Shiny objective syndrome? The part time Chief Marketing Officer.

Moises Beahan
Talent Manager at HireCMO

The average tenure of Fortune 500 CMOs in 2022 was just over 4 years, and naturally this is worrying every marketing department and their leaders. "Why spend 6 figures and fat severance packages on a title that's not likely to stick around for too long?" This kind of thinking has driven some recruiters/CXOs into the arms of a part time Chief Marketing Officer frenzy, which I firmly believe may not be the best decision for every kind of startup or large organization.

A quick note as you read this article is that the "part time CMO" title is the same as a fractional CMO, outsourced CMO, interim CMO, etc.

FYI, be careful of this kind of part time chief marketing officer.

My team's been hearing that some mid-level marketers with 3-5 years of experience have been marking themselves up as a fractional/part time CMO. There's a few things that are unfair or wrong here:

Depth and length of their career

5 years isn't a long time to become a savvy marketing executive. Sure, a lot can happen in 60 months (i.e., 5 years) but generally, the best fractional chief marketing officer profile has over 10-15 years of full-time, operational CMO experience on her belt which almost "guarantees" that she's seen all kinds of failures, pitfalls, messy executions by CXOs and marketers in several industries/contexts.

Misaligned incentives

Generally, these marketers will have an agency or know freelancers who they'll pay off to actually get the marketing strategy executed e.g., creating ad campaigns for Facebook ads. Because of this, they may suggest initiatives that line up with their own offerings/expertise, which is really a dishonest thing to do as a fractional marketing executive.

Can't walk the talk

Most part time CMOs will want to weasel out of doing the actual work and only want to "create marketing strategies". Unless that's exactly what you need (in which case just get our favourably-priced coaching package at HireCMO) most part time CMOs are expected to craft the marketing strategy and execute on it. Conditions apply.

Jason from SaaStr mentions that there are two instances where a Fractional CMO relationship works:

  1. If the fractional CMO works at least 3 days a week, owns their function and its core KPI for real. They need to own the revenue and pipeline commit, just as you would expect from your full time CMO.
  2. If the fractional CMO, as part of her job, finds and closes your next full-time VP of Sales/Marketing. A seasoned marketing leader will have enriched their professional network over the years, and this gives you access to tap the best in their circle - fast. Cool huh?

Shady "extensions"

Having created our retainer package offerings, I know that it's wise to "cap" the number of hours a contract CMO should spend with a team. But the problem is that some CMOs will use this as an excuse to move things slower, so you end up extending their contract..

At HireCMO, a chief marketing officer will recommend doing a 4-6 month run with them in order to really drive defensible growth for your team. Unless you have specific, niche requirements, it's unrealistic for an outsourced chief marketing officer to make good things happen in just 4 weeks - but that doesn't mean it's impossible!

Where should my focus be when hiring one then?

I'm glad you asked. In 2023, CEOs of B2B SaaS companies are generally complaining about 3 things:

  • My CMO doesn’t understand the customer and our business.
  • My CMO can’t prove the value of marketing to our leadership.
  • My CMO isn’t driving enough awareness for the company.

And so naturally, when hiring your marketing leader, you must ask questions around those bullet points and thoroughly investigate the "why" and "how" behind their responses. But before you go out and bring in your new CMO to fix and scale your marketing efforts, I highly recommend getting your house in order first, as this'll save you hours down the road!

My team can also spend 1-2 hours with you (and charge you for nothing more) for helping you vet your full time CMO hire. You'll have no obligation to hire us afterwards. The reason we offer this is because I've seen inexperienced founders and CXOs spin their wheels trying to interview CMO candidates when they have zero experience with asking the right questions. Just send me an email and we'll help out: [email protected].

What are some core responsibilities my CMO should be ready for?

Great question. Here are some things that your next full time CMO (or part time) should be thinking about:

Company Strategy

  • How should we approach the market? (Messaging, Product, ICP, Pricing, Market Research, Customer Insights, Competitive Insights, etc.)
  • Does our cash position and financial forecast support our marketing roadmap? If not, what exact elements of our marketing strategies do we need to revise with our marketing team?
  • How are we defining our goals, and have we consulted the right stakeholders (and customers) to refine our core marketing objectives?
  • Are we leveraging our strengths in the right marketing channels? Does our industry foresee a massive shift if in how do traditional vs digital marketing? How are we adapting to how our target audience sees our competitors?


