What is a Fractional CMO?

A fractional CMO is not just a part-time version of a full-time CMO.

3 min. read

The market is redefining the fractional CMO job.

It started as part of the broader fractional trend but as more companies have hired fractional marketers the fractional CMO role has become something different. 

Don’t worry, it’s better in many ways than the original. 

Plus, understanding how things have changed will help you make the right fractional CMO hire.

So what’s changed exactly?

Fractional execs meet a certain need

Marketing consultants have been around a long time.

Over the past decade and a half, executive-level consultants adopted the term “fractional” in order to emphasize the seniority of their experience. Fractional CFOs were some of the early trailblazers.

You might say fractional CMOs are like consultants with accountability for results.

Especially for early stage companies, hiring for the C-suite in the past was both expensive and disproportionate. 

Recruiting executives represented a huge expense for each full-time hire. Companies delayed hires for cash flow reasons even when they were desperately in need of the strategic direction, team building, and expertise that senior leaders had to offer. 

In response, marketers with executive experience followed the pattern and began offering a fraction of their time as outsourced CMOs to help guide marketing efforts for companies on a basis they could afford. 

COVID, tech layoffs, macroeconomic conditions and other factors caused the number of fractional CMOs to swell. 

Long-time consultants noticed the shift and rebranded as fCMOs as well.

Now it has evolved

The surge of fractional CMOs and the demand for them led to more fractional engagements than ever before. 

As a result, the fCMO role evolved and became something new to match the needs of the companies they served.

Now the fractional CMO job is something else entirely. 

Here’s what I mean.

Most companies are attracted to fractional hires because the cost matches what they can afford. That means that the demand for fractional CMOs is highest in companies that are earlier in their growth. 

Very large companies sometimes still find fractional CMOs useful, but they have no problem paying for a full-time CMO, so the economic reasons for choosing a fractional resource aren’t as strong. 

A full-time CMO in a mature company commands a high salary because of their leadership abilities. They aren’t just marketers, they are skilled business leaders that understand the key operations of the business and how their zone of genius integrates with the overall goals and success of the company. 

They know how to motivate and lead their teams to high output and strong execution. So every dollar paid to the CMO generates output for the company across the entire team. CMOs also have experience managing large budgets, recruiting, and understanding how the company’s strategy overlays across all of the interdependent departments. 

Younger companies don’t typically have large marketing teams. They are lean and resource constrained. For that reason, experience as a CMO for a large company is often not helpful, because early stage companies cannot afford to run the marketing programs that work for large companies. 

If a company needs a fractional CMO, it’s likely that they also need their program to run on a tight budget and they need results fast. 

Sometimes the needs and expectations of a small company are impossible to meet. Someone offering fractional CMO services must be able to deliver on the company’s marketing needs despite these disadvantages or be able to realign the company’s expectations. 

For this reason, experience as a full-time CMO may not be sufficient to qualify someone to do the fractional CMO job.

The new thing is pretty cool

Fractional CMOs today need to be able to see the strategy clearly, be decisive, and deliver value quickly and efficiently. 

They need experience and expertise as well as playbooks, systems, processes, frameworks, and relationships with trusted third parties to deliver value and guide companies to hit their growth milestones fast.

New fractional CMOs get results fast, deliver balanced execution (willing to roll up their sleeves, but experienced enough to know when not to), and proven processes and systems.

Now that you know what a fractional CMO used to be, and what it is now, you might want to check out How to Hire a Fractional CMO, a Complete Guide.


New Client Offer


Leave your details below and receive a discount coupon in your inbox