By Eric Dickmann

March 1, 2023

Fractional CMO

Marketing is increasingly complicated as businesses compete for buyer's patronage across multiple channels. The technological advancements required to maintain a strong marketing presence have elevated the importance of having an actionable marketing strategy. Companies seeking to grow look to marketers to help increase brand awareness with target customers and drive new leads to their sales teams. But as many business owners know marketing is complicated and expensive. Purchasing marketing services from vendors or agencies without a strategic plan can often lead to disheartening results. While hiring a junior-level marketing team can bring some expenses in-house, companies risk wasting time and money developing these employees with the skills and expertise needed to drive measurable growth. The decision to hire a Virtual CMO might answer this marketing dilemma.

Approaches to Marketing

Traditionally, businesses approach marketing in one of two ways. They either outsource most of their marketing efforts to third-party agencies or take on marketing in-house to design and execute a strategy. Outsourcing can produce reliable results but often comes at an extremely high cost.

On the other hand, tackling marketing internally has its own challenges. The organization might not be large enough to justify the cost of a senior-level marketing executive or building out a skilled marketing team. The temptation is to assign marketing responsibilities to other managers as part of their job or hire junior-level employees with limited skills and experience. It's common to see titles like Vice President of Sales and Marketing in many small and midsize businesses. The challenge is that marketing is the company's engine for growth. Failure to build and execute a strategic marketing plan limits growth and puts increased pressure on Sales to find leads when they should be selling. The marketing approach is often based on budgetary constraints, not what's best for the business.

What is a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)?

A CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) develops a marketing strategy aligned with a company's goals and objectives. They work closely with the management team to understand where the company wants to be headed and develops a marketing plan focused on increasing brand awareness and generating new leads for sales. The CMO manages a team of internal and external resources to execute the marketing strategy. As an executive leader, the CMO typically holds degrees in business or marketing. They have a breadth of responsibilities to support the company's mission, including:

  • Developing a brand awareness strategy to increase the visibility of a company's products and services in the marketplace
  • Researching and assessing the marketplace competition, understanding product-market fit, and building target customer personas that inform messaging and content creation
  • Collaborating with Sales to turn customer insights and opportunities into revenue
  • Directing the company's public relations, communications, and analyst relations outreach

Not All Businesses Have a Chief Marketing Officer

It's important to note that not all businesses have the executive role of Chief Marketing Officer. This is especially true of small and midsize companies. Those firms might have a VP of Marketing, a Director of Marketing, or a Marketing Manager. The title really doesn't matter.

A Virtual CMO is an experienced marketing manager who can help create a comprehensive strategy and manage its execution. No matter what title may or may not exist within your organization, if you're looking to grow, there is significant value in hiring a Virtual CMO to help accelerate business growth.

Hire a Virtual CMO for Your Business?

A better option a company may want to consider is hiring a Virtual Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), sometimes referred to as a CMO On Demand or Fractional CMO. The idea is simple. Rather than hiring a full-time executive responsible for marketing, companies can contract an outsourced CMO to achieve their marketing objectives. A Virtual CMO is a contract employee who works part-time or fractionally for multiple companies. They help build a strategic marketing plan and then coordinate the execution of marketing programs. Virtual CMOs do this by managing internal resources or engaging appropriate trusted vendors to complete tactical deliverables. This leverages their experience, connections, and expertise at a lower cost than a full-time hire or outsourcing to an agency.

Businesses are often reluctant to spend this kind of money on marketing, believing that money should be spent on sales resources. They hire a VP of Sales and Marketing, assigning demand generation responsibilities to the sales leader. Unfortunately, sales and marketing are vastly different skill sets. Sales leaders are often incentivized for short-term results and focus on meeting monthly or quarterly sales quotas. This focus on the “low-hanging fruit” comes at the expense of developing a more robust sales pipeline. Once the near-term deals are closed, sales leaders often suffer from a drought of new leads and spend money on "quick-fix" marketing programs that rarely deliver sustainable results. In business, this is an all too common scenario and can stall a company's growth.

Developing a marketing strategy to build a lead generation engine is essential for a company's long-term growth. Having consistent leads and building awareness in the marketplace is critical to support sales and keeping a steady flow of new business opportunities. But successful marketing plans take time, and building awareness doesn't happen overnight. When companies invest in a marketing strategy aligned with their growth objectives, sales will benefit from having a predictable stream of leads. This strategy is where having an experienced CMO is essential and why having an executive leader who understands how to create programs to support sales activity is crucial. So if businesses are reluctant to spend money on hiring a CMO and giving marketing responsibilities to a VP of Sales isn't the answer, a Virtual CMO might be the best solution.

