What Is A Fractional CMO? Do I Need One?

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A fractional CMO is simply defined as a Chief Marketing Officer that splits their time working with and consulting to several companies. Additionally, there are times when companies are considering new projects or new lines of business that a fractional CMO has a specialized skill set they can bring to the table for a short-term engagement, but may not be a long-term fit for the company. More elaborately, a fractional CMO allows companies that otherwise could not justify the expense of hiring a full-time CMO or marketing executive, which runs well into the six-figures, to share an individual’s time and expertise in a way that benefits their company’s needs on a budget.

Historically, marketing has been an area for creatives and artistic individuals, but with the introduction of automation, data, and analytics, the role of the CMO is being tapped more frequently for the role of CEO according to a Forbes article, “The increased use of data analytics and newly defined skill sets will help determine which CMOs have the skills and qualifications to move into the CEO suite.”

Why Would I Hire A Fractional CMO?

If you have ever sat down to a multiple-course meal at a Michelin Three Star restaurant like Alinea or Eleven Madison Park, you understand the concept of quality over quantity. You receive a series of rich, flavorful bites that are expertly created by world-class chefs that alone may leave you wanting more, but when packaged together, create an unparalleled adventure through dishes that you may sometimes expect, other times be surprised by, and in the end discover new ways a simple ingredient can be prepared. That chef has the ability to use the ingredients and tools in a way you never knew how to.

Fractional CMO’s carry with them significant experience and have not only worked for startups and large corporate companies, but many have also gained experience by working with marketing agencies. Agency experience gives a consultant a fast-track to learning from many different businesses and problem-solving for a variety of industries. Marketing is as much an art as it is a science, and this will never change. Data makes it easier to map marketing tactics, but there are still a variety of tactics and tools that must be expertly assembled, much like Michelin star chef, or a surgeon must do to create a perfect meal or complete a successful surgery. Through a breadth of experience with a variety of companies, they are able to understand what may work for a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) company, but would never work for a Business-to-Business (B2B) company.


It is already commonplace to have a virtual or fractional Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the increased role of the CMO has created a natural need for someone to lead go-to-market strategies and help drive company growth through cross-functional teams including marketing, sales, product development, customer support, and others. The fractional, or outsourced CMO also builds your executive team without the need for hiring another costly executive with benefits, thereby helping you maintain your bottom line and removing any geographic barriers that prevent you from finding the talent you need.

How A Fractional CMO Can Benefit You

There are many new job titles kicking around in the marketing world that include terms like growth hacker, a person that finds ways to temporarily beat the algorithms to find you users on a budget. These growth hackers typically utilize tools that skirt the terms and conditions of social media platforms (RIP, Instagress). Taking the term from computer hackers, who used to exploit systems to gain access or information, growth hackers have borrowed the phrase in a way that says they exploit user growth. While some are great, many are inexperienced and looking to work with earlier stage companies and hope for hockey stick growth to boost them to successful careers. If someone says they are so good, one must step back to ask why they don’t own their own companies with millions of users.

When you look at the number of tools and new technologies available, they continue to grow exponentially. It can be easy to be attracted to shiny, new tools, but without the fundamentals to understand what to do with them, it is easy to find yourself lost.  If you give a non-doctor a scalpel and no training, they won’t know where to start a heart surgery. As you can see in the charts below, in 2011, there were approximately 100 marketing technology tools on the market. Fast forward to 2017 and Scott Brinker shows it has grown to over 5,000 tools and products:

fractional CMO marketing tool landscape from 2011 to 2017

An experienced, outsourced CMO brings with them an understanding of the necessary strategies that will drive growth, then can prescribe the necessary tactics that will help your business grow. To stay on the healthcare analogies, when a doctor prescribes a medicine, sometimes a dose needs slight adjustments over time. A marketer works similarly and makes hypotheses based on their experience, tests those hypotheses, and if they are working or need improvements they can make an adjustment. A fractional CMO removes geography as a factor for finding and hiring top talent. Communication tools like Skype, Slack, and others allow a fractional CMO to be where you are, when you need them. As the flexibility of the gig economy grows, your company’s marketing and executive teams win.

The final benefit that we will discuss is that they are able to provide guidance, strategy, and analytics reporting to your junior level marketing team. This allows your junior marketing team to learn and grow, while a business can remain confident that their company growth remains in good hands and stays on course. When business gets tumultuous, an experienced CMO carries the experience and confidence to guide a team through rough waters, without losing sight of the goal.

Final Considerations

In today’s global landscape there are a variety of decisions to make when building a business, hiring your team, and allocating your finances within your company. It can also be difficult to understand where an executive should spend their time or their money, especially in an earlier stage company. When considering a third-party to assist you with your marketing, it is important to have someone to put a cohesive strategy in place, and a game plan to follow. There are many tools that seem to make aspects of marketing easier, whether it is SEO, email marketing, or paid ads on Facebook and Google. It is key to understand how these tools work together to create an integrated marketing strategy within your budget and staffing constraints. A fractional CMO can help you plan your strategies for growth, and help guide you on your decisions to hire. They can guide your junior marketing hire, advise your team of freelancers, or monitor your growth hackers. To learn more about the services that a Fractional CMO can provide, we recently completed a post to supplement this dispatch and elaborate on some of the specific services a Fractional CMO or marketing consultant can assist your business with.

If you have additional questions about whether you should consider going with a full-time hire, or outsourcing your CMO responsibilities, regardless of the stage of your company, contact us here, or complete our free site audit and we’ll set up a complimentary 30-minute marketing consultation. You can also learn more about The Pony Group(Published: Jun 13, 2017)

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The Pony Group

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The Pony Group is afirm providing fractional CMO services, marketing consulting, investment, and business growth advising to companies of all sizes, across a variety of industries. 

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