Should Your CMO Be Full-Time In-House or Fractional? (Monique Olan)

Want the short answer? It depends.

You hate that answer, I know. 

“What does it depend on?” …that’s a better question, and one I can try to help answer!

Like with any good recipe, it’s a mix of ingredients that will determine whether you’re baking a dessert pie or a savory pie. Or, in this case, a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or a full-time, in-house CMO.

Why “It Depends”

When triaging with a company, I look at a few different business attributes and situational details to help evaluate if Fractional makes sense:

  1. Business type (offering format, size, stage, industry, etc.)
  2. Budget (marketing, overhead, in-market, company-wide, etc.)
  3. Revenue (total, growth goal + time frame, growth legacy, etc.)
  4. State-of-marketing (status, maturity, gaps, opportunities, competitive landscape, etc.)
  5. Marketing team (composition, skill mix, gaps, maturity, efficiency, growth potential, etc.)

The reason “it depends” is because it’s not just a simple answer for any of these, and the decision lies in the endless combinations that define various businesses, like…

EXAMPLE: Are you a high-growth stage B2B SaaS with a PLG model that’s seen YoY revenue growth at 10%, but that has plateaued over the last 3 quarters? Does that include a lean but skilled team, trying things, but lacking direction? Have you built a relatively strong brand awareness and engagement program, but nothing seems to be driving or converting down your pipeline to closed/won lately and you’re seeing a slight drop in customer retention? 

Yeah, you will probably see a powerful outcome from working with a Fractional CMO.


While I can’t drill down into every single, possible combination like that example, I can give three common situations where a business will likely see higher return and value in bringing on a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer rather than a full-time CMO.

Situation 1: Expertise on a lean budget or tighter profit margin

Let’s face it, in today’s economy and marketing environment, you can’t afford to NOT have a marketing leader with strong expertise in both strategy and team leadership. But if you’re a startup or small business, you might feel you can’t afford one either.

Hiring a Fractional CMO is a great option when that budget is lean, or you may be in a stage where there is a non-existing or too tight of a profit margin to allocate the budget required for a full-time CMO. With a Fractional CMO, you get access to the expertise you require without the cost and supplemental benefits structure of bringing on one full-time in-house. 

“But won’t I only get a FRACTION of the expertise and support?”


An experienced Fractional CMO comes to you with past-proven structures to drive strategy, lead your marketing team, and own your marketing function in such an efficient and effective way that the part-time format will FEEL like it’s full-time.

Therein lies the beauty of it: full expertise at a fraction of the cost.

Situation 2: The need for a “Change Agent” 

Another key reason to hire a Fractional CMO is when you may be in one of two pressing situations:

  1. Needing critical problem solving
  2. Needing to capitalize on new opportunities 

This is when that Fractional CMO can come in as a critical “change agent” to drive positive shifts across the pillars of strategy and leadership in these two situations.

Whether you are “stuck” at some level of your marketing strategy, execution, internal operations, etc., or facing a particular growth stage, new product, market expansion, or other new opportunity that you may not have navigated before, or want to navigate more successfully than before—you have not just the fresh expert eyes of a CMO, but one that has 3-8x the client experience as a standard in-house CMO because they serve multiple clients at once across mid to long-term relationships.

And better yet, many are a part of networks of other Fractional Leaders and Fractional CMOs—like Fractionals United—giving you not just the power of their mind, but access to that of an army of fractional experts to ensure you’re getting the most thought out, tested, and informed path forward.

The important task for you as the business owner is making sure you find a Fractional CMO that aligns to being a “change agent,” as there are differences in how we focus and service clients.

Situation 3: A talented team needing direction and leadership

As a Fractional CMO, I follow The Functional Business Model™ which we can maybe dive into in a future post, but basically highlights that there is a trifecta of strategy + leadership + talent that generates predictable growth.

  1. Do you have skilled team members but they need guidance?
  2. Do you have members that have potential that need fostering?
  3. Do you have highly motivated and invested talent that needs direction?
  4. Do you have a few core roles filled but there are gaps and not certain who is needed?

If any of those ring true, a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer may be a great fit, as they will provide the same level of leadership of a full-time, in-house CMO, but with the experience and practices of doing so with a larger and diverse portfolio of companies.

From providing focus, accountability, direction and up-skilling paths to the existing team, while also overseeing team gap fill with hiring and/or outsourcing management, the Fractional CMO truly takes full ownership of your marketing function, but creates operational processes and collaboration methods to do so extremely effectively and efficiently in the part-time format.


EXAMPLE: I follow a hexasprint process to distribute marketing initiatives for the team across a quarter to enable greater success in reaching the quarterly goals. One of the worst situations you can put a team in is overloading the back month of the quarter in an attempt to achieve goals that were underserved at the start of the quarter!


NOTE: This is an example of where a Fractional CMO can definitely work well. If you need the CMO to completely build your marketing function from the ground up, I'm NOT saying a Fractional CMO won’t work here. It’s all about the combination of business attributes and circumstances above, as well as the Fractional Marketing Leader’s area of expertise aligned to those to determine if that works.

Wrapping It Up

Whether you should work with a Fractional CMO or bring a full-time CMO in-house will depend on your combined business attributes and situation. 

If you’re needing...

  • ...high-level expertise with a limited budget, 
  • ...a “change agent” to tackle a problem or capitalize an opportunity, 
  • ...or leadership for a team with "good bones"/foundation
...these are three situations where a Fractional CMO may likely provide the greatest return on investment for your business.

Not all Fractional CMOs are the same, so KNOW your combination of attributes, and seek out those that may have approaches, specializations, and/or market focuses that align to your unique combination. 

The piece of advice I want to leave you with is this: if you want to find out if a Fractional CMO is right for your business, search and talk to them! I guarantee you we all have some version of a consultative intro call where we can review your unique situation and share if and how we may fit. 

We equally want to have the right client as much as you want the right CMO.

We're pretty honest and upfront on if we are a good fit together, and there's no harm in exploring your options with Fractional CMOs first. You may be surprised that a dessert pie is exactly what your ingredients lined up to all long. 😉


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