The New Trend: Outsourced  Fractional Executives

There is a rising trend of hiring fractional executives. A contract executive is a perfect solution for small and mid-sized businesses, so they don't have to pay the high cost of hiring an experienced, full-time senior marketer. The decision to hire a Virtual CMO is like adding a seasoned executive to your team but for 30% - 80% less than the cost of a traditional full-time hire. These business leaders help companies build strategic marketing plans and then manage the execution of the marketing programs and campaigns. The Virtual CMO offers insight and guidance to your management team while remaining unbiased and focused on marketing. Their outsider perspective can often provide valuable insight based on their experience working with numerous other companies. They also have broad access to a network of resources to help execute marketing tactics without hiring more internal marketing resources.

What Will a Virtual CMO Do?

A Virtual CMO can help design a marketing strategy to meet your business goals. The new strategic marketing plan and accompanying budget outline marketing campaigns and tactics needed to achieve the company's goals and objectives. As the plan is implemented, the Virtual CMO will manage the execution using internal marketing resources in the marketing department or trusted outside vendors and agencies.

  • Works with you at an executive level to understand the company's goals, objectives, target customers, and product-market fit.
  • Brings a fresh perspective and critical analysis to understand your marketing opportunity. By building a detailed marketing strategy, he can tell where you stand today, how to differentiate your offerings, and what it will take to achieve your goals. This strategy has specific action items to drive revenue growth and increase brand awareness in the marketplace. It will include both inbound and outbound marketing efforts.
  • Develops critical monitoring and measurement dashboards. This ensures that critical KPIs and marketing metrics can be easily tracked.
  • Recommends critical technologies and automation platforms that can improve the execution of marketing programs, lead flow to sales, and the measurement of key marketing metrics.

As part of the strategic marketing plan, various tactics will be recommended based on the target audience we are trying to reach. Growth marketing strategies include digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, paid advertising, events, email marketing, and outbound marketing. It may also include implementing or optimizing marketing automation technology to maximize marketing effectiveness. All these things are tied to a marketing budget, prioritization list, and tactical execution calendar.

The Impact on Marketing of Hiring a Virtual CMO

Understands Your Vision

Have a big vision for growth? A Virtual CMO will explore how you'll get from here to there and what steps are necessary to grow your business. There are no cookie-cutter plans. Each business is unique, and a comprehensive strategy only works with a detailed understanding of where you want your business to go.

Creates a Strategic Plan

An effective marketing strategy can be crafted and executed efficiently with market-based insights. A Virtual CMO will collaborate with you and your team to determine areas of opportunity and how to build a plan to capitalize on market potential. A Virtual CMO brings the best ideas, within or outside your industry, to deliver results. This executive-as-a-service model lets you engage the best marketing minds in a cost-effective manner. Time is money, and a Virtual CMO gets your strategy underway quickly.

Executes, Measures, and Optimizes

A strategy is only as good as the results it produces. To that end, using the right tools to execute tactics, measure results, and analyze outcomes is critical to an effective marking plan. A Virtual CMO knows the tools, metrics, and resources needed to help your company get the best ROI for its marketing investments.

Is Hiring a Virtual CMO the Right Decision?

