run a startup, your growth curve is flat, or your need to increase revenues for a successful exit, hire a Fractional CMO. We show you how to hire and manage one.


Bill Arnold

1/13/20247 min read

Hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer
Hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer

Hiring anyone can be a leap of faith but never more than when you hire a member of senior management that will be in charge of the growth of your company. It is not any less of a stressful event when you are hiring one on a fractional basis.

A fractional CMO is an alternative to a full-time Chief Marketing Officer. We have found the typical company that hires a fractional CMO is a startup, a midsize company that is experiencing little or no growth, or where an owner is looking to improve the growth and profitably of his company for an exit strategy. The defining characteristic of all three is that available cash is low but the need for an experienced leader is high. Since the person you will be hiring for this role is not going to devote all their time, energy, and talent to just YOUR company, how do you ensure that you are getting the right person who will have the tools and expertise to change the financial state of your company with the limited hours they will provide? It is not easy, but we have guidance that will help you secure the best person to help you grow your company.

As a highly experienced marketer, a Fractional CMO will dedicate an agreed amount of time each month to help grow a business. These individuals have a high degree of expertise, and they can provide immediate benefits and be extremely cost-efficient.

If you want more general information on the benefits, duties, and the cost of a Fractional CMO, please see our blog entitled: “Fractional CMO/CGO – Is the Agency Model Broken?”

How to Find the Right Fractional Chief Marketing Officer

Finding the person for any position requires a defined process that establishes, upfront, the qualifications and parameters of the position. The elements that we are going to share are not factors that we pulled from thin air, but what we learned from interviewing opportunities and lost closed opportunities from organizations considering us for Fractional Chief Marketing Officer and Fractional Chief Growth Officer positions.

Editor's Note: While this discussion will refer strictly to the Fractional CMO, it is equally applicable to the Fractional CGO. The distinction between the two positions is that the Fractional CGO has had experience and oversight for both the Marketing and Sales Departments in an organization.

Industry Expertise – While most marketers can shift between industry and verticals without a problem, for the Fractional CMO, you want someone who has worked in your particular industry. They will need to hit the ground running and will not have the time to learn the nuances of your industry. Look for someone with documented evidence of their experience and successes. Let them share their war stories and the process they used to achieve success.

Both Agency and In-house Experience – This can be a critical element as to whether your engagement will ultimately be successful. Orchestrating the growth of a company from within an organization is different than doing it as an agency, but both are critical skill sets.

In-house CMO – The CMO with in-house experience will have a different level of industry knowledge and understanding of corporate matters that are likely to be confronted. After all, this was a full-time position and their sole focus for the duration they worked there. They would have been exposed to all day-to-day issues and problems that arose. They would have participated in weekly leadership meetings that addressed all the issues and how they impacted the growth of the company.

Agency Experience – The Fractional CMO will be on the outside looking in. They will not have the same command and control they enjoyed working inside the company. A person with agency experience will be comfortable navigating in this manner as that is how agencies exist. Being able to muster the support, resources, and cooperation of the Marketing and Sales teams, and managers of other departments, is critical to the overall success. An agency leader would have done this hundreds of times.

There is a second reason you want someone with agency experience. While the exposure in-house is extensive, it only involves the growth of one company. Working for an agency, they have had the experience of helping dozens of similar organizations and have done more, and seen more, than anyone who has only existed inside a company. Most agencies also have experiences in a number of verticals, and experiences and campaign success can be transferred across verticals.

Seek Experience – When you are looking for a permanent CMO for an organization, the CEO often seeks to strike a balance between experience and youth. They want someone with sufficient skills to properly manage the growth but also want to invest in someone who will be there for the long term. This is not a problem when hiring a Fractional CMO. The person you are seeking is not someone meant to run the company for decades. Look for someone with extensive experience, and don’t worry that they have grey hair. They are a person who has been there, done that, and have the battle scars of experience to prove it.

Upfront Demonstration – The whole point of having a Fractional CMO is that they have the depth of experience that they can hit the ground running. As part of their engagement process, have them provide an analysis of how they begin the engagement and what issues they will attack first. The more details they provide will tell you their level of commitment and what they bring to the table.