  • How are we allocating our marketing spend today towards our existing marketing efforts? Where have we failed in the past and how're we rectifying that for the next 3-6-9 months? (Source and Influence Attribution, Deal Insights, etc.)
  • How are we pacing vs. our plan (MoM, QoQ, YoY)? If we're underperforming, what fed our inaccurate assumptions? And how can we make manage expectations better?
  • How can we grow faster, while being lean in our tough climate in 2023?
  • How are we effectively going to align with our sales team on impact, spend, and approach? Are we tracking against the right KPIs?

Build, manage and upskill the team

  • Are there things we can do better to hire/train a great team? Do we understand why key employees have left us in the past? If so, what are we doing to plug those gaps and become an exceptional employer?
  • How can we better upskill our marketing department? What cost would that entail, and does it match the kind of marketing efforts they are expected to deploy?
  • Are we legitimately coaching our existing marketing team to become the best at harnessing our marketing initiatives? When it comes to people, not everything is about "impact to revenue" so what are we doing to help our employees become lead stable, balanced lives? And can our next CMO be a role model for this?
  • Do we fully understand what an experienced marketing professional looks like for our dream marketing team? If so, how are we still falling behind in our marketing efforts to build a world class demand generation engine?

But is now really the right time to bring in a part-time CMO?

The burning question that's on everyone's mind - so I'm glad you asked it. There's a few scenarios where bringing one on is likely to be a great decision. We've written a few good pointers on this on our blog here and here - just scroll to the bottom of those articles to see some additional use cases!

But yes, let's dive into some new use cases together:

Your main CMO or Marketing Leader just left. The show must go on.

Whether they're on parental leave or a permanent vacation, someone needs to pick up the pieces and provide the marketing leadership to keep pushing the needle. An interim CMO would ideally bring in their perspective from past organizations, and marry their best ideas with your current roadmap. Just be careful as culture fit may be an issue to think about here, before it becomes an issue.

Your budget doesn't allow hefty bonuses, insurance and 6-figure salaries.

Sorry but I'm a bit passionate about this. People should be paid to get work done. Not to spend hours attending mindless meetings and appearing online on Microsoft Teams.

And in 2023, unless you're flushed with cash, you should be doing everything in your power to reduce your spend. Bringing in an external person who only gets paid to do their work helps you hold them accountable to the results they're expected to deliver on, while still avoiding handing out shiny cash packages.

Politics is keeping your Marketing Leader from making headwinds.

I've heard this from one of our CMOs who spent 20+ years as a marketer - an external marketing executive with a defensible reputation can amplify what really needs to be said. Let's face it. You don't want to harpoon your own career by recommending something that's at odds with your direct report or other CXOs. I get it.

Bringing in an external person with unquestionable marketing expertise can not just make the loudmouth in the room think, but also build a supportive cheer around you so others can finally see the point you've been trying to make for months. This is real!

Your inbound channel works, but you... don't know how to scale it well.

Any marketing strategy will need to be refined over time, regardless of your company's context or industry. Finding, testing and scaling a specific channel profitably requires significant expertise. And sometimes the ideal person to execute on this won't be on your current team, and that's totally fine.

At times like this, bringing in an external fractional CMO who can use their decade's experience in that one specific channel to help out is crucial! At HireCMO, some of our CMOs have their own agencies to execute on the strategy they'll build out for your team. It's like hiring an entire marketing minion team (lol) for the price of a one part time executive. Cool huh?

You’re an early-stage startup, and you don't have a marketing team.

This one's my personal favourite. Considering that most startup teams are very product-heavy and technical in the beginning, they often need someone who has helped 5 other startups get their marketing off the ground to come in and do the same - successfully.

And especially if you haven't really hired marketers in the past, this can be a big headache-saver as HireCMO will manually vet and match you with your ideal candidate. Contracts are drafted with care, and our founder personally reviews them to make sure you're getting exactly what you're paying for and nothing less! :)

Our coaching package at HireCMO ($3K/month) also allows an even more cost-effective way for our CMOs to teach the founding team how to think about marketing, growth and sales. And also, they'll review any marketing materials you need to keep publishing content, ads, etc. Neat!

Wrapping up!

I sincerely hope you've had a great time reading this. We're always open to feedback and corrections, so drop us a line at [email protected]. Alternatively, if you'd like to have a private 1:1 with us to discuss your hiring journey, book some time on our calendar! :)

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