7 Steps to Get the Most Out of Hiring a Fractional CMO

by | Marketing Leadership, Marketing Organization

Get the Most Out of Hiring a Fractional CMO

You’re hiring a Fractional CMO. Now what?

Congratulations on your bold decision to add the insightful strategy and marketing leadership of a Fractional CMO to your team of trusted advisors! You know that the right CMO can help catapult your firm to the next level of performance excellence, but how do you get the most out of hiring a fractional CMO? Implementing these 7 steps can help you maximize the benefit your Fractional CMO brings to the table (while avoiding potential problems and spotting the early warning signs of suboptimal performance.)

 1. Move out of your comfort zone and take some risks

As they say, “What got you here won’t get you to where you want to be.” Your firm needs to develop new skills and introduce new approaches. The best firms understand the relationship between risk and reward. Prudent decision-makers act boldly because they KNOW and UNDERSTAND the risks, and they manage them intelligently. Most importantly, prudent decision-makers don’t punish failure or waste opportunities to learn for fear they will “fail.” It’s fine to fail in healthy firms. As a matter of fact, failing indicates that people are searching for answers, trying new approaches, and looking for new ways of creating value for the firm. It could be new revenue opportunities, productivity gains, or cost-cutting. It can be big or small as long as it makes the firm stronger in terms of its core values and delivered value. Healthy firms develop prudent processes that anticipate downside risk and set decision points and evaluation milestones to invest in measured ways, redirect or terminate based on LEARNING.

 2. Unfetter your Fractional CMO to manage the Marketing team within your culture

In addition to the strategic thinking of a fractional CMO, your firm should take advantage of all your executive’s leadership abilities. Many firms hiring a fractional CMO have talented and ambitious young marketers who are not ready for a CMO role but could be. These high-performing marketers will welcome a fractional CMO because they see it as an opportunity to learn. It takes a strategic marketer to create a strategic marketer. To get the most out of this engagement, allow the executive to execute their process and develop your people as any talented leader would. This builds both the strength of your marketing team and leadership bench. Your responsibility is to ensure that the fractional CMO is developing your people within the norms and values of your firm’s culture.

 3. Build trust with your Fractional CMO quickly

Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship. If you want to get things done with efficiency, success, and ease, you need to build trust as quickly as possible. Some would argue that trust takes time to develop and I would agree that is often the case. However, Charlie Green, author of The Trusted Advisor, offers 15 actions you can take right now.  These include speaking the truth… always, being on time, being willing to name the proverbial elephant in the room, listening with empathy, and steering clear of premature problem-solving. Be intentional about building trust from the get-go.  For more on building trust, visit https://trustedadvisor.com

 4. Add your Fractional CMO to your leadership team

You hired a strategic leader, so, add the fractional CMO to your leadership team. An executive will not have a strategic impact unless he/she has a strategic line of sight to the multiple dimensions of your firm. In addition to setting a tone for Marketing’s importance, adding the executive to your leadership team enables strategic cooperation by opening up channels to the firm’s other executives in the practices, geographies, HR, Finance, and IT. If you are not comfortable adding the leader to your team I suspect you either hired the wrong fractional CMO, don’t truly see marketing as a strategic enabler, or are concerned about optics within the firm. Each of these concerns is valid but may reflect a deeper trust issuer or a lack of readiness for a fractional CMO. Any reticence should be treated as a moment of self-awareness and addressed before hiring a fractional executive. Failing to do so could lead to suboptimal performance.

Adding a new executive to your firm will inevitably lead to turf wars as the new leader takes over responsibilities once overseen by others or makes changes that can impact others. It is important to establish clear responsibilities, KPIs, and decision-making rights. Because strategic Marketing impacts so many areas of the firm, I recommend that the entire leadership team complete a decision matrix exercise so everyone understands “Who has the D?” as outlined in this classic HBR article. This discussion is fruitful beyond the fractional CMO and provides decision-making clarity in the often complex, matrixed world of professional services. You can download my RACI to start your discussion.  

 5. Provide a commensurate budget to achieve your strategic objectives

Marketing budgets in professional services firms are simultaneously simple and complex. They are simple in that they are often allocated as a straightforward percentage of practice revenue. For example, the largest practice and smallest practice each get 5% of their revenue allocated for “Marketing.” Perhaps, the firm allocates firmwide monies to the budget to cover “corporate” Marketing or shared services model that includes brand and people. It’s a “fair” but archaic and unstrategic approach. Budget dollars should over-resource those areas of the firm that are going to drive the largest amount of growth, build the brand’s relevance (expand the brand), and position the firm for long-term success. Unfortunately, more often than not, budget investments are inversely related to these goals. Don’t make this mistake. Once strategic growth objectives are set, allow your Fractional CMO to allocate dollars for the highest ROI. The total budget amount for your firm is a function of the level of time and effort required to achieve your goals. Faster results require more money. Your leadership team “has the D” on the larger investment decision.

 6. Commit to building a high-performance Martech platform

Today’s marketing is as much science as art. The modern marketing organization is driven by technology. Technology allows speed, scale, optimization, measurement, communication, and most importantly, learning. Your fractional CMO must have a platform that enables strategic impact. If you do not have a modern marketing stack in place, including CRM, marketing automation, user-friendly CMS/website, sales enablement, and channel management tools, your firm is at a competitive disadvantage. No matter who you have leading Marketing, without the right tech stack, your Marketing effectiveness, productivity, and overall competitiveness will suffer. A good fractional CMO will get a competitive platform built. Your allocating the resources to do so will ensure that you have a modern marketing engine that empowers relationship building, increases productivity for Sales, Marketing, and line, and provides tools for data-driven decision-making.

 7. Meet regularly to discuss dashboard and performance

After your marketing strategy is in place, your fractional CMO should develop a cadence of “execute, evaluate, learn, and refine” to produce the desired results. I recommend that the managing partner and P&L leaders meet bi-monthly to review performance and a KPI dashboard. The discussion should focus on pipeline and booked revenue, THEN, move up the funnel to analyze conversion performance and areas for improvement. A strong dashboard should be able to detail channel performance in terms of lead volume, cost per lead, pipeline contribution, and closed business. These meetings are important to identify performance hurdles, address issues, and demonstrate ROI. Agree on KPIs, a dashboard, and meeting cadence that work for you. Just make sure all three are in place and the meeting is given the attention it deserves.


Hiring a fractional CMO is a big strategic decision and one that managing partners at top firms are making more often to get their firms across the chasm and to the next level. If you are about to make such a decision, it is critical that you lay a foundation for success. Ultimately, success is a matter of treating the “part-time” or “outsourced” Fractional CMO as if he/she were a leadership employee. Any leader needs visible managing partner support, must be treated as a leadership peer, and given the resources to execute an agreed-upon growth strategy. Taking these important actions will ensure that your decision to hire a Fractional CMO was indeed a smart one.


Be prudent.



Who has the D?”  outlined in this classic HBR article

Charlie Green, author of The Trusted Advisor, offers 15 actions you can take right now

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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