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What Is A Fractional CMO? Why Every Company Should Consider Hiring Them (And How To)

My most gratifying work has been providing fractional CMO services to multiple companies. As a consultant, my expertise and experience were underestimated. My ability to drive the innovation and execution of a company’s marketing strategies was hampered since I wasn’t (technically) a leader within the organization.

A fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is a marketing executive who works part-time or on a contract basis for a company, typically on a temporary or project-specific basis. Instead of being a full-time, in-house CMO, a fractional CMO is hired on an ongoing basis, for a predetermined period, or to handle particular marketing initiatives. Here’s an overview of what a fractional CMO does:

  • Strategic Planning: A fractional CMO helps develop and implement marketing strategies aligned with the company’s goals.
  • Team Management: They may oversee and guide the marketing team, even if it’s a part-time arrangement.
  • Budget Management: Fractional CMOs often manage marketing budgets efficiently.
  • Campaign Execution: They may lead or support the execution of marketing campaigns.
  • Analytics and Measurement: Evaluating the success of marketing efforts using data and analytics is a crucial part of their role.
  • Market Research: They might conduct market research to identify trends, customer needs, and opportunities.
  • Advisory Role: Providing strategic advice and recommendations to the company’s leadership.

Fractional CMOs are typically contracted on a project or part-time basis, which can result in substantial cost savings. Companies can allocate resources more efficiently by paying for specific expertise when needed without the burden of ongoing overhead.

Why Are Fractional CMOs Becoming Popular?

Hiring a full-time CMO comes with their salary and additional expenses such as benefits, vacation time, sick leave, and administrative costs.

The average Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Salary is $182,326 per year in the United States.


Fractional CMOs are seen as cost-effective solutions for companies that need experienced marketing leadership but don’t have the budget or demand for a full-time marketing executive. I’d argue that there are more reasons than simply saving some money for why every company should consider a fractional CMO. Here are several compelling reasons why companies should consider hiring a fractional CMO:

  • Interim Positions: Companies often need temporary assistance in the absence of a full-time CMO. This could be due to a CMO’s departure, extended leave, or during the recruitment process for a permanent CMO. A fractional CMO can step in immediately, ensuring that marketing efforts continue seamlessly.
  • Try-Before-You-Buy: Hiring a CMO is a significant investment, and making the right choice is crucial. Bringing in a fractional CMO allows the company to test the waters before committing to a full-time hire. It’s an opportunity to assess the CMO’s skills, compatibility with the organization’s culture, and ability to drive results.
  • Shared Responsibilities: Sometimes, a company may already have a full-time CMO but needs additional expertise in specific areas. A fractional CMO can complement the existing team by taking on specialized responsibilities such as implementing new technologies, crafting go-to-market (GTM) strategies, managing specific mediums or channels, or launching particular campaigns. This allows the full-time CMO to focus on core responsibilities.
  • Diverse Experience and Innovation: Fractional CMOs often bring diverse experience working with multiple companies and industries. This diversity can inject fresh and innovative strategies into the organization’s marketing efforts. They can introduce best practices from different sectors and offer a broader perspective.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Fractional CMOs offer flexibility. Companies can engage them for a defined period or specific projects, scaling up or down as required. This agility is especially valuable in fast-paced markets or during periods of change when marketing needs may fluctuate.
  • Access to a Network: Fractional CMOs often have extensive professional networks. They can leverage their connections for partnerships and collaborations, or to bring in specialized talent, expanding the company’s marketing capabilities.
  • Termination: Fractional CMOs typically work under contract or on a project basis. You can discontinue their services when the contract or project ends without the complexities and legal obligations of terminating a full-time employee.
  • Reduced Recruitment Hassles: Hiring a full-time CMO can be time-consuming and challenging. Engaging a fractional CMO eliminates the recruitment hassles, allowing companies to get the needed expertise promptly.

A fractional CMO provides a cost-effective, flexible, and efficient solution for companies seeking marketing leadership and expertise. Whether as an interim measure, a test run, or to bolster an existing team, their contributions can lead to improved marketing outcomes and strategic advantages.

What Are the Disadvantages of Hiring a Fractional CMO?

While hiring a fractional CMO can offer many benefits, there are also potential downsides and challenges to consider:

  • Limited Time Availability: Fractional CMOs work part-time or on contract, so they may not be available around the clock. This limitation could be a drawback if your company requires 24/7 availability or immediate responses to marketing emergencies. When working for clients, I have dedicated hours available to them… anywhere from half a day per week to 5-days per week for extended periods.
  • Cultural Fit: Integrating a fractional CMO into your company’s culture and ensuring they align with your values and vision can be challenging. They may not have the same level of commitment or loyalty as a full-time, in-house CMO. In these cases, you should remove them immediately. I tend to go overboard for clients since they are paying me well.
  • Long-Term Strategy: Fractional CMOs are often engaged for specific projects or short-to-medium-term objectives. A full-time CMO may be better if your company requires someone to develop and execute a long-term marketing strategy. I offer ongoing maintenance and consultation to mitigate long-term challenges to ensure success.
  • Transition and Handover: When transitioning from a fractional CMO to a full-time CMO or another leadership structure, there can be challenges in transferring knowledge, relationships, and ongoing marketing initiatives smoothly. I recommend an overlap period with the oncoming CMO to ensure a good hand-off.
  • Cost Overruns: While fractional CMOs can be cost-effective, there’s a risk of cost overruns if the scope of work expands beyond the initial agreement. This is why I opt for flat-fee monthly engagements with dedicated working hours.
  • Confidentiality and Security: Depending on the nature of the work, sharing sensitive marketing strategies and data with an external fractional CMO can pose security and confidentiality concerns. Implementing appropriate contracts and intellectual property agreements is essential.
  • Limited Influence: A fractional CMO may have limited influence over company-wide decisions. I’d highly recommend empowering your fractional CMO while holding them accountable to the decisions they’re making.
  • Team Integration: Integrating a fractional CMO with an existing marketing team can be challenging. They might not have the same level of rapport or authority as an internal CMO.
  • Flexibility Trade-Off: While fractional CMOs offer flexibility, this can also mean less control and oversight than an in-house team. Balancing flexibility with accountability is essential.
  • Knowledge Transfer: When the engagement with a fractional CMO ends, there might be challenges in seamlessly transferring knowledge and responsibilities to the next marketing leader.

