Hiring a purposefully temporary marketing manager might seem strange, but it can come with many benefits — especially if your team isn’t ready for or can’t afford a full-time dedicated chief marketing officer.
Startups in particular are often in a constant state of flux; from the pre-seed stage until you make a successful exit, there are a multitude of shifts your marketing team might experience. Your first marketing hire at pre-seed should be well rounded but may prove to be unfit as a full-time marketing director at series D.
Having lived through many of those fluctuations from my time at Skubana, Deliverr, and now MyFBAPrep, I’m detailing the key responsibilities and skills you should look for when seeking a fractional CMO.
What is a fractional CMO?
A fractional CMO is a temporary marketing manager, specifically, a chief marketing officer.
This role serves to keep operations running, as well as optimizes the marketing team and processes for easy handoff and training. The biggest difference between a permanent CMO and a temporary one is that the latter has a goal of leaving the company better and more organized than when they arrived so the permanent marketing manager can pick things up with ease.
You don’t necessarily have to hire a contractual CMO though; you can hire a temporary director of content or growth coordinator instead. However, a fractional CMO is one of the best choices for the fast growth stage because they obtain a holistic picture of the marketing team and organization.
They also maintain greater control over the departmental processes, can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and have more authority overall to make significant, meaningful, and strategic changes.
Key responsibilities of a fractional CMO
Let’s talk about the core responsibilities of a fractional CMO and what you can expect from your temporary marketing manager.
1) Learn your product
The first thing your fractional CMO should do is learn about your product and the different ways customers use and find value from it.
They should watch session replays of how your users interact with your UI, run through your onboarding process and purchase flows, and apply your product or service to their real-life situations.
Familiarizing themselves with your product or service is foundational to forming strategic insights and deciding next steps for the marketing team.
2) Harvest customer-led insights
Customers provide a wealth of information that your fractional CMO should seek out at every turn. They should find or create opportunities to speak with your customers, run feedback surveys and interviews, collect customer-first data, and otherwise gather your customers’ input.
A temporary marketing manager can analyze all of that data to generate insights as to what your marketing strategy ought to look like.
Some of the data they may pursue includes:
- NPS scores and feedback
- Case study interviews
- Onboarding surveys
- Behavioral analysis
- Online reviews
- Customer support interactions
- Sales call recordings
3) Select which marketing channels to invest in
Your marketing channels can make or break your business. Choosing the wrong one consumes time and money attracting leads who may not even be relevant. However, the right marketing channels can seamlessly deliver your brand directly to the customers who will find you most useful (and then tell their friends).
To find the best channels for your brand, your fractional CMO may analyze your historic data, talk to your customers about where they found you, and run tests on new channels.
If your data is robust enough, they should look for the breakdown of cost per acquisition for different channels, the quality of leads that come from each, and what investment is needed to perform well.
4) Determine the right KPIs to track
Within any marketing department are multiple teams that focus on different aspects like content and SEO, social media, paid ads, events, partnerships, and more.
No matter how you structure your marketing team, different initiatives should be measured with the appropriate metrics.
Your marketing manager should be able to pinpoint the best metrics to use to gauge success for each channel, team member, and action. They should then set up a dashboard or other reporting tool that accurately tracks these metrics so you can regularly check their progress.
5) Test and refine your attribution models
Ah, attribution — the bane of every organic acquisition marketer. How does one measure the returns of a podcast? Or track shoppers as they hear about your brand via word-of-mouth, then visit your website, research you on Amazon, and finally buy on your social media store?
Attribution is tricky but not impossible. Whether it’s eCommerce analytics that pinpoint where your customers come from or content metrics that look at which pieces perform the best, there are many ways to link your data.
As an example, when I tracked acquisition with previous clients, we took source data from Google Analytics or Heap, tied a user to their email (a unique token ID), then passed that information along to our CRM — such as HubSpot or Copper — when they signed up.
From there, we attached a monetary value to each deal and were able to see which leads and customers came from which acquisition channels (paid or organic, search or social, etc.). We could also determine which marketing channel brought in the highest-paying customers and which articles performed best in terms of generating traffic versus conversions.
6) Optimize your marketing workflows
As your fractional CMO learns about the different tasks your marketing team handles and adds others as necessary, they should also search for the best ways to execute those duties.
This could entail adjusting the structure of your project management tools, changing how your marketing team accepts requests from other departments, clarifying and adjusting responsibilities, or putting different people in charge of certain tasks.
7) Automate where possible
As part of optimizing your marketing workflows, your fractional CMO should pinpoint which processes can and should be automated. Automation is a pivotal aid to your business because it reduces human error, speeds up tasks, and guarantees data capture.
