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Fractional CMO: The What, Why & When

Posted December 15, 2022
Fractional CMO: The What, Why & When

Leah Andrew, Co-Founder at Andrew Perry, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Leah shares her insights on how she found herself in the world of Fractional CMOs, what a Fractional CMO is, the responsibilities the title entails, and why a company would choose a fractional resource instead of upper marketing management.

Leah is the Co-Founder at Andrew Perry, a strategic marketing company. Leah and her team work with mid-sized B2B organizations, helping them with marketing strategy and implementation on a fractional basis.


How did you find your way into the world of Fractional CMOs?

The title Fractional CMO isn’t necessarily a new thing. However, it’s been evolving over the years. At the beginning of this chat, Leah explained how she found her way into the world of Fractional CMOs.

“I’ve always had a passion for marketing. It’s sort of been my career since as long as I can remember. For me, it’s always been about helping really interesting organizations, organizations I feel passionate about, understanding the digital marketing world and how to put their best foot forward. For me, that means marketing is about branding and strategy and all that. 

I started my career in a Fortune 500 company and it just felt like a square peg in a round hole, for me, because I couldn’t see the impact of the work that I was doing. So when I started to shift to work with smaller, mid-sized organizations, that’s when I could really see the impact of what I was doing.

“But as we know, these organizations don’t always have huge marketing budgets to be able to spend on big campaigns and do all that sort of stuff. So it was a natural evolution into that fractional world. With that fractional basis, you can sort of jump in and inject some adrenaline into the company. You can offer advice. You can be a sounding board. You can even roll up your sleeves and provide some hands-on support. For me, it was a natural evolution, but stemming from my true love of marketing.”


What exactly is a Fractional CMO?

Leah talked at length about what the title of Fractional CMO really is and the exact functions it entails.

“The word ‘fractional’ means part of a whole. You’ve probably heard of other similar titles like Fractional HR Manager, Fractional CFO, all of these are different kinds of people. There’s fractional folks everywhere now, but it’s really someone who you can hire on a fractional basis to help you, in this case, with your strategic marketing needs. I find that this can play out in a few different scenarios:

Maybe your organization needs help in understanding strategic vision, but you don’t have the budget to spend on a CMO who can help you put together a plan and vision for what you want to do. A Fractional CMO can come in and help you understand the lay of the land, who your competitors are, what strengths your business can leverage, who your customers are, and crystallize that for you. 

Another way that you may use a Fractional CMO, and I find a lot of organizations are like this: You have got some junior people who are really good at execution and campaigns and tactical things. But you may also be questioning how it all fits together or what it’s all leading up to. A Fractional CMO could step in and be a mentor for those folks, and again, put together that overarching strategy so those campaigns aren’t just siloed, but that they’re working towards a larger goal. 

And another one which I’ve found in a few organizations recently is sometimes, you’ve got organizations who are very sales heavy and they haven’t always invested in marketing. And now they think, we need to figure this out. We can’t have our sales people doing all this work upfront to try and qualify and do all those things for leads. If you’re a sales-based organization and folks internally don’t always understand the value of marketing, you really need somebody who can be in there. Someone that can sit at the leadership table and have those conversations at a leadership level to really educate internally about the role marketing can play in an organization.” 


Why would a company choose a fractional resource in place of upper marketing management?

Leah gave the reasons why she thinks a company may pick a fractional resource over full-time upper marketing management.

“It’s probably about the size of the organization more than anything. So are you a mid-sized organization where you’ve got some junior resources, but you don’t have a senior person. You’re starting to see that it might actually make sense to have a more senior person or you’ve got a VP of Sales, but maybe can’t afford to have both a VP of Sales and a CMO. But you know, it’s important to have that voice at the table. 

How do you bring those in, in a way that can make sense for your budget? 

So really it’s a budget question and it’s a company size question and it’s probably a company stage question. Where are you at in the evolution of your company to say do we feel like we have the budget to invest full-time in a CMO or would we be better off to invest our dollars somewhere else as we scale  and as we grow? That might be helpful to you. 

One last thing I may ask is ‘what’s happening in your industry?’ Is your industry going through disruption, do you need some sort of new thinking or someone to do a little bit of prodding or a little bit of questioning that maybe folks around the table won’t do? Even if you have folks in marketing in place, you need to ask if there’s somebody else who has got a senior leadership perspective that can tap into something your existing team can’t.