When you hire a new employee or contract resource, there's much to consider. There are always pros and cons to every hiring decision, but for many small and midsize organizations, there's a strong case for hiring a Virtual CMO to manage your company's marketing efforts. Here are just a few reasons:
  • Experience Without the Expense - When hiring an executive-level leader, there will be a commensurate salary based on that person's experience in marketing. This can be a significant burden for growing businesses. It may also be challenging to justify the need for a full-time Chief Marketing Officer at the current stage of your company's growth. By outsourcing your CMO, you can contract this expertise as needed. Think of it as an "executive-on-demand” service. You get the talent you need at a price you can afford. This can save you significant salary expenses and allow you to invest more in your marketing programs. Some estimates say outsourcing high-level positions can save your business 40%–65%.
  • Expertise in Marketing Execution - Depending on the company's size, the marketing leader's job is a significant undertaking for any person. Companies often hire a “jack of all trades,” but who turns out to be a “master of none.” Or they hire a team of junior-level people knowledgeable about one or two areas but may lack other expertise. An experienced CMO has the resources and connections to bring together the right team of experts to execute the marketing plan. They bring with them years of experience that they can leverage to grow your business by working with both internal resources and external experts.
  • Avoid the Pain of Recruiting - Hiring a new employee is expensive and time-consuming. You have to post the job, sift through resumes, and undergo a lengthy interview process. Hiring could take months while you search for the right candidate. A Virtual CMO is an experienced executive already working with companies to build and execute their marketing strategies. Since they are contract hires, you'll quickly see how they work with your team and integrate into your decision-making processes. Getting a Virtual CMO onboard can happen quickly once you're comfortable with their experience and management style. As soon as the contract is signed, they can get started in days. No onboarding, HR, or benefits conversations.; your new contract executive can simply get to work on your behalf.
  • Start Quickly - There's always a learning curve whenever someone new joins a business, which is true for a Virtual CMO. Initially, they must get to know your business goals, products, and services. But a Virtual CMO uses their extensive experience with other businesses to quickly recognize your needs and how a marketing strategy can help deliver measurable results. Contract employees will be eager to prove their worth as quickly as possible.
  • Scale Your Marketing - A Virtual CMO works with businesses of all shapes and sizes, but their background is essential. While marketing tactics are similar across industries, there is a significant difference between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. Usually, B2B marketing has a stronger relationship management component, whereas B2C tends to be more transactional. A Virtual CMO will be well-equipped to get you to the next level, but their experience marketing to other businesses or consumers is essential to note. We're not saying all CMOs don't have relevant experience, but finding someone with experience reaching your type of customer is often helpful. It's similar to hiring a salesperson. While it's difficult to find people with previous experience selling products like yours, if they understand how to sell to your type of customer, they will quickly adapt to selling your specific products or services. The same is true for a marketing professional. Marketing tactics are similar from industry to industry, but the specific needs of your customers are what make each marketing strategy unique. A skilled Virtual CMO will be able to apply their experience to the individual needs of your target customers

The Benefit to Your Management Team

Accountability Through Contract
When you contract with a Virtual CMO, you know exactly the scope of their efforts and how much time they spend working for your company. Typically, a fractional executive works on an initial 6-month contract, specifying the approximate hours they will work and what deliverables are included in the engagement. Remember, this is not an hourly position, just as it wouldn't be for other salaried executive roles. A rough approximation of the hours you'll receive can be helpful, but a good rule of thumb for typical contracts is about eight hours per week.

It's important to remember that the Virtual CMO helps build a strategy, and then the project manages the execution. The day-to-day work will be done with your existing marketing team if you have one or recommended vendors who are experts in specific marketing areas. Sometimes, you bring in a Virtual CMO for a specific project, such as launching a new product, designing an awareness campaign, or entering a new market. A Virtual CMO might also be hired as an interim leader to provide a bridge between a junior-level team and bringing on a full-time executive hire. Whatever the specific needs, you'll get the most value from a Virtual CMO by involving them in your management strategy sessions and having them work with other executives to synchronize marketing strategy with other aspects of the business.

Network of Trusted Partners and Technology Vendors
The new fractional executive will help evaluate your current marketing infrastructure and help determine if you might need to bring on more resources to execute the plan and achieve the marketing goals. Marketing operations and infrastructure include a marketing automation platform or content management system. These tools and resources can help your company build a solid foundation for growth and success. A Virtual CMO can help you evaluate your current capabilities and where enhancements or additions might be needed to increase your marketing and sales effectiveness. Their experience helping other companies can save you time and money by steering you toward the best and most cost-effective resources to augment your in-house marketing team, including outside vendors, freelancers, or digital marketing agency partners.


A Virtual CMO will provide your business with a cost-effective alternative to hiring a full-time CMO. This type of outsourced expert can help you develop and implement an effective marketing plan tailored to meet your business's specific needs and goals. A Virtual CMO can assess your marketing efforts, identify improvement areas, and recommend strategies to maximize lead generation.

While hiring a full-time marketing executive can be expensive, leaving your business without a reliable source of leads could lead to revenue shortfalls. Hiring a Virtual CMO gives you the seasoned experience and expertise your business needs to build effective marketing plans. An outsourced CMO provides a cost-effective way to enhance your marketing efforts while achieving revenue growth objectives quickly and efficiently.

It's time to grow your company!

Learn how a fractional CMO can help your business grow!

Contact us today to learn more about our Virtual CMO advisory service.

Eric Dickmann

About the author

Eric Dickmann is the Founder / CMO of The Five Echelon Group, host of the weekly podcast "The Virtual CMO" and YouTube series "Work-Life" and a fractional CMO for a variety of small and midsize companies. An executive leader with over 30 years of experience in marketing, product development, and digital transformation, he has worked with large, global companies and small startups to develop and execute marketing strategies to bring innovative products to the market.

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