The Rise of the Fractional CMO: A Strategic Marketing Solution for Growing Businesses

The value of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is unarguable, but for an early stage business a dedicated full-time role may be unaffordable.

Enter the fractional CMO, adding value in an affordable and scalable package.

Defining Fractional CMOs and Their Role in Today’s Market

The fractional CMO joins the leadership team and takes on responsibility for the marketing function and its activities.  This allows the CEO and other leaders to look after all the other parts of the business knowing that marketing is in a safe pair of hands.

The marketing team has someone to provide direction and guidance and external marketing agencies have a decision-maker to keep things moving along.

Addressing the Needs of Businesses Unsure of Hiring a Full-Time CMO

An organization may have difficulty affording and attracting the right candidate for a full-time CMO role until it has grown to a sufficient scale. However, it won’t reach that scale without effective marketing!

This need is met by a fractional CMO until the planned transition to a full-time CMO occurs.

What Does a Fractional CMO Do?

A fractional CMO provides strategic marketing leadership, brings deep expertise in marketing across different channels and works in a collaborative style to get things done.

Because the fractional CMO role is part-time, delegation to internal and external ‘doers’ is essential.

Strategic Marketing Leadership

Setting up the marketing function so it is effective is a strategic challenge.  The fractional CMO works with the CEO and other leaders to develop marketing plans and align them with business objectives. 

An important part of this is setting the budget and prioritizing how the money will be spent. 

Developing and  Implementing Comprehensive Marketing Plans

The marketing plan that is developed should define who are the target customers, how they will be made aware of the offering and how inbound leads will be managed.

The fractional CMO will also work on creative elements, including brand-building and campaigns that attract and excite.  

Setting Marketing Goals and Aligning Them with Business Objectives

The company strategy will provide top-level business objectives that are translated by the fractional CMO into marketing goals. 

These include key metrics such as the number of new prospective customers that marketing will bring into the business. The fractional CMO will work with the sales leader on balancing inbound and outreach efforts, and aligning on the key competitive differentiators and messaging for different buyers.

Marketing Expertise Across Different Channels

The fractional CMO brings expertise across different channels.  Because of the power and cost-effectiveness of digital online marketing, this will always be a focus.

The allocation of marketing resources to offline channels, such as traditional media, advertising, events, and outbound marketing techniques such as cold calling and trade shows will also be considered and incorporated into the marketing calendar when relevant.   

Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, Branding & Communications

The fractional CMO works hard on establishing a high-ranking SEO web presence and uses tactics such as high value content to draw in prospective customers and register them as leads. 

Wherever possible for digital experiences the prospective customers expect to ‘Try Now’ and this is what marketing strives to make happen. Our fractional CMO experience with SaaS companies has helped us build up proven playbooks that leverage many of the common tools including Hubspot.

The criteria for a Qualified Lead is determined with sales and the repeatable processes established to automate and streamline as the numbers grow.  

Market Research, Competitive Analysis, and Industry Trends

Fractional CMOs also know the value of data and will leverage external market research and competitive intelligence to determine where to win and what tactics to use, including pricing and packaging.  

Team Management and Collaboration

The fractional CMO provides guidance and support for the marketing professionals and oversees the day-to-day work, ensuring timely approvals and decisions.

An effective fractional CMO will be attuned to the content and tone of messaging, and will seek to establish a house style, and coach team members accordingly.

Providing Guidance and Support to Existing Marketing Teams

A fractional CMO guides their team and provides them with the support needed to get the job done.  Not tempted to do all the doing, with a fractional role the emphasis is very much on delegating what can be delegated.

Many marketing activities involve agencies and will be driven along at a fast pace.  The fractional CMO is the key contact point for the agencies and helps things move along.

Overseeing Marketing Operations and Project Management

A decision-making role of the fractional CMO that is particularly valuable is when the high pace of marketing content creation (by internal marketing team members or agencies) needs approval so campaigns can go live on time.

Other practical aspects include procurement and payment for marketing-related services, in conjunction with Accounts Payable.

Most fractional CMOs have a data-driven approach and this will include analytics and dashboards that track what is happening and how this compares to plan.  