“We can digress into the role that a Fractional CMO plays and how it touches all the parts of a company and stuff like that. But you want someone who can ask the hard questions.  If you come in as a Fractional CMO or a fractional anything, you don’t have those same worries. I think of career-limiting moves or different kinds of things about that, about asking the wrong questions. Because when you’re an outsider, you have this lovely freedom to be able to ask some of those harder questions. Sometimes, that actually forces some people around the table to say, that is a good question, maybe we don’t need to do that. It’s just the fresh thinking. A new fresh pair of eyes, all that sort of stuff, which I think is very valuable.

“I think there’s another thing about when you bring in outside consultants. It doesn’t have to be an us vs. them type of scenario. It can be a plus. So when you can bring in somebody who has got perspective across a few different industries, then they can sometimes see patterns or make connections. They can connect dots that you haven’t been able to see since you’re really focused on your business. Sometimes, that outside perspective can also bring that to bear as well. I think that’s where change happens and that’s where innovations and breakthroughs and all that stuff where you can bring together divergent viewpoints.”


How do we know if we have hired the CMO role a little too soon?

“I’ve got two answers for you on this one. My one opinion is that it’s never too soon to think about marketing. As soon as you’ve got a business idea, you gotta be thinking about how you’re gonna market it, how you sell it, what connections you’re gonna make, what you’re gonna do to get it out there, and create the awareness that you need, right? It’s maybe more of a question about what kind of marketing support do you need. Do you need somebody that is fractional? Or are you funded and charged with building a team? You need the CMO who can see the big picture and hire the entire department. 

But my other thing would be, what do you really need done for the stage of business that you’re at? Do you need someone who can think and put together a strategy or do you need someone who’s gonna roll up their sleeves and do it? If you are more on the doing than thinking stage to put it simply, then you probably have hired a CMO too soon.” 


When is the wrong time to work with a Fractional CMO, if there ever is one?

“I think it comes back to sort of size and stage again. If you’re a Fortune 500 company and you are a large enterprise organization, you’re running a lot of campaigns, you’ve got a lot of different things happening, you’ve likely got huge budgets. In that case you probably need a dedicated full-time CMO resource. 

But I do think, there always is that opportunity as we discussed earlier, getting the fresh perspective. There definitely can be a scenario where you would bring a fractional in for a strategic workshop or maybe to free up some bandwidth. We’ve often worked with larger organizations where you’ve got a CMO and they’re really focused on something, but this initiative pops up and they need to get it done, but they don’t necessarily have the resources in house and so they need a senior resource who they can trust to get it done and quickly. 

A lot of organizations divide credit for pipeline and bookings between marketing and sales. How do you navigate that mentality at an executive level?

10% of organizations report that they are aligned well across sales and marketing. Leah shares her thoughts on the reasons for the deficiency and how to solve for this. 

“A lot of it stems from how each department is looking at the data and then not agreeing on what the story that the data is saying. We can make it a reporting issue, but really it’s an alignment issue. When you talk about how to navigate it, it all depends upon answers to questions like how marketing and sales are viewed separately in the organization. Does senior leadership within sales and marketing view the other as a critical part of the funnel? 

If we think about our funnel, it starts with marketing and it goes down to sales and so if you don’t have alignment you’re not going to have success. You have to have those conversations at the very outset where you agree together on what those goals are, what data we’re gonna look at, and what metrics we’re gonna hold ourselves accountable for.” 

Leah also shares that having internal buy-in from leadership down to operations is crucial in addition to ensuring systems are well integrated, data points are agreed upon, and that both teams are looking at the same data to ensure everyone is measuring success using the same lens. However this is challenging and requires change management and an expectation of imperfection at least in the beginning.

“These are things that have to happen on an ongoing basis. So you can’t just have one meeting and then agree to it and then be done. You have to have that follow through on it, and you have to have that commitment to follow through and to communicate, um, on both sides. So maybe that’s the piece, right? I think we can all agree in theory that alignment makes total sense but why aren’t we all doing it? When the push comes to shove on implementation, it’s the commitment and the follow-through that maybe are just, we’re not seeing.


For more content on strategic marketing leadership, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.