Are you in need of marketing leadership? Someone to drive your go-to-market strategy, provide guidance to your team, and integrate various activities? While the role requirements may seem straightforward, finding the right solution can be challenging. In a world with diverse and flexible marketing leadership options, how do you determine the best fit for your organization?

To find the answer, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of different marketing engagement models, leadership responsibilities, and commitment levels.

Table of Contents

  • Factors to Consider When Searching for Marketing Expertise
  • Distinctions Between Marketing Leadership Models
  • Comparison Guide for Models
  • Finding the Right Fit for Your Business

Factors to consider when searching for marketing expertise

Should you hire an in-house marketing leader? Or should you seek the expertise of an external strategic consultant or interim CMO? Additionally, what about the emerging concept of a fractional CMO?

Opting for a full-time employee to lead your marketing strategy is a viable choice if you can afford the investment (e.g., salary, bonus, and benefits), attract suitable talent, and have a budget to support the strategies developed by this leader. However, for many growing businesses, the need for marketing leadership arises before a full-time role can be justified. During this stage, companies require expertise on a more flexible basis.

For these growing businesses, fractional CMOs have emerged as a suitable solution. Fractional CMOs offer internal leadership on a part-time, flexible basis and bridge the gap between the need for marketing leadership and justifying a full-time role.

But how do fractional CMOs differ from other part-time and contract marketing leadership models available, such as interim CMOs and strategic consultants? This guide examines and compares these various marketing leadership models.

Understanding distinctions between marketing leadership models

What is a fractional CMO?

A fractional CMO is a part-time marketing executive who assumes a leadership position for an extended duration (typically 18-24 months or more) to assist a growing business in establishing and expanding its marketing function. In many cases, a fractional CMO serves as the initial senior-level marketing leader for a growing business, playing a role in building the necessary internal and external capabilities to achieve organizational goals.

A fractional CMO is an ideal solution for businesses that require a dedicated marketing leader but do not need this role on a full-time permanent basis or are not yet prepared to definitively outline the requirements for a future full-time hire. Many companies have recognized the advantage of contracting executive roles that are not core to their products or services. The fractional model has long been a solution in finance and human resources and has recently gained popularity in sales and marketing leadership positions. Fractional CMOs™ are responsible for developing strategic, sustainable, and sales-aligned marketing teams and programs. They actively participate in the leadership team, building strong relationships with founders/owners, executives, and sales and business unit leaders. While working part-time, a fractional CMO operates like any other leader within your organization, driving the growth and evolution of your marketing function and being accountable for achieving results.

A fractional CMO’s main focus is to establish robust and thriving teams and generate revenue-generating marketing initiatives. Alongside managing ongoing marketing activities, a fractional CMO will assist in creating a long-term marketing resource plan and strategy, encompassing goals/metrics, budgeting, team building, vendor selection, technology implementation, and more.

In the end, a fractional CMO may aid your organization in making a permanent leadership hire or mentor a promising individual within your team to assume the role. In certain cases, a fractional CMO can serve as a more enduring solution, especially for companies that are progressing towards an acquisition.

What does an interim CMO do?

An interim CMO is a marketing executive who assumes a leadership position for a short-term or undefined period during a period of organizational transition. Common situations for hiring an interim CMO include: leadership turnover, business turnarounds, rapid growth, expected or recent mergers, acquisitions, or integration.

An interim CMO can effectively fill a sudden leadership gap in a marketing organization, ensuring continuity for the marketing team and partners while giving leaders the time to find a more long-term solution. Some companies prefer to employ an interim CMO on a contracted basis to assess their suitability before making a permanent job offer.

Interim CMO roles are typically full-time or close to full-time, and they often involve overseeing an established marketing team and program. An interim CMO is a common solution for mid-market or larger organizations that require an executive marketing leader to function effectively.

The primary objective of an interim CMO is to mitigate risks and prevent the loss of talent, productivity, focus, budget, and team confidence. Exceptional interim CMOs will not only accomplish these tasks but also provide additional value as marketing strategists, coaches, and resource managers. Typically, the interim CMO assists in onboarding the new permanent hire and then transitions out of the organization.

