[2024] Dangers of Fractional CMO Services

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

The first page of Google probably has "20 reasons why you get Fractional CMO Services right now" plastered all over it. We get it. We all have something to sell. But based on my conversations with founders, there's been many victims who've prematurely hired fractional marketers or quite frankly, overpaid for them because of bad project scoping.

And so we took it upon ourselves to turn the tables around and explain to you what you need to be careful of as you go on your latest hiring spree. Naturally, for SEO purposes (lol) we've begun our article with the basics, yadi yadi yada. But if you want to jump right into the dangers, just scroll all the way down for "Now - for the Dangers" sub header. We got you ;)

Fractional CMO Services (aka Smart Marketing)

If you're reading this in or after 2024, and you haven't explored the possibilities of marketing channels bringing you qualified inbound leads - there's still time to act. Sure it's late. But there's still time to outsmart your competition - over time.

But here's the thing though. If you're a seed-stage startup or small business, you probably (unless you raised too much funding) do not have the cash (or need frankly) to hire a full-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or a 6-man marketing team. Let's be real.

This is where fractional CMO services come in. Fancy term, that got very popular recently. Check out the Google Trends graph, we're not lying. Why do you think we started this business haha.

Fractional CMO services (often delivered by an FCMO and their agency) provides your team with access to a senior-level marketing executive who can take ownership of your marketing strategy and execution on a part-time basis. Based on our hiring experience, the best FCMOs have 8+ years of experience, having led leadership roles where they'd have had to own the results of their marketing work. Very critical piece here is that anyone can "design and execute" a campaign, but how many people are answering to the CEO and the Board and being held accountable towards the marketing spend? Not that many. So be careful when you hire, please.

What are Fractional CMO Services?

To put simply, you're bringing in an outsider with sufficiently more expertise than your existing team, to get better marketing results. When I asked ChatGPT about this, it gave me the most generic answer on planet earth. So I'm going to have to write this by myself.

To make things easier to understand, I just created a snazzy infographic for you.

Types of Fractional CMO Services (download here)

So technically speaking, most of a Fractional CMO's work will fall into one of these buckets. They're either setting the "big picture" vision and strategy for your startup. Or, they're getting into the weeds of it and helping you design or improve your current marketing/growth tactics. Or, and here's my favourite, they're up-skilling your team and managing relationships to make sure everyone remains accountable. Big. Huge responsibility because sometimes you just don't have the right "brave" personnel internally to call out marketers when they do a bad job. It's funny but it's true.

Most marketers are charlatans.

And that's why it's become ever so difficult to find quality people you can put your faith in to run your marketing division.

Fractional Marketing Services vs. Traditional Marketing Agencies

I'll keep it short. Accountability is the #1 reason you want a growth partner and not just an agency to click buttons for Facebook ads. My 18 yo niece can do that if you just train her well enough. What you (as a founder/CEO/Marketer) need is someone to:

  1. Hold accountable towards the goals you've both agreed on delivering.
  2. Have a solid, in-depth understanding of your business and how your product, sales and marketing people talk to one another.
  3. Be a partner as opposed to only a doer, who blindly does what they were hired to do. Important.

Now are there marketing agencies who can do this? Absolutely. Can they excel at all 3 listed above? Maybe. And if they do, they're going to charge you an arm, a leg and my twins sons.

I am obviously biased here but most traditional agencies have 1-2 specializations (think web design, facebook ad campaigns) that they are ridiculously good at. And you should bring them to do that one thing. But you can't expect an agency to think like and act as your CXO - not in my experience.

Making an FCMO's role in your startup's success very clear, scoping out the work well and treating them as a partner is more likely to yield further dividends down the line. Plus, some FCMOs (especially ours) have their own team of A+ operators that they have trained over the years. And they're ready to dive in and execute the strategies laid out by the FCMO. So it's almost like buying a whole football team for the price of the captain.

Sure, Messi isn't cheap. But he brings results. Doesn't he? :)

The Benefits of Fractional CMO Services

Here's where our founder told me to sell you on the top reasons you should bring on FCMOs. And that's exactly what I'm great at explaining.