To mitigate these downsides, it’s crucial to carefully vet and select a fractional CMO, establish clear expectations, and maintain open communication throughout the engagement. In some cases, a hybrid approach that combines a fractional CMO with in-house marketing leadership may be a suitable solution to balance the benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, the decision should align with your company’s needs and circumstances.

How Much Do Fractional CMO’s Charge?

The fees charged by fractional CMOs can vary significantly based on several factors, including the CMO’s level of expertise, the complexity of the projects or responsibilities, the industry, and the geographic location. Here are some general guidelines for understanding the range of fees you might encounter:

  1. Monthly Retainer: Many fractional CMOs prefer to work on a monthly retainer basis. Monthly retainers can range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the scope of services and the seniority of the CMO. This structure is common for ongoing part-time roles.
  2. Hourly Rates: Some fractional CMOs charge by the hour, and rates can range from $100 to $500 or more per hour. This rate may be suitable for short-term consultations or specific project work.
  3. Project-Based Fees: For specific projects or initiatives, fractional CMOs may propose a fixed project fee. The cost will depend on the complexity and scale of the project. These fees can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands or more.
  4. Percentage of Marketing Budget: In some cases, fractional CMOs may charge a percentage of the total marketing budget they oversee. This arrangement aligns their compensation with the success of marketing campaigns. Typical percentages range from 5% to 15% or more.
  5. Equity or Performance-Based Compensation: In startups or companies looking for substantial growth, fractional CMOs might negotiate equity or performance-based compensation in addition to a base fee. This is often used when the CMO’s role includes significant strategic input that can directly impact the company’s valuation.
  6. Location and Industry: Rates can also vary based on the cost of living in the CMO’s location and the specific industry expertise they bring. CMOs in major metropolitan areas may command higher fees, and those with specialized knowledge in niche industries may charge more.
  7. Experience and Reputation: CMOs with extensive experience and a strong track record may charge higher fees than those relatively new to the field.

It’s essential to clearly understand the scope of work and deliverables when negotiating with a fractional CMO. This ensures that both parties are aligned on expectations and compensation. Additionally, references and case studies can help you assess the CMO’s value and whether their fees are justified based on past performance.

Negotiating a Fractional CMO Agreement

As a fractional CMO I was treated as a marketing executive with full responsibilities and accountability, including budget control, vendor selection, and leadership responsibilities with the marketing team. Here’s a list of bullets to consider when negotiating a fractional CMO engagement:

Decision-Making Authority:

  • Autonomous Decisions: Specify the areas where the fractional CMO has full decision-making authority without seeking approval. These might include day-to-day marketing activities, routine campaign adjustments, and minor budget allocation decisions.
  • Major Decisions: Identify the decisions that require approval from the company’s leadership or designated individuals. This might encompass significant budget allocations, major strategic shifts, entering into partnerships, or launching new product lines.
  • Thresholds: Set financial thresholds for decisions. For instance, the fractional CMO may be able to approve marketing expenditures below a certain amount but would need approval for expenditures exceeding that threshold.
  • Communication: Define the communication process for decisions that require approval. Specify who should be involved, how requests for approval should be submitted, and the expected response time.

Reporting and Transparency:

  • Regular Reporting: Establish a schedule for regular reporting on decisions made, including both autonomous decisions and those requiring approval. This can help maintain transparency and accountability.
  • Documentation: The fractional CMO must maintain documentation of decisions, rationale, and outcomes. This documentation can be valuable for review and accountability.

Flexibility and Trust:

  • Escalation Process: Outline a process for handling disputes or issues related to decision-making. Define who should be contacted, how disagreements should be resolved, and any escalation paths.
  • Trust and Collaboration: Emphasize the importance of trust and collaboration in the engagement. Highlight that while predefined areas may require approval, there is also trust in the fractional CMO’s expertise and judgment.
  • Iterative Approach: Acknowledge that marketing strategies may require adjustments over time and that the decision-making process can be iterative. Encourage open communication and a willingness to adapt as needed.
  • Feedback and Learning: Establish a feedback loop for ongoing learning and improvement. Encourage the fractional CMO to share insights and recommendations with the company’s leadership, even if they fall within their autonomous decision-making authority.

By addressing these aspects in the agreement, both the company and the fractional CMO can strike a balance between allowing the CMO to leverage their expertise and providing oversight and approval processes to ensure alignment with the company’s goals and objectives. Clear communication and a collaborative approach are key to a successful partnership.

Are you considering a fractional CMO?

Schedule a Fractional CMO Consultation

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and CEO of DK New Media. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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