What do strategic marketing consultants do?

Strategic marketing consultants typically adopt a hands-off approach. They operate externally to your team, rather than assuming a formal leadership role, and assist in developing marketing strategies, plans, and evaluating/assessing current programs. Subsequently, they provide the results and recommendations to a designated contact on your team.

Many marketing consultants offer strategic planning services, but they typically specialize in a specific area such as digital marketing, public relations, branding, or advertising. As a result, their strategic plans tend to focus on the channels and strategies they are most familiar with, rather than considering the entire marketing ecosystem. While strategic marketing consultants may offer project-level support based on their expertise, they are rarely responsible for the overall marketing budget and ROI.

Strategic consultants often work on a short-term, contract basis for multiple clients, dividing their time across different accounts. This is in contrast to fractional or interim CMOs, who typically work with a single company.

The main goal of a strategic marketing consultant is to achieve specific objectives that they were hired to impact. This may involve increasing conversion rates through a specific marketing channel, evaluating processes for efficiency improvements, or analyzing data to provide market insights.

Comparison: Fractional CMO vs. Interim CMO vs. Strategic Consultant

Attributes of a Fractional CMO

  • Longer-term: Establishes a leadership position in companies that previously lacked one, often when marketing was overseen by the founder or head of sales.
  • Often part-time: Scaled to match the company’s growing marketing function.
  • Common among small to mid-sized businesses that have never had an executive marketing leader and are ready to transition to someone with strategic marketing expertise.
  • Primary objective: Build a strong marketing team, align resources with the business plan, and drive revenue growth.
  • Primary driver: Increase opportunities and outcomes.

Attributes of an Interim CMO

  • Shorter-term: Fills a temporary gap, often stepping in for a full-time role while the company searches for a permanent replacement.
  • Often full-time: Works closely with an existing marketing team in mid-sized to larger companies.
  • Common in companies that have an established marketing executive role and require someone to lead the team.
  • Primary objective: Maintain stability, prevent staff loss, evaluate the current team and program, and facilitate the transition to a new full-time CMO.
  • Primary driver: Reduce loss and risk, ensure the marketing team continues to operate smoothly.

Attributes of a Strategic Marketing Consultant

  • Shorter-term: Typically, companies hire marketing consultants on a contract basis to assist with specific short-term goals.
  • Often, marketing consultants are compensated on an hourly or project-based rate and may have multiple clients simultaneously, limiting the amount of time they can spend on each client.
  • Marketing consultants are commonly employed by businesses of all sizes that already have established marketing departments but require additional support from specialized contracted experts to enhance their programs and teams.
  • The primary objective of a marketing consultant depends on the specific reason they were hired, but it usually has a narrow focus. Consultants often work alongside existing marketing teams to provide specific recommendations, plans, or projects.
  • The main driver for hiring a marketing consultant is to deliver a particular recommendation, plan, or project to support the overall marketing strategy.

Which marketing leadership model is suitable for your business?

Choosing the right marketing leader for your company is a significant decision. To make an informed choice, you should evaluate your current business situation by considering the following questions:

  1. Do you currently have someone in a marketing leadership role? Alternatively, is your marketing led by your CEO, founder, president, or head of sales? Perhaps you have a talented individual on your team who could benefit from strategic guidance and development.
  2. What are the reasons behind your consideration of hiring marketing leadership? Is your existing marketing program not producing the desired results? Are you struggling to determine the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing efforts or how they impact revenue?
  3. Are you seeking to fill a leadership gap within your already established marketing program or team? Alternatively, are you looking for a marketing leader who can establish and develop a strategic, sales-aligned marketing program and team from scratch?
  4. Is your business engaging in haphazard marketing activities instead of implementing a well-thought-out, integrated, and consistent marketing strategy?
  5. Do you require hands-on guidance and direction to implement various elements of your marketing strategy? Or do you need specialized expertise to support a specific, narrow marketing objective?

These questions will help you assess your business needs and determine which marketing leadership model will best support your growth and goals.