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Interim CMO vs. Fractional CMO: What’s the difference, and what do you really need?

You know you need a marketing leader: someone to move your go-to-market strategy forward, guide your team, and integrate activities. While the requirements of the role might be straight-forward, the solution is often anything but. In a world of increasingly diverse and flexible marketing leadership options, how do you define the ideal fit for your organization?

The right answer for your business begins with a clear understanding of various marketing engagement models, leadership responsibilities, price structures, and commitment levels.

We have previously explored the difference between Fractional CMOs and Agencies or Consultants. We have also written a three-part series on hiring a marketing leader. In the following paragraphs, we explore the nuanced differences between a Fractional CMO (as Authentic Brand defines the role), and an Interim CMO.

What is an Interim CMO?

An Interim CMO is a marketing executive who holds a leadership role for a short-term or undefined period of time during a period of organizational transition. Common scenarios for employing an Interim CMO may include: leadership turn-over, business turn-around, rapid growth, anticipated or recent mergers / acquisitions / integration.

An Interim CMO can be a strong solution to fill a sudden leadership gap in a marketing organization, providing continuity for the marketing team and partners, and giving leaders time to find a longer-term solution. Some companies prefer to hire a CMO on an Interim, contract basis to test the fit before making a full-time, permanent offer.

Most Interim CMO roles are full-time or near full-time, and responsible for leading a well-established marketing team and program. An Interim CMO role is a common solution for mid-market or larger organizations who can’t effectively operate without an executive marketing leader.

Interim CMOs are most often tasked with keeping existing marketing teams and programs aligned and moving forward. A good Interim CMO will quickly build rapport with team members, and will bring a sense of calm and confidence to the organization, helping to retain top talent and keep teams productive and focused during organizational changes.

An Interim CMO’s primary driver is to reduce risk and avoid loss of talent, productivity, focus, budget, and team confidence. Of course, the best Interim CMOs will do all of this and bring additional value as a marketing strategist, coach, and resource manager. Usually, the Interim CMO assists with onboarding the new full-time, permanent replacement, and then moves out of the organization.

What is a Fractional CMO? (According to Authentic Brand)

A Fractional CMO is a part-time marketing executive who holds a leadership role for a longer period of time (often 18-24 months or more), to help a growing business to establish and expand its marketing function. A Fractional CMO is often the first senior-level marketing leader in a growing business, helping to build the right internal and external capabilities to help the organization reach its goals.

A Fractional CMO is a strong solution for businesses who are ready for a dedicated marketing leader, but who don’t need this role on a full-time permanent basis, or aren’t ready to confidently define the requirements of 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 been a long-time solution in Finance and Human Resources, and has recently become more popular for Sales and Marketing leadership roles.

Authentic Brand’s Fractional CMOs are tasked with building marketing teams and programs that are strategic, sustainable, and sales-aligned. A Fractional CMO sits on the leadership team, building deep relationships with founders / owners, executives, and sales and business unit leaders. A Fractional CMO works part-time, but otherwise acts as any other leader within your organization, building and evolving your marketing function and being accountable for results.

A Fractional CMO’s primary driver is to build strong and healthy teams, and create revenue-producing marketing programs. In addition to leading current marketing activities, a Fractional CMO will help you design a longer-term marketing resource plan and strategy, including: goals / metrics, budgeting, team building, vendor selection, technology implementation, and more.

Ultimately, a Fractional CMO may help your organization make a full-time leadership hire, or may mentor a “rising star” on your team to step into the role. In some cases, a Fractional CMO can be a more permanent solution, especially for companies growing toward an acquisition.

Comparison: Interim CMO vs. Fractional CMO

Attributes of a Interim CMO

  • Shorter-Term: filling a gap, often backfilling an existing full-time role, while the company takes time to recruit or reframe the role.
  • Often full-time or near full-time
  • More common among mid-sized to larger businesses who have a well-established marketing executive role, and can’t effectively operate without someone at the helm of an existing team.
  • Primary objective: Keep the wheels on the bus; prevent further loss of staff due to lack of direction; evaluate current team and program to recommend changes; help define role and onboard a full-time replacement.
  • Primary driver for Interim CMO: Reduce loss and risk. Keep team moving.

Attributes of a Fractional CMO

  • Longer-Term: Creating a leadership role where there has not been one previously (often in cases where marketing had been led by Founder or head of Sales)
  • Often part-time: designed “at scale” to match company’s growing marketing function
  • More common among small to mid-sized businesses who have never had (or successfully hired) an executive marketing leader, and who are ready to shift marketing leadership responsibility from Founder / Head of Sales to someone with proven strategic marketing experience.
  • Primary objective: Build the (marketing) bus and get the right people in the seats. Align resources (internal and external), execute in alignment with business plan, refine, adapt, and grow the overall marketing program, team, and revenue results that build over time.
  • Primary driver for Fractional CMO: Increase opportunities and outcomes. Build team and program.
Interim CMO vs. Fractional CMO: Side-by-Side Comparison

Selecting the right marketing leader for your organization is no small task. It helps to start the decision process by identifying the engagement model that best aligns to your business situation, expectations, needs, and goals.

It can also be helpful to talk with an expert in the area of CMO talent. We are always happy to be a sounding board for growing companies who are looking for marketing leadership to help them reach next-level growth. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation about your needs.

Authentic Brand

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