At Authentic, our clients span various industries and business types, and the challenges they face often depend on factors unique to each company. But what all of our clients do have in common is that they are looking to grow their businesses.
To support our clients in their growth, we developed our Authentic Growth™ Methodology. This methodology is our proprietary system that provides each of our Authentic Fractional CMOs™ with a set of tools and processes that they can strategically apply to the unique challenges of our client engagements — ultimately helping clients achieve marketing alignment, accountability, and aptitude.
One such tool within our methodology is our Authentic Growth™ Marketing Maturity Matrix. We’ve covered the matrix, its 10 key attributes, and what maturity looks like across those attributes in a detailed series. An organization can be quite mature on one or more attributes and much less so on other ones. But what remains true across the entire matrix is that, at some point, you will need an experienced strategic marketer if you hope to continue growing and maturing. In this post, we dive into the unique value that Authentic Fractional CMOs bring at different stages of growth.
The role of an Authentic Fractional CMO at each stage of maturity
The role that an Authentic Fractional CMO plays evolves along with a company’s growth and maturity. Businesses go through distinct stages as they scale from a fledgling startup idea to an established company with a solid marketing engine. At each phase, the support and value of the fractional CMO changes. Understanding how an experienced marketing leader can accelerate your growth during the six main stages of maturity will help you determine when to engage a fractional CMO and what that might look like for your business.
Stage 0: Founding
Every business begins as a hypothesis that the founding team must either prove as real and valuable, adjust so that it becomes real and valuable, or decide that the idea isn’t viable for a business. This stage is startup mode, when founders use their often-limited resources to try to provide a solution to the world and decide whether the idea is worth pursuing.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: Usually, hiring an Authentic Fractional CMO doesn’t make sense until the company has validated its idea, achieved critical mass, and needs to start moving forward. Authentic typically enters client relationships when they are in stage two or three of maturity for some attributes but may be lagging in stage one on certain attributes. If your business is in stage zero for most of its marketing attributes, you likely aren’t ready to engage a fractional CMO yet. Stay focused on testing your hypothesis and refining your idea.
Stage 1: Formative
Once your company determines its product or solution is valuable, it moves into the formative stage. It’s now time to create structure and legitimacy in the business so that you can begin to build scale. At this stage, you are getting clarity around your market fit and who you should be targeting as your buyer. Your team is likely still a few founding members focused on building the business.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: Most businesses at this stage of growth don’t need a fully dedicated fractional CMO yet. (The exception is if they are a highly-funded, early-stage business that has already determined market fit and is ready to scale.) However, companies at this stage can benefit significantly from hiring an experienced strategic marketer as an executive advisor to the founders and owners. Founders often don’t have marketing backgrounds, and even if they do, when they’re building their own business, it’s hard to be objective. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.”
Bringing in an Authentic Fractional CMO as an advisor at this stage will allow you to get some helpful, unbiased feedback in articulating your market fit and focus. One of the most important objectives of this stage is to translate the vision and growth goals into a message that can go to market. Authentic Fractional CMOs have deep experience in not only helping define these messages but also in testing and iterating on them in the earliest stages of the business.
Stage 2: Functional
The functional stage of growth is a critical stage when businesses need to answer some foundation marketing questions:
- Who matters to us?
- Why should we matter to them?
- How do we enter their natural habitat?
- When we get there, how do we build trust and credibility?
- What tools will we need?
- What structure will we need around that?
- What data, metrics, and reporting are we going to need for insights?
Unfortunately, many businesses approach this stage with a tactical mindset, skipping over some of these building blocks (shown in the marketing foundation piece of our Authentic Growth™ Marketing Roadmap below) and going straight into tactical marketing execution. They put marketing technology in place, run tactical campaigns, and then wonder why their message isn’t resonating and why they’re burning through so many resources without a return.
This stage is when having the wisdom and experience of a strategic marketing leader is so important. However, it likely isn’t time to bring in a full-time head of marketing yet. A fractional CMO is a compelling way to bring marketing leadership to your organization sooner, so you don’t have to unwind everything you’ve done when you get further down the growth path.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: The role of an Authentic Fractional CMO at this stage is to build the marketing foundation, translate the business vision into a marketing strategy, determine what resources you’ll need to execute your strategy, which channels you’ll use, and then tactically decide how you will implement the marketing plan. This is a key time when our fractional CMOs can pull in the specialized expertise of our Authentic Ally Network™, a trusted, vetted, and curated network of freelance and agency providers.
