Fractional Cmo Vs. Marketing Agency – What’s The Difference? Ask A Fractional Cmo

In this month’s Ask a Fractional CMO newsletter and video, we address a common question we hear from B2B founders and CEOs: What is a Fractional CMO, how are they different from working with a marketing agency, and which one do I need right now?

Watch the video answer right here:

So what is a Fractional CMO, exactly? A Fractional CMO offers the expertise of a full-time in-house Chief Marketing Officer on a part-time or contract basis. This role is particularly beneficial for organizations that don’t have a senior marketing leader on staff and either:

  • Don’t have the budget for a full-time CMO,
  • Don’t have the time to spend finding the right hire, or
  • Want to get started with bringing on marketing leadership in a way that is less risky than hiring in-house.

Fractional CMOs have worked in senior leadership roles in organizations before. This means they’re not just experts in marketing, but they also understand the complexities of working in a B2B firm, understand the dynamics of different departments, such as sales, finance, customer success, engineering, and product – and are skilled at navigating internal dynamics, aligning marketing with overall business goals, and providing strategic direction.

Types of Fractional CMOs:

There are two primary types of Fractional CMOs. The first type is an independent consultant who comes on as your senior marketing leader and sets and guides the marketing strategy, but then has to source and outsource additional resources to implement and execute on the strategy.

The second type has already worked with and has a ready-to-deploy team, offering both the senior leadership you need along with a vetted and reliable outsourced marketing team to provide a cohesive approach to strategy execution.

How are Fractional CMOs and Marketing Agencies Different?

We like to think the age-old chicken and egg analogy comes into play here. It’s not so much about whether you should choose a Fractional CMO or a marketing agency, it’s more about timing – when should you use each and which comes first?

Marketing agencies differ from Fractional CMOs in that they focus on specific marketing tactics rather than overall strategy along with tactics. They might specialize in areas like video production, content creation, graphic design, PPC, or brand development.

Because marketing agencies tend to specialize in tactical areas, they need two things in order to be effective:

  1. Guidance on the company’s higher-level marketing strategy
  2. A senior marketing leader to direct and manage them.

A marketing agency’s expertise is critical, but without a clear internal strategy, their efforts may not align with your business goals. So if you don’t have a marketing strategy in place, or someone in-house to guide and manage the work of marketing agencies, you could be wasting valuable time and money on expensive marketing tactics that fall flat because they’re not aligned with an overall strategy. You could also feel like the marketing agency is waiting around to be told what to do when you thought they were supposed to lead. It’s just a case of mis-aligned expectations.

So when should you choose each?

If you don’t have senior marketing leadership in-house and you’re deciding between a Fractional CMO and a marketing agency, a Fractional CMO should be your first hire. They will work with you so they understand your business goals, create a marketing strategy designed to help you reach those goals, and outline the marketing tactics needed to fulfill on the strategy.

Once you know what those marketing tactics are, your Fractional CMO can recommend the best resources to execute on them. They may have their own outsourced team, and/or they can then source and engage the right marketing agencies, and guide them in making sure their efforts align with the overall strategy.

So in summary, here’s when you should engage a Fractional CMO vs. a marketing agency:

  • Fractional CMO First: Ideal for setting and guiding overall marketing strategy and identifying the right resources to execute on marketing tactics (and manage those resources)
  • Marketing Agency After: Best engaged after strategy development, for executing specific tactics under the guidance of your Fractional CMO.

Next Steps: The CEO’s Ultimate Guide to Building an Effective B2B Marketing Team in Today’s Complex Marketing World

To help you make important decisions around your marketing investment, we’ve created a comprehensive eBook: The B2B CEO’s Ultimate Guide to Building an Expert Marketing Team in Today’s Complex Marketing World

In this eBook, we walk you through the six most important questions B2B CEOs need to answer in order to build their first marketing team and choose the right marketing model for their stage of business:

  1. How Do You Know It’s Time to Invest in Marketing?
  2. What are B2B Marketing Best Practices?
  3. How Has B2B Marketing Become More Complex?
  4. What Are the Top Challenges in Getting Started in Marketing?
  5. What Does a B2B Marketing Team Look Like?
  6. Should You Hire In-House or Outsource?

You can download the eBook RIGHT HERE

Book a Marketing Strategy Consultation:

If you have any questions about this blog post or the eBook or would like to schedule a consultation with Jen Kelly, NIM’s Founder and one of the Fractional CMOs to get more guidance around your next steps in marketing, you can send her an email or book a consultation time.

Get the Ultimate Guide Now:



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