I was recently talking with a former Fortune 100 Chief Marketing Officer about his new activities. He indicated that he was working with a few different firms as their “outsourced,” “part-time,” or “fractional” CMO. This was the first I had heard of such a relationship but as we spoke it made more sense. Many of these firms were start-up tech firms that wanted seasoned CMOs but couldn’t afford them. A part-time solution worked for both parties.
Since this initial conversation, I have come across more and more individuals who are entering into such arrangements. To better understand this growing trend, I turned to Kent Huffman, founder of DigiMark Partners who has perspective as an expert on the topic as well as first-hand knowledge regarding why outsourced CMOs are becoming more common. Below are his thoughts.
Q: What is a fractional, part-time, or outsourced CMO?
A fractional CMO is a marketing leader who becomes a part-time addition to the C-suite or executive leadership team of a company. S/he brings a market-based perspective to crystallize the business strategy and manage the implementation of growth. However, unlike full-time employees, the outsourced CMO works part-time and often commutes from a different location or state for key meetings.
Q: Why would a company want to hire a fractional CMO – what is the benefit?
Fractional CMOs are most often the best fit for mid-market organizations that don't need or can't afford a permanent, full-time marketing leader but would benefit from the knowledge and strategic leadership that a short-term, experienced, and accomplished CMO could bring to the company. Beyond serving as a part-time addition to the C-suite, fractional CMOs usually offer other services to their clients, such as functioning as a full-time interim executive during the search for a permanent CMO, advising the CEO on marketing related issues and opportunities, managing strategic marketing initiatives, conducting strategy workshops, coaching/mentoring lower-level marketing staffers, and conducting marketing audits. Also, hiring a fractional CMO gives the CEO the ability to "rent instead of hire" with no long-term commitment, and it saves recruiting costs, shortens delays, eliminates interviews and relocations, etc.
Q: Why would a CMO want to be a fractional CMO – what is the benefit?
There are many CMOs, later in their careers, who have an interest in leveraging their significant experience to help a start-up or mid-market organization but don’t want to work full-time for the company or have to move from their chosen location. Being a fractional CMO enables experienced marketers to have a huge impact on their clients' businesses, potentially take a meaningful stock position in an early-stage firm, and/or enjoy the flexibility and variety of managing their individual assignments.
There are many ways to become an outsourced CMO. Individuals can hang a "single shingle" as an independent marketing consultant on their own, join a traditional marketing consultancy, or choose to work with an organization like DigiMark Partners. I’m biased, of course, but one of the benefits of working with an organization like DigiMark Partners is that the CMO can be part of a national firm that takes care of all the back office stuff and works on the CMO's behalf to develop business. It's a dynamic, creative, and rewarding way to apply their marketing experience and skills to help companies grow without all of the front-end sales process to manage.
Q: What advice would you give somebody who wants to be an outsourced CMO?
Probably the most important trait of a successful fractional CMO is his/her ability to translate the CEO's vision into an insightful, measurable, and actionable marketing plan. Fractional CMOs also should have held the position of VP of Marketing or CMO at one or more operating companies (as opposed to careers at agencies or consulting firms). In addition, they should have a strong market-based perspective but also understand the operational and financial implications of a growth strategy.