Benefits of Hiring a Fractional CMO

The benefits of a fractional CMO are significant although will vary depending on the type of company and its lifecycle stage.

Cost-Effectiveness and Scalability

One of the main initial reasons that companies look to engage with a fractional CMO are cost-driven.  

Access to Top-Tier Marketing Expertise Without Full-Time Salary Costs

A fractional CMO operates under a contract that costs less than a full-time CMO.  

A typical workload of a fractional CMO would be around 10 hours per week.

Flexibility to Scale Marketing Leadership Up or Down as Needed

The company’s marketing needs will dictate whether the fractional CMO efforts need to scale up or down.  This often happens informally, with hours worked varying by week based on what is happening in the marketing calendar.  Or a specific project might need extra efforts and this may be added to the monthly invoice.

Rapid Growth and Strategic Direction

The main benefit to the company is to have effective steering of the marketing function and effective execution of the activities on the marketing plan.  

Fast-Track Marketing Initiatives and Drive Business Growth

An effective fractional CMO prioritises and focuses their efforts and makes rapid progress in the focus areas. 

Benefit from Seasoned Experience and Proven Marketing Strategies

Knowing what works from experience is a great place to start.  All marketing plans are tailored and adjusted to achieve the specific company goals. 

Filling Leadership Gaps and Providing Objectivity

If the marketing function is run without leadership there can be a gap. Junior marketing people learning on the job may not make great decisions. Even good external agencies can run out of control without effective oversight.

The gap can be filled by well-meaning executives from different functions stepping into marketing, however this can be detrimental to overall company performance.  

Offer Fresh Perspectives and Strategic Guidance to Internal Marketing Teams

The fractional CMO brings fresh outside perspectives and the experience to guide internal marketing teams.  

This should include planning, communication and delegation.  The internal marketing teams should know what is happening when and why, and what their most important next activity is.  If they need help with task execution the fractional CMO can offer relevant support.  

Bridge the Gap Between C-Suite Executives and Marketing Operations

Marketing isn’t a ‘set and forget’ function.  It needs to be driven along. Some marketing operations are able to keep working with minimal supervision, but most will thrive with proactive and ongoing leadership.

Sometimes marketing needs to ‘push back’ against other functions and ensure that marketing isn’t blamed for issues in overall company performance.

And when marketing is elevated into the Boardroom, the fractional CMO brings all-important gravitas to the discussion.      

Who Can Benefit From a Fractional CMO?

A fractional CMO provides benefits to businesses that are building up their customer base but don’t yet have a sufficient scale to justify a full-time CMO role. 

Start-ups and Early-Stage Businesses

After the initial forming stage (has a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) emerged?), a start-up and early-stage business will benefit from hiring a fractional CMO, gaining access to expert marketing leadership during its crucial early growth phases. 

Mid-Sized Companies Experiencing Rapid Change

Fractional CMOs can also provide benefits to mid-sized companies that need to scale-up their marketing efforts and adapt to evolving market demands. 

Organizations Needing Interim Marketing Leadership

Even the biggest companies can benefit from a fractional CMO to secure strategic guidance during executive transitions or reorganizations.

As a precursor to spinning off a division, allocating a fractional CMO can be an effective way to head into the transaction.  The new owner can benefit from the transfer 

How To Find the Right Fractional CMO

The right fractional CMO will bring relevant industry experience and a flair for the role. 

Identifying Your Specific Needs and Marketing Goals

A CMO with relevant industry experience is able to hit the ground running and provide insights. 

For example, Thought Source specializes in tech so our fractional CMOs are most at home working with high growth software companies. 

Evaluating Expertise and Experience

Fractional CMOs should be evaluated as individuals and subject to a ‘hiring’ process. 

Some providers offer a low-risk initial engagement period (e.g. 1 month) to ensure cultural fit. During this initial stage you should look for a collaborative style, check that fractional CMO hours of availability and commitment match to your expectations and seek feedback from your team before proceeding to a longer term commitment.    


Companies can unlock their growth potential with a fractional CMO partnership.  Achieve a high return on your investment and long-term strategic benefits.