Snapshot Report – At a very minimum, they should present a pre-engagement analysis that identifies all the issues that are impacting the growth of your company. Typically, we analyze over 35 categories and upwards of 175 data points. We know exactly the areas that are working and those that are holding back growth.

Strategic Buyers’ Insight Report – If a Fractional CMO wants to truly establish trust, and provide insights on what an engagement would look like, they will develop a report that examines all industry, company, and competitive factors that might impact growth. This type of analysis includes an examination of the following areas:

  • Industry

  • Total Addressable Market

  • Competition

  • Traffic Flow Origination

  • Website Performance

  • On-Page SEO

  • Event Marketing

  • Content Marketing Program

  • Performance SEO

  • Inbound Marketing Program

  • Organic Traffic Performance

  • Paid Demand Initiatives

  • Content Marketing Program

  • Technology Utilization

  • Sales Program

  • Organizational Need

  • Social Media

  • Demand Generation

  • Lead Nurturing

  • Influencer Marketing

  • Email Marketing

  • Account Based Marketing

  • Earned Media

  • Public Relations

Buyer Personas – If the prospective Fractional CMO does not discuss the need for a review of your buyer personas, to ensure that the messaging and engagement are optimized, do not walk, but run away as fast as you can.

Budget and Time – It is critical that you have a discussion on the amount of time the prospective candidate will work on your account each month and how much they will bill you for their services. This is often where the rubber meets the road as your needs are great and your budget is not. See if you can find a Fractional CMO who is willing to take a flat fee each month rather than bill by the hour. Many candidates are willing to work more hours at a lesser rate for a guaranteed income during the period of engagement. If you take the flat fee approach, there has to be a marketing plan in place where they can commit to certain deliverables each month.

Agree on a Budget – The budget is not what you anticipate paying the Fractional CMO for their services, but what resources the CMO can rely upon. Will the CMO have a budget for paid demand? Will they have the resources or budget for marketing support? These are important considerations. Some Fractional CMOs are comfortable doing every aspect, from strategy, design, development, content, etc., and others are not. Make sure you are aligned with what they will have to work with.

Performance Metrics – It is critical that you have discussions upfront about what marketing/sales success looks like. True success is always significant increases in customers, revenue, and profitability. Make sure you have an accord as to what this means.

It is also imperative that you both agree on the intermediate KPIs that will be tracked and have an expectation of what the improvement curve will look like for these metrics. If you are on a four-six month growth run, and the CMO has a year time horizon, it will present a problem.

Make sure that ALL the metrics are tracked to properly evaluate the CMO's progress. When we engage as a fractional CMO, we track 400 KPIs, as we never guess what is working and what needs to be optimized.

How To Manage a Fractional CMO

Here are some general guidelines that should be implemented to help ensure that your Fractional CMO's engagement is profitable for the brand.

Release the Kraken - You took the time to hire a highly experienced marketing professional who has expertise on how to grow a company in your industry. You vetted the Fractional CMO by examining the marketing plans and agreeing on the metrics that will be used to measure progress and success. Now is the time to sit back and release the Kraken to do what it knows best how to accomplish. Trust the CMO to implement the campaigns and the strategies that will work for you.

Incorporate Into Leadership - Allow the Fractional CMO to be part of your leadership team. Because they spent time working at or with companies in your industry, they may have solutions or recommendations that cross over the traditional CMO role.

Do Not Micro-Manage - I understand it is your company. You have made the investment and time, resources, and money. You hired the Fractional CMO because your growth was faltering. Do NOT presume that you know more than the CMO.

Trust But Verify - While you should not micro-manage, it does not mean that you should not require weekly check-ins and monthly status reports. The CMO should review the status of ALL the metrics that you agreed would be tracked. The CMO needs to be able to communicate what is working, what is not, and what modifications or improvements will be made to further optimize the growth.

Commit The Time - Change and improvement does not happen overnight. It is our experience that real change starts happening in month four, and it takes a full six months for the proof of concept. Commit to a full six months of allowing the CMO to prove their worth. Unless they are engaged in growth hacking, do not be discouraged if there is little or incremental changes in the first three months.