Cost-Effective Marketing Expertise

They'll provide your team with access to senior-level marketing expertise (result of decades of work) without the high cost of hiring a full-time CMO who'll cost you dental benefits, insurance for her left lung and oh $300,000 + bonus.

This is honestly great news for seed startups with $20-$30K MRR who want to break into the $100K MRR territory but don't want to hire someone who'll eat 80% of that for their salary LOL. Or if you're a pre-seed funded startup with around $50K in the bank, it makes sense to bring on an FCMO for coaching, so you're not wasting 6 months of runway "hoping shit sticks". Get direction early on. Stop wasting time and energy on random marketing "hacks".

Cross Channel Creativity

Oh so SEO's been working for you? That's great. But you've been a founder/marketer for what, 3-4 years in the same company.. so do you truly know how you can be leveraging other marketing channels where you could have a blindspot? Why leave money on the table.. ?

When you bring in an FCMO who's had a decade of experience serving 20+ small/large clients across different industries, that person's like galaxy of ideas - she'll tell you what worked for a SaaS that was at $1M - $5M ARR, what didn't work for a DTC startup scaling from $20K MRR and what marketing strategy almost killed a company that's very similar to your competitor.

"Perspective." as Gary Vee would say. And the good perspective's hard to get. Trust me on this.

And the more fragmented/crowded your market and the smaller war chest you have, the more creativity you'll need on day one. One thing I suggest is founders is only sign up for a month's coaching with HireCMO. Try it out. Do 2-4 hours of talking with our best FCMO who'll prep ahead of your call, come to your with ideas and be your sounding board.

If you're at $20K MRR, this'll cost you less than 2% of your annual revenue. But our mission through every minute of our time together, is to help you increase your revenue by 10%, 20% and so on. Get the foundations with us. Go execute on your own and then come back to us in 3-4 months again so we can see you at $30K MRR! We love founders haha damn. Anyways.

Screw the bureaucracy, let's get to work

Because a virtual marketing team is external to your core team, you can shield them from the drama, politics and bs that keeps your marketers from doing good work. That means (if you hire right) that your fractional marketing gal can now move faster, test what works vs. doesn't, get back to you with results and then double down on what's pushing the needle.

Now.. i know this is the "benefits" section but you've got to remember the other side of the coin.

Because they're not plugged into your team 24/7, if you hire the wrong person, they might fall of the face of the earth and not be responsive to your team at all. And all of a sudden your love for "fractional cmo services" will run out and you'll blame me. So please, be careful!

Having a baby? You deserve the time with your kid

When your main marketing gal goes on maternity leave, or when your full-time CMO is OOO for 4 weeks in the Bahamas, "who you gonna call?" That's right, HireCMO. If you didn't get the Ghostbusters reference, you can show yourself out.

But no seriously, with having a virtual marketing team (or just your trustworthy FCMO) that you can call up, it levels the playing field for startups that can't afford to have in-house marketers on vacation. Have your fractional CMO become your "Interim CMO" and let them lead.

I've personally spoken to over 20+ CMOs in the last month, and this is a very widely recognized use case for why startups hire FCMOs and their teams. Kind of cool when you think about it haha.

Oh and lastly, you can increase/decrease an FCMO's hours dedicated to your startup based on the initiatives that you have in flight. Got a big campaign and your Q2 Board reporting coming up? Scale it up. Got nothing much to do because your team's too busy delivering on your current engagements? That's fine, tone down her hours and focus on other parts of your business.

There's literally so many ways that having strategic marketing director available on-demand can ease up your life.

Now - for the Dangers

I've already asked you to be careful 2-3 times in the paragraph above lol. But here's the main bullet points you need to keep in mind if you're hunting for a person/team providing fractional marketing services:

High Turnover

HBR says that CMOs (full-time) stay in office 4.1 years on average. That's... not bad imo, but now imagine hiring a part-time fractional marketer. This person can technically leave any time if your contract doesn't define the scope of their work and timeline properly.