Some common forms of automation are:
- Setting up welcome, onboarding, and other customer life cycle emails
- Prompting happy customers (for example, those who respond positively to your NPS survey) to leave a public review
- Tagging new leads in your CRM for proper attribution
- Adopting a meeting scheduler tool that coordinates team calendars
- Republishing content on different channels to increase ROI
- Paying contractors, agencies, and freelancers on the team
- Asking for customer feedback upon churn in an exit survey
- Setting up reminder emails that trigger for every new event
- Creating and optimizing your in-app onboarding process
8) Build a strong team
Your fractional CMO will also identify any gaps in your marketing team and hire the right people to fill them. They’ll be able to decide whether these should be full-time hires or contractors and how to engage their services.
The fractional CMO will be responsible for onboarding these new employees. This includes bringing them up to speed on their responsibilities, ensuring they integrate well with the rest of the team and perform to a high standard, and giving feedback for improvement where needed.
Likewise, if any team members underperform, your CMO should spot that deficiency, articulate how and why they fail to hit their metrics, get to the root of the problem, and decide whether to put those employees on a performance improvement plan or terminate services.
How to find a fractional CMO
Now that we’ve talked about the hard work that goes into being a fractional CMO, let’s discuss the hard work of finding one.
Your personal network
Although there’s no ideal place to find your CMO, I suggest starting with your network. Think back to your personal experiences — were there any marketers you’ve worked with who left an impression? Perhaps you collaborated with another company and were impressed by their team’s organization. Maybe you worked with a marketer at a previous company and noticed they had excellent communication skills.
Find out what those marketers are doing today and ask if they’re open to stepping in as a temporary marketing manager or if they know anyone they’d recommend who might be interested.
Another great place to look is online communities. Peek into discussions between marketers through Slack communities, Facebook groups, and other forums to find potential candidates. Look at who’s asking and answering thoughtful, interesting questions in your industry; if you see any conversations or insights that stand out, consider reaching out directly about the role.
I usually avoid pay-to-post communities and those exclusively devoted to job posting. YMMV, but I find these often get flooded with one-sided requests.
Instead, seek out communities where marketers converge to share strategies, talk about trends, and help others. Usually these are where you’ll find the most interesting conversations and leads (or CMOs) to pursue.
Finally, search interesting marketing courses and certifications and ask the instructors if they would connect you with some of their recent graduates. This is a good incentive for them because it adds value to their course. It’s also great for you because you can get in touch with marketers who’ve shown initiative to learn new skills.
I’m not referring to university courses here, but dedicated industry courses that help marketers expand on a specific marketing arm. As the industry continuously evolves, investing in their own skills and education is the mark of an excellent CMO.
You can view a list of courses and certifications I’ve taken here, but some of my favorites are the customer-led growth course from Georgiana Laudi and Claire Suellentrop and the Product Marketing Core course from the Product Marketing Alliance. As a bonus, many of these classes also come with post-course support and communities where graduates converge to talk strategy and share opportunities.
Best practices for working with a fractional CMO
Now that we’ve covered what a fractional CMO does and is responsible for, let’s talk about how to work with your temporary marketing manager for the best results.
Let them experience your product or service
Just as salespeople need to know what they’re selling, marketing leaders need to know what they’re marketing. Before your fractional CMO begins to alter your customer-facing materials or adjust your processes, have them experience your product or service.
If you sell a SaaS tool, for example, give them access and ask them to use it in the most common ways your customers do. If you’re an eCommerce brand, have them run through your purchasing process across your various sales channels, such as your website and social media.
Give them access to your customers
Your current customers are a valuable resource to learn:
- Who your best customers are, their values, and their demographics
- What JTBD your brand fulfills for your audience and what makes you valuable
- Which channels your customers research and spend time on
- What messaging best resonates with your audience
- Which features to invest in or drop and why
- How your top customers use your product
…And much more. Audience intelligence is vital for improving your marketing results, and your CMO needs access to those customer insights, conversations, surveys, and other data to make important strategy decisions.
Show them how other departments work
Let your fractional CMO spend a few days learning about how the marketing department interacts with others, the flow and exchange of information, how requests are handled, and who to go to on other teams for different needs and information.
If you bring in a temporary marketing leader who works in a silo, they’ll either achieve limited results, or the processes they put into place will quickly become outdated as the team evolves. Ensure your fractional CMO gets to know the full marketing branch, other departments, and the leadership team so they can build interdepartmental feedback loops and processes that last.
Ask for documentation
This should already be standard, but be sure your fractional CMO records documentation for every change they make. As they learn more about your company and find better ways to complete certain tasks, they should create guides and how-tos for these new processes that they can hand off to your permanent marketing hire.
These can take the form of PDFs, shared Google Docs, screen-recorded videos, or another format and can be used to train team members and bring your permanent CMO up to speed.
Each document should cover the team’s old procedure, how they’ve updated or refined the process (and why), and an overview of how to do it now.
Wrapping up — Hire a temporary marketing manager to organize your team
Acquisition is an important part of your business success, so invest in the right people to spearhead it. A fractional CMO can help you build an exceptional team, set up and optimize your marketing processes, determine KPIs and how to track them, and much more.
A fractional CMO is an excellent stop-gap to get your marketing department in top shape and prepare everyone for your next marketing leader.