The dos & don'ts of hiring your first part time CMO

Moises Beahan
Talent Manager at HireCMO

This writing is part of our newly refined series here at HireCMO where we get straight to the point around hiring your first part time CMO (courtesy of our founder and his network of marketers who contributed to the material here).

If you want to chat, hit the phone call icon on the left of this article. Otherwise, come say hi at [email protected]. Let's get into it! :)

Where most people get it wrong

A part time CMO isn't your day-to-day tactical marketer. It's also not.. your regular marketing agency that you hire. And neither is this role the equivalent of a do-it-all-guy at a startup.

It's delicate, I know. But let me try my best here to explain.

A part time CMO (AKA a fractional CMO), is an outsourced position that fulfills the role of a marketing executive for your startup on a part-time basis i.e., less than 40 hours a week.

Because of their mastery (ours at HireCMO have an average of 25.3 years of exp. btw, ) they typically have great hands-on experience in growing revenues to 3x - 10x across many startups. And now, they're letting you rent their strategic knowledge & tactical expertise for typically 15-30 hours a week.

The problem is that some founders/CEOs of Series A startups (under $10M annual revenue) will bring on a part time CMO and expect them to be magic bullet that fixes all their companies problems from product to sales to marketing. It's.... not always that straightforward and that's how our matchmaking steps at HireCMO took months to perfect - meaning, I will not just attach a random CMO to your startup. There's a bunch of data points we use to figure out which exact fractional chief marketing officer from our team can fix your specific challenges in the next 3-6-9 months. But I digress.

The point here is that your part time CMO is not the solution to all your revenue problems. But making sure you fully align on your startup's challenges with your candidate before hiring them, can help smooth out a lot of issues that most founders face down the road. Here are some things to consider (feel free to copy paste and send to your team Slack):

To what extent is this fractional CMO candidate keeping up with the latest trends? And does she truly, truly understand our business? How would we rate her level of industry knowledge?

  1. Does she see any immediate issues with how our founding or marketing team functions today?
  2. Does our startup's marketing budget make her nervous? Why? And are we willing to change things so she can do her best job here?
  3. Is she asking questions to poke holes/stress test our marketing efforts and marketing initiatives so far? What does her previous marketing leadership experience really tell us about the way she works?
  4. Have we made any effort to verify her "successes" at her previous companies? What's worrying us when we talk to her references and why?
  5. What's her plan for the first 30-60-90 days in our startup? What marketing strategy does she want to test out and why?
  6. Has she had a part time CMO role before? And is she open to coming on as a full time CMO at some point in the future?
  7. Does she have a strict time commitment she wants to stick to? And is she a good fit for our current startup culture?

This list isn't exhaustive, and my HireCMO team does all these question-asking to the candidate on your behalf but you can use this initial list to get started. It's invaluable! Btw, we wrote a super detailed how-to guide for hiring your next CMO here.

What are the pros of a fractional chief marketing officer?

Engaging a fractional CMO not only offers cost-effectiveness and highly qualified expertise but also provides cost flexibility, data-driven marketing decisions, and constant high-end mentorship for your in-house marketing team.

Let's talk specifics.

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: Engaging a fractional CMO can be more cost-effective than hiring a full-time CMO for your marketing team, especially in the early stages when cash flow is limited i.e., Series A startup under $10M annual revenue.
  2. All-in-one expertise and A+ resources: Your fractional CMO will provide access to marketing strategy expertise and resources that your founding team alone may not posses. Our CMOs at HireCMO for example, have their own freelancers and agencies they can call up, so it's an easy "just press GO!" for you without all the hassle of contracting 2x freelancers, filtering 5x agencies, etc.
  3. Hyper tailored flexibility: A (great) fractional CMO can be hired on an as-needed basis, allowing your team to scale its marketing efforts/budget up or down when you need it (and not the other way around  i.e., being bossed around by your own CMO?!). Also, think of it this way. Your Q2 budget needs to be shaved off by 20%? Okay then, let's re-visit your CMO's hours and make sure she's only using her limited hours to do marketing strategy work that'll push the needle 100%. Aligned incentives is key. Always.
  4. Finally a cure for your blindsight: Yes you as the founder/CEO may have been selling your B2B SaaS through in-person events all this time, but do you really know how to build out a fully tested  funnel/marketing strategy that'll drive prospects through your door at a cheaper CAC? Probably not entirely. A great part time CMO will use data analytics and real-time market research to think through your marketing decisions. No more "gut feelings". Just do things that'll actually drive up your revenue. Come on.
  5. Finally upgrading your internal team's skillset: Teaching your own team how to analyze market conditions, understand GTM specifics to take your revenue to the next 6 or 7 figure bracket and implement ads/SEO/ABM marketing strategies, etc. is ultra important. At HireCMO, my job is to make sure you do not NEED my CMOs in the long run! Because we want to come into your startup, upgrade your team, fix up your problems, and leave so you can continue growing at a lower monthly burn rate. Unless you really, really love our CMOs in which case, we'll make an exception ;)

What are the cons of a fractional chief marketing officer?

Straight down the brass tacks:

  1. Divided Attention: This tends to be main concern amongst our prospects. A fractional CMOs generally works for 2+ companies simultaneously (including yours), which may at times lead to a lack of attention dedicated to your team. Our HireCMO rule is that CMOs shouldn't work for more than 3 startups at max, provided she works weekends as well.
  2. Potential Team Attachment: There is always a risk that your marketing department may become attached to the CMO's management style and ideas, creating a challenging situation when she leaves your team. But what I recommend is instead of completely leaving your team, that you do a weekly 60-min check in every 2 weeks for the following 3 months. This ensures you and your team have a sanity check from a third person's POV, so your growth engine keeps going strong.
  3. Learning Curve and Familiarity: Given the part-time and project-based nature of the part time chief marketing officer role, they may face a longer learning curve in understanding your company fully, potentially impacting the speed of their contribution in the short term. But this risk can be lowered if you truly drive home the questions I mentioned above, during your candidate filtering process.

What is the role of fractional CMO?

A fractional CMO is a part-time, outsourced marketing executive responsible for providing strategic marketing guidance, overseeing execution, and delivering results for your marketing team, often with a hands-on approach for your marketing leadership.

Before you go out and hire a fractional CMO, let's review the list below so you know what to expect:

  1. Test and implement marketing strategies with their fresh perspective until your team finds the tactics that work 100%. Refine key elements of your current marketing strategy for top, middle and bottom of the funnel.
  2. Train your marketing department so they correct their mistakes and learn key skills to use for your product positioning, messaging, inbound strategies, etc.
  3. Hire another experienced marketing professional (i.e., maybe your next marketing leader) to continue executing on the strategy in the CMO's absence. A good marketing executive can reduce a lot of your headache. Find your next VP of Sales or full time CMO, so they can continue growing your startup in the future.
  4. Align your leadership team with the sales, product and marketing teams so everyone is on the same page. This makes sure that the customer experience is coherent and seamless from the moment they interact with your brand.
  5. Source marketing agencies (e.g., for paid advertising) to execute on elements that your in-house team may not be the best fit for.

This is not an exhaustive list. But we do go into more detail here.

Wrapping up!

Thank you so much for sticking around! We kept this one brief, if you want to read more, head on over to our blog and hopefully you find what you're looking for :) Be well, and contact us anytime if you want to chat (doesn't have to be about CMOs haha). Ciao!

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