On top of that, without an emotional/mental buy-in, most freelancers can just.. stop replying to your messages. And that's why having a mediator to manage that relationship (such as us) can lower the risk of your fractional marketing services squad ghosting you. I sound salesy, but this is a real risk and you owe it to yourself to stick to people you can trust!

Besides , truly experienced senior-level CMOs may be in high demand, making them want to move from one startup to the next. It's just human. But it should not affect your startup's marketing efforts! :)

Strategy vs. Tactics

This is the age old problem. Big shot marketers sometimes only want to talk strategy. "Big picture" and won't want to get their hands dirty because hey, what's not worth their $200/hour time. Come on.

Jokes aside though, this is again a very real world issue. One way to thwart this is to make their role evidently clear in your startup. Is he advising the managers only? Will she be working hand-in-hand with your marketers to launch their campaigns? Will she manually look through your MarTech configurations at all? Or is he just joining that weekly status update call to say "Thanks, bye" and drop off.

You may be laughing now, but you'll need to be careful to not get snakes on your plane.

One thing we're doing at HireCMO to thwart this is bringing in FCMOs who have their own virtual marketing team. Fancy way of saying that they are agency owners who've been delivering A+ results for their own agency customers for years now. You can ask for their testimonials, filter them yourself and get your peace of mind knowing you've got a whole team working for you! It's fun when you work with trustworthy, smart people.

Accountability and Communications

These go hand-in-hand. When you're bringing in an external person to your startup in 2024, they're very likely to be working remotely for your team. That's great because they don't have to waste time. in pizza parties, physical onboarding meetings or time-wasters of that sort - and you can make them work on your marketing from Day 1!

But the downside of it all is that their way of communicating with you and your team may be widely differently/slow/less frequent than you'd expect. Perhaps you Slack your marketing team 10 times a day. But this new FCMO of yours only does one weekly email update..

You must make your preferred medium, frequency and outcome for communications very clear within your Statement of Work with your new hire.

And btw, accountability is the layer right under Communications. If the person you hire doesn't know who they report to, what outcomes they are accountable for and what the ramifications are of not being a good employee, you're going to hire a very lost (and quite frankly, useless) FCMO.

I've personally spent months learning how to vet and hire people, so HireCMO is well-equipped to tackle these kinds of issues early on. But if you're doing this yourself, here are some questions you could be asking your FCMO candidates:

  • Given what you know about our startup and KPIs/metrics, what would you immediately prioritize to increase our potential for lead generation? What resources, tools, people and money would you need to test and implement this suggestion?
  • Can you provide a detailed explanation of the marketing strategies and tactics that you're well-equipped to handle in our role with us? Can you provide five concrete examples of what you did, why you did it and what results came out of it?
  • What kind of reporting workflow or governance are you generally used to? What outcomes did you report on, who did you report to and how often?
  • On a detailed level, can you explain what exactly was expected of you in your past marketing leadership roles? How did you deliver on these? Can you provide a few examples of rectification steps you took, when you could not meet your expected outcomes or growth milestones?
  • Have you been actively involved in mentoring, guiding or coaching junior/mid-level marketers in your career? What strategic and tactical areas did you cover?
  • How comfortable are you (on a scale of 1-10) with providing formal reports to our investors, the Board, our C-suite and our departmental heads on our marketing/growth roadmap? Have you actually done this before, and if so, what challenges were you faced with exactly?

You're lucky you have this now because these are the questions we ask FCMOs when we bring them on board to our team lol.

Final Thoughts

I sincerely hope this helps you see things clearly. I did my best to explain the definition, the dangers and the benefits of having fractional marketing services available to you and your team. I've asked my intern to pull in all the juicy (and hard) lessons we've learned over the months to make this article very informative for you.

If you're a CEO/founder, I just want to say that you deserve the best marketing team to enable your revenue and marketing operations - and I truly hope you find one.

if you're a marketer, I have a lot of respect for those who always find ways to upskill themselves and keep up with marketing trends to find the most effective ways to generate leads for their businesses.

I wish you the best. And I hope you find the marketing leader you're looking for! :)

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