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Startup Growth Secrets: The Power of a Fractional CMO

by Loic Jeanjean on
Before we dive into the pros and cons of fractional CMOs, let´s start with a little story.
As a startup founder, it's not that uncommon to think that you have a solid grasp of marketing. After all, you probably built the first website, came up with copy, and posted about your product on social.
But as your startup began to grow, you came to realize that to take your marketing to the next level, you needed to hire 'real' marketers.
So you went on Linkedin and posted a really compelling offer for a 'Head of Marketing'. Ideal profile? 2-3 years experience in startup, business school background, bonus point if they have 'growth marketing' on their CV and they know how to build a team.
So you hired an awesome marketing ninja, and started to delegate all things marketing to her.
Fast forward 18-24 months, and you now have a really busy (and stressed) team of 5-10 marketers, with a (multi)million budget.
They are doing a lot of stuff:
  • writing tons of content, from blog posts to ebooks
  • pumping ads on social like there´s no tomorrow
  • sending hundreds of emails from Hubspot
Their goal? driving leads (MQL, SQL pick your poison) that sales can close.
The reality? Your sales pipeline is flatlining, your CAC payback is exploding, and your burn rate is getting out of control.
So you talk to your Head of Marketing, and ask her what's up?
She says ¨sales don't work the leads generated by marketing¨.
So you go get your VP Sales and he answers ¨My BDRs don't like to follow up on these leads, they are unqualified. They want leads that are ready to buy¨
Hint: they want the Glengarry Glen Ross leads (if you've never heard of these leads, do yourself a favor, and rent/stream Glengarry Glen Ross right now)
Sounds familiar? Maybe a bit too cliché?
Guess what, this is the exact situation I find startups to be in when they reach out.
They have decided (on their own accord, or following their board's suggestion) to bring on a fractional CMO (fCMO). This person will be an agent of change that will transform marketing into a revenue-generating machine.
Here is what it feels like to work with a fractional CMO for the first time, and the benefits and challenges that come along with it.

Benefits of Working with a Fractional CMO

  • Accelerate Growth: The greatest asset fractional CMOs possess is their ability to accelerate growth. An experienced marketing executive has seen what works and what doesn't and can help your startup navigate the marketing landscape more effectively.
  • Challenge and Improve Marketing Plan: Bringing in a fractional CMO also means having someone who can challenge your existing marketing plan and turn it into a strategic and tactical playbook. They will often provide fresh insights and ideas that you may not have thought of before.
  • Level Up Existing Team with Coaching and Mentoring: In addition to improving the plan, a fractional CMO will also help level up your existing marketing team (starting with your department head) through weekly coaching and mentoring sessions. They will provide guidance and support to help her and her team members grow their skills and become more effective marketers.
  • Help with International Expansion: If your startup is looking to expand internationally, a fractional CMO with international experience can be a huge asset. They can help navigate the complexities of entering new markets and create effective marketing strategies for different regions.
  • Break Silos Between Sales and Marketing: Finally, one of the biggest challenges that startups face is breaking down silos between sales and marketing. A fractional CMO will know how to align both teams, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals (generally a common pipeline or revenue target)

Challenges of Working with a Fractional CMO

  • Trust Issues: One of the biggest challenges you may face has to do with your current marketing team's trust levels. They may feel threatened or unsure of how to work with this external marketer. They may worry that the fractional CMO will be a threat to their job security, or that they won't understand the company's vision or values. The good news is that this can be anticipated by explaining with objectivity to your marketing lead, and her team, why this fCMO is coming, what they will do, how they will help, and how it will help them grow. It's important to clearly define the fractional CMO's role and responsibilities, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Integration: When working with a fractional CMO, you will have to think about how to best integrate them into the existing team, tech stacks and workflows. Should they attend weekly huddles and 1:1s? Do/Should you give them access to your GDrive, CRM, and dashboards? My humble opinion is yes to all. The more you embed your fCMO into your business, the more they'll feel part of the team, and the more impact they'll drive.
  • Resistance to change: Some people will resist change, and go against recommendations made by the fractional CMO. Particularly if they've been doing things 'their' way for a while. This is one of my personal favorites and will be the subject of a future blog post.
So there you have it!
While there are a few challenges along the way, bringing an fCMO can truly transform your business.
Whether it's by accelerating growth, challenging and improving the marketing plan, coaching and mentoring the team, helping with international expansion, or breaking silos between sales and marketing, a fractional CMO can help take your startup to the next level.
So what are you waiting for?