Stage 3: Focused
When you reach the focused stage of growth, you’ve had your first generation of a marketing plan in place, have put some foundation behind it, and you’re capturing some early-stage data that will eventually become valuable insights. You’ve begun to activate your marketing programs with a combination of external resources (contractors, agencies) and internal resources, whether you’re using resources from other teams or hiring your first marketing coordinator or manager. Things might feel a little clunky because you’re still in an early-stage mode, but you’re testing which pieces will be core to your marketing strategy and which won’t stick long term.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: Now is the time that our CMOs clarify your most productive lanes of activation and determine which resources will support those lanes and channels. This stage is very much about ensuring the team’s efforts are cohesive and working well together.
For example, your CMO might evaluate which resources you have on staff today: themselves as the fractional CMO, a marketing coordinator, three agency partners, and a freelance copywriter. But as they map out the long-term strategy, they might decide that next year, you’ll need to hire a digital marketer who can shift your marketing efforts from email blasting to more strategic automation. And then they’ll evaluate channels, mapping out a plan that doubles down on the ones that have been most effective and divesting from ones that have failed to gain traction.
This stage is also likely when the organization thinks about making a more senior, full-time marketing hire, like a VP or director. Authentic Fractional CMOs often help hire for these roles and then eventually transition from being a head-of-all-things marketing to being a marketing mentor and go-to-market advisor for the leadership team. During this process, our fractional CMOs can help set and manage expectations to help executives understand what the role of marketing should be, be a sounding board for your marketing team members, and ensure that the company stays connected to broader resources that offer a contingency plan in case a new hire doesn’t end up working out.
Stage 4: Forward
Once you reach the forward stage of growth, you have a marketing engine running, a high-performing marketing team, and a strong track record with agency partners. But marketing is never “set it and forget it.” Now is the time to optimize and experiment in different areas and begin to diversify.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: Your marketing team is skilled, motivated, and capable, and you likely already have a marketing leader in place. However, they may not have the experience of predicting and planning what’s coming around the corner next. Hiring a fractional CMO with experience diversifying a go-to-market strategy is critical at this stage if you want to continue growing. Authentic Fractional CMOs are also excellent partners at this stage if you’re making any significant strategic maneuvers. For example, if you’re raising funds, positioning for acquisition, or making decisions about growth plans for staff.
Stage 5: Flywheel
This highly sought-after stage, when your marketing engine is helping you achieve compounding growth, is often when deals are happening. You’re reaching your next level of growth through these deals, or you’re potentially being acquired.
Role of an Authentic Fractional CMO: A fractional CMO who has led teams through these big, pivotal integrations can be a very valuable partner in helping create success. Plus, they can be highly effective if you need someone to look at the market from the 10,000-foot view to identify opportunities for further strategic expansion. Perhaps the most significant value of an Authentic Fractional CMO at this stage is that they’re not an employee in the organization, but they do have a seat at the leadership table. They can work closely with executives while being unbiased since their job is not at risk of being disrupted through any strategic changes.
If your organization is going through a merger or acquisition, you will likely cycle backward in marketing maturity as you integrate different elements from the merging entities. When this happens, a CMO can help reassess your new situation and map a plan forward.
The evolving value of an Authentic Fractional CMO
As the fractional CMO industry grows rapidly, some perceive these roles mainly as short-term solutions to build marketing foundations until they hire full-time leaders. However, the true value of an experienced fractional CMO often emerges over longer engagements while evolving alongside an organization’s many cycles of growth and change.
While Authentic Fractional CMOs do help our clients build teams, we frequently stay connected in an advisory role even after transitioning out of the hands-on fractional leadership role. Our CMOs develop deep knowledge of each business that enables them to pivot into flexible advisory roles as companies scale. Rather than serving as a transient bridge, an Authentic Fractional CMO becomes a trusted partner in growth, offering continuity through changing needs. Understanding how the value shifts across maturity stages allows both clients and CMOs to maximize impact in the long term.
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