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Fractional CMO, “CMO advisor” / “advisor CMO”, “CMO for hire”, “executive marketing consultant”, “part-time contractual CMO”… All those terms (and more) can–and often do–refer to a contractual/freelance CMO, typically on part-time engagements with one or more clients at any given time.

“Wait, doesn’t “CMO for hire” mean “salaryperson looking for a full-time job with employee status and benefits?” No, it doesn’t! Much like the term “CFO-for-hire” frequently used in the finance industry to refer to contractor CFOs (for which there are agencies) and where the industry has seen that type of work arrangement being the norm, the “CMO for hire” denomination doesn’t need to mean that it is a salaryman looking for full-time work at a megacorp with a pension plan.

Regarding the existence of the part-time, contractual “fractional” CMO role, Wikipedia also acknowledges this modern reality in its description of CMOs:

“The chief marketing officer has traditionally been a full-time, in-house position. However, in recent years there has been an emergence of the part-time CMO or Fractional CMO.”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One does not have to be a full-time employee inside a company to exerce the role of a CMO, hence the various terms we have pointed out above to refer to the part-time, contractual CMO (that we will call “fractional CMO” from here on for simplicity).

What does a CMO do, and what would be realistic expectations for the nature of their work? In this article, we wish to make it clear that a CMO does strategic, leadership, business advisory consulting work, rather than the work of a marketing “technician” or “niche specialist”.

What a CMO does

Here are the areas where a Regento CMO will operate in:

  • Business / management advice
  • Marketing strategy & planning
  • Creative direction
  • Brand architecture & brand management, when applicable
  • Strategic product/service ownership (as the voice of the customer and their fundamental needs)
  • Helping with team building & relationships, and resources management
  • Setting/owning the roadmap and organizing tasks so that team members can know “what to do”
  • Provide marketing advice, wisdom and ideas, but not necessarily doing the day-to-day implementation work themselves.

In other words: exec advisory, team advisory, co-leadership and only occasionally doing work themselves in special projects—when there is no choice and nobody else to do it, but that is supposed to be the exception rather than the norm. If your CMO is wearing 3-4 hats on an extended basis, your department is not set up to successfully leverage the potential of a CMO, and you are setting them up for failure.

This isn’t just us laying out the ground rules here. Deloitte defines the CMO as a collection of high-level roles (“Innovation catalyst”, “Chief storyteller”, “Capability builder”, “Customer champion” and “Growth driver”), but there is something to be said about the types of CMOs found in the wild as well. The Harvard Business Review magazine points out that nearly half of CMOs focus on commercialization alone, nearly a third of them focus on strategy alone, and the remaining rare birds (like Regento’s CMOs) handle both strategy and commercialization “in an entreprise-wide role focused on the design and implementation of strategy.”

Significantly, such CMOs have P&L responsibility and the broadest range of duties, including innovation, sales, distribution, and pricing.

— Harvard Business Review

This comes with an obvious caveat however: as the HBR points out, “Typically, CMOs aren’t given enough authority to do what’s expected of them.”

If you do not provide P&L authority to your experienced CMO, nor provide them with the team to support execution, or if your definition of their role is confined to the “tactical” level, your expectations towards their performance are unlikely to be realistic.

What a CMO isn’t

Now that we have painted the broad picture, let’s—for the sake of clarity and exhaustiveness—point out all the roles that a CMO does not singlehandedly replace. If your CMO does these roles for an extended period of time, and you are not providing them with the resources to build a team to take over those specialized roles, then you are doing yourself a great disservice:

  • A Community & Social manager
    This is a full-time job if you want to do it properly, and a truly fractional CMO will not do this at all. You cannot afford to waste their 1-3 days per week focus on the constant hypercrack firehose that is social media, forums, contest or community engagement. Social media isn’t “just an hour per week” or “2-5 minutes for a tweet”; any seasoned social media manager worth their salt will tell you this!

  • A scheduled writer for your blog
    Writing requires deep focus, and additional time to research and think. This is best assigned to a dedicated person, especially if you intend to have articles published multiple times per month. Your CMO may on occasion grace you with an article written overnight in a sudden surge of creative inspiration, or help set the direction of an important announcement, but you cannot afford to tie up your CMO multiple days per week researching & writing articles regularly.

  • An advertising person/team
    Advertising belongs to the creative branch of marketing, but only a part of the areas the CMO supervises, and typically requires a solid team to get right, not just someone in the corner running search & social media ads. If you think advertising is purely digital and analytical, we would recommend this talk by Bob Hoffman. We love Bob!

  • A full-time graphic designer or multimedia content creator
    Those are roles meant to support the above. The CMO can provide creative direction, but does not typically do the artwork—besides, they would likely be too emotionally attached to their craft, and they need to remain objective and business-focused.

  • A salesperson
    Sales are closely related to marketing, but are often conflated. “Telemarketing”, in particular, is a big misnomer!

  • A dedicated CFO
    True business-savy modern CMOs like you’d find at Regento will be versed in finance, planning and budgetting, may give some strategic-level financial advice in addition to defining their department’s budget requirements and forecasts, but they are not a replacement for a dedicated CFO. We simply do not hold the same kind of responsibility.

  • A product manager or customer advocate
    You need dedicated personel to nurture those aspects of your company’s value proposition. That said, a good Regento-style CMO will off course be heavily involved in these areas, as marketing needs to drive product strategy. Marketing is all too often mistakenly considered a “cost center” rather than the “profits center” it really is. The investments you make in marketing and customer experience create value throughout the sales pipeline, and beyond.

  • Someone to do busywork in general
    It is better to hire administrative assistance staffers for this, they will be much more cost-effective for your business and will not misallocate the role of a CMO.

Regento CMOs have managed all these kinds of people before… but we cannot do all of their jobs. We don’t do quadruple-duty (we did in the past, and we have the gray hairs and battle scars to show for it). Realistically, you need to staff your company to be able to move forward as a team that we can help you manage. That is why most cost-conscious clients bring us on on a part-time, “fractional” basis: by costing less than an employed full-time CMO, we allow them to be able to afford more staffers (and contractors) to do the day-to-day specialty tasks.

Even when working for you full-time, a CMO is not a one-person army (someone assigned to do “a little bit of all of those”). While it can be done on occasion for short stints, that sort of assignment cannot be sustained in the long run. They will be stretched too thin, constantly be context-switching and struggling to find focus and enter a productive state, and will not accomplish much tactical tasks, let alone strategic planning & visioning tasks.

How a great fractional CMO will behave towards you

Regento CMOs are seasoned marketing leadership contractors who will tell you things the way they are; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We do this as a professional courtesy, out of honesty, transparency, and respect. This doesn’t stem from a desire to argue or to challenge you in a duel in the desert. We simply consider it our responsibility to objectively inform you if we potentially see you err, or if certain actions or decisions would be harmful to your business or your long-term well-being as a business owner. We give you the facts, even when they may be scary or unpleasant to look at. As true marketing & business consultants, our role is to tell you what you need to hear rather than what you may “want to hear”.

A majority of individuals you will encounter in your business life will be too scared (or inexperienced) to be frank with you and to do prevention rather than firefighting. Regento is different. We ain’t chickens, and we don’t hide problems under the rug. Brutal honesty in the best interest of your business is at the core of Regento’s brand promise.

Photo credit: skydivers by David Mark, Pixabay