Is a Fractional CMO Different From an Outsourced CMO? (Hint: The Terminology Isn’t What You Should Worry About)

by Trisha Gallagher | June 8, 2023

You’ve set aggressive growth goals, you want to leverage marketing to drive that growth, but you don’t have an experienced marketing strategist to guide you…or the budget to hire one as an FTE.
Sound familiar?

Middle-market companies with serious growth goals are realizing that strategy-based marketing can drive revenue growth by building and nurturing a predictable pipeline of leads that convert to customers. They also realize they can’t engage in modern marketing without a senior-level strategist to develop a plan and lead its execution.

As with so many disciplines today, more companies are supplementing their in-house marketing resources with external providers, especially for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) function. Some call this role a Fractional CMO, others call it an Outsourced CMO. We’ve heard the two terms used interchangeably, and on the flip side, we’ve seen them defined very differently.

At Marketri, we believe the specific terminology is far less important than how the CMO operates, the value you’re getting from this role, and how it fits into your overall marketing function.

Same Roles, Different Models

By now most B2B companies are familiar with the fractional approach to accessing senior-level talent for functions like finance, IT, HR, and yes, marketing. Hiring a fractional executive enables you to tap the expertise and experience of a senior-level professional without incurring the increasingly high costs of hiring an FTE—or overspending for more time than you really need.

Hiring a CMO on a fractional or outsourced basis is an effective way for middle market companies to gain a senior marketer with the experience and capabilities to develop a strategy-driven marketing plan that generates great results. Whether a firm calls this role a Fractional CMO or Outsourced CMO, the benefits are the same: You get the strategic guidance and direction you need to turn marketing into a true revenue growth driver.

But regardless of the terminology they use, not all marketing firms approach the CMO role in the same way.

We’re seeing lots of providers take a short-term, project-based approach, letting you “rent” a CMO for a specific engagement to address a specific need. Perhaps the client needs help developing a marketing strategy and a go-to-market plan. Or they might be dissatisfied with how their marketing department is performing and they want guidance on how to transform this function. Or they need a senior strategist to develop the positioning and messaging that will become the foundation for future campaigns. 

While there’s value to all those use cases, there’s a risk that this approach becomes a once-and-done deal. A project-based fractional or outsourced CMO doesn’t stick around to oversee your marketing plan’s execution, help you pivot as conditions change, and ensure you’re optimizing your marketing efforts and budget.

For middle market companies that want strategic direction throughout their marketing journey—and the results that come with it—this short-term approach won’t cut it.

Fractional + Outsourced: The Best of Both

Marketri takes a unique approach to offering CMO services, and it revolves entirely around delivering the optimal results.

In our experience, having a CMO just swoop in for a one-time gig doesn’t provide the continuity you need to keep marketing working as smart as possible, delivering the best results possible. Nor does it give you the benefit of a strategy-focused professional leading your marketing function through the inevitable twists and turns the world is going to throw at your business. (Witness the roller coaster ride we’ve all been on since March 2020!)

Through decades of working with B2B companies, we’ve learned that CMO services work best when they’re fully integrated with an outsourced marketing model. That means a Fractional CMO leads a comprehensive outsourced marketing program that combines strategy, execution, and the analytics you need in order to know what’s working well, what to tweak to work even better, and what to shelf. 

Marketri Fractional CMO becomes a long-term partner, serving as an extension of your in-house staff and working closely with a complete Marketri outsourced team. Our model still provides access to a senior-level marketing strategist, with the same flexibility to contract for the exact slice of their time that you need. But unlike a short-term CMO, they’re not just in-and out. And they don’t operate in a vacuum or attempt to coordinate the work of lots of disparate freelancers. They’re working as part of one, unified team that runs like a finely oiled machine—one that generates the results you need to drive your growth.

When we run the numbers, we find most mid-sized businesses will get more bang for the buck by engaging a Fractional CMO as part of a complete outsourced marketing team vs hiring a big in-house staff or pulling in a CMO and other marketing specialists on a short-term basis.

Marketri was ahead of the curve in offering this unique model. Around 10 years ago, I began to sense our clients wanted even more strategic support than we were already providing. Part of the impetus was the explosion of social media channels, leaving many businesses eager to leverage them for more effective marketing. Another driver was the emergence of technologies that help businesses scale, measure, and optimize marketing. Just the idea that marketing could be measurable—and that lead generation and new business could be tied to marketing—was revolutionary back then! In 2010, a “martech” word cloud was easy to read. Today, it’s so cluttered, it’s indecipherable.

Forward-thinking companies began to seek a senior marketer to develop a strategy for leveraging all the channels, technologies, methodologies, and analytics to engage in marketing that drives measurable growth. As demand for this role took off, I began spending a lot of time as the Fractional CMO for B2B clients. Then I recruited more senior strategists to join the Marketri team. Our clients didn’t need 100% of our time…but they appreciated the slice of our time they contracted for, because they got tremendous value from it.

Know What You’re Getting

Regardless of the title, be sure to assess the credentials of the person purporting to be a CMO. Sadly, many professionals touting themselves as a Fractional CMO don’t have the experience or qualifications to make that claim. Many have never served as a senior-level marketing strategist, and your engagement is their first foray into CMO-level work.

Unlike accounting, where you can’t call yourself a CPA unless you complete the educational requirements and pass a rigorous exam, there’s no certification or testing required to call yourself a CMO. When unqualified people present themselves as such it dilutes the value of the role, leaving many businesses dissatisfied with the experience. Before you sign on, know the caliber of the person you’re getting for the premium you’ll pay.

Marketri offers Fractional CMO and Outsourced Marketing services, using a Momentum Marketing Model that empowers B2B companies to achieve predictable, profitable growth.

Contact our CEO Deb Andrews for a free consultation on our Fractional CMO services to experience how Marketri is different.

More on Fractional CMOs: Five Ways a Fractional CMO Helps Your B2B Marketing Budget →