SaaS Marketing: Is fractional CMO the new virtual CMO?

Is a Fractional CMO the new Virtual CMO in SaaS marketing, what is the difference and does it matter? We explore the differences.

Every now and then something unexpectedly pops up that makes so much sense, you can’t ignore it. That was the case when ‘fractional’ started hitting our radar last year. When Proxi was first established we agonised over how to describe ourselves. ‘Virtual Chief Marketing Officer’ or ‘vCMO’ appeared to be the best fit and aligned with known concepts for other functions, like a vCFO for Finance.

Other options were ‘outsourced CMO’ or ‘interim CMO’ which weren’t anything the Kiwi SaaS community was talking about. Even so, at the time, vCMO was not a term everyone was familiar with and even now, many still regard vCMOs as marketing consultants – which is not what we are or want to be.

So when ‘fractional’ started popping up around the world it was a cause to pause – is this a better description of what we do as Proxi?

What is a Fractional CMO?

One of the best descriptions of a Fractional CMO comes from author, lecturer and social media marketing guru, Neal Schaffer, who has moved all of his global clients to this model. On his website, he describes a Fractional CMO as:

“… an experienced marketing leader who becomes a part-time executive addition to your company… Being a Fractional CMO allows me to offer a cost-effective high value-add service to my clients where I literally operate as one of their employees with aligned objectives.”

It’s that last bit that really resonates with us. While similar to a part-time or outsourced CMO, being ‘fractional’ means you may spend your time with more than one company – but still act as if you are their employee. Many Virtual CMOs, while adding value on projects and giving strategic advice, still act very much as consultants – sitting outside of key-decision making activities where the real CMO expertise is needed.

Important points of difference in fractional vs virtual

We made a conscious decision, very early on, that for Proxi to succeed in an engagement it was absolutely vital to have the same seat at the decision making tables a permanent CMO would hold. This covers reporting to the board and CEO, participating as part of the Senior Leadership Team and being directly involved in making hiring (and firing) decisions. Where we have let this slide in the past – the engagement has not delivered to its potential – for us or the client. You learn from this.

Another important distinction is a Fractional CMO doesn’t count hours or work to a time-and-materials billing process – just as you wouldn’t do as an employee. There is trust and understanding on both sides that the ‘fractional’ time allocation is fairly managed. We are seldom not available if a client has a pressing issue or needs an urgent response and as much as possible aim to over-deliver in the time we have. Just as you would expect of a permanent CMO.

As a Fractional CMO – particularly in New Zealand – you are not just a strategic being. We all roll our sleeves up and take part in delivering value. What we deliver is different for every client but includes everything from managing HR if a team is in place, hiring and managing suppliers, creating content, running events and everything else a SaaS marketing lead does. All for a fraction of what it would cost for a full-time hire.

And that is where the value of a Fractional CMO sits.

As Neal Shaffer puts it:

“The key benefit of this type of outsourced CMO service is that you can hire someone to be involved as if he or she was a CMO but without needing to pay the salary of a full-time marketing executive.”

Fractional CMOs deliver outstanding value

We don’t even start to pretend we have written as many books as Neal Shaffer or have the same global following (though, we are working on that). But we do believe Proxi offers real value for what we bring to the table in delivering as a Fractional CMO (at least that is what our clients tell us). While we still are using the term vCMO in describing ourselves the tide is definitely turning.

We believe we are more fractional than virtual and sit well with the other global pioneers in this space. Like many Kiwi tech companies, it seems we were actually ahead of the curve on this one in establishing the Proxi Way – acting as Fractional CMOs before there was a term to describe it.

A big part of why we came together as Proxi was we didn’t relate to the agency consulting model – and still don’t. We see the real marketing value created by consultants being held outside of the client’s company and the impact you might have being limited by not having a seat at the table.

All being considered, a Fractional CMO does seem a better fit for what Proxi does than being described as a Virtual CMO – but does it matter?