I was at a BBQ last year and my extended in-laws were asking what I do.
The easiest thing that came to mind was telling them that I’m like a fractional or part-time CMO (chief marketing officer).
I told them how companies too small to justify one full-time could work with me and get the same level of expertise applied to their business for a fraction of the cost.
I explained how we work on everything together over time, building according to goals and priorities, and evolving with their needs and challenges as they arise.
The instantly got it.
Even though they were not “business folk”, it just made sense to them.
If I said “I’m a marketing consultant”, their eyes would have glazed over. It’s vague and could mean any number of things.
Comparing myself to a “part-time CMO” quickly articulated what I really do. I tend to work with clients over a long period of time. Many months and even years if things are going well.
We tend to work on everything to do with new customer acquisition and retention. It’s a holistic job, not focused on one individual area or tactic unless it’s the key priority.
I won’t write your copy or manage your individual projects, but I will facilitate change, oversee all work, help you hire, and ensure you’re getting the best possible results with the resources you have.
Should you choose to position yourself as a Fractional CMO?
The answer to this question depends on your business and how you approach your work.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself to see if it’s right for you:
- Do you actually do executive-level work?
- Do you prefer to work at the strategic level or are you more focused on individual tactics by nature?
- Do you want to be seen as long-term partner or someone who works on special projects?
- Do your ideal clients tend to have an in-house CMO already? If so, your positioning might scare those clients away.
Personally, my clients tend not to have an executive-level marketing person. They have a manager who has some experience but I become their mentor while also helping the business owner at the strategic level.
This is my sweet spot. If it sounds like what you do, try describing yourself that way in sales conversations.
How I currently position myself
I currently position myself as a marketing advisor and mentor, but I regularly mention in conversation that working with me is like having a part-time CMO for a fraction of the usual big salaries they come with.
People generally get that. Many still refer to me as their fractional CMO because of those early sales conversations.
The most critical part is that everyone I speak to just “gets it” the first time they hear it.
It clarifies the type of work I do, the size of clients I work with, and the general value I bring to the table.
What more could you ask for?
What are the risks of fractional/part-time CMO positioning?
To me, there are two main risks of positioning yourself as a fractional CMO.
1. Being perceived—and therefore treated—as an employee
There’s nothing worse than setting the expectations that you are basically a contract employee.
Clients will expect you to produce deliverables and do things on their terms, their way, at their business, etc., which is not generally what a consultant does.
Or, they may not always listen to your advice, thinking you’re like another employee who they can listen to optionally if they wish to.
They may not like you disagreeing with their ideas or saying no to doing certain tasks if it’s not what you do.
Ultimately, it can become the wrong kind of relationship if you intend to be candid with your clients. Your job is to deliver the truth, not mince words if they need to hear the facts as they are.
Employees are expected to be agreeable, whereas consultants have a bit more room to stand strong, defending their ideas if they believe it will actually get results for their clients.
You need to be prepared to be fired for taking hard positions when you believe them to be the right path. Employees aren’t generally expected to take that role.
How you are perceived matters—you are not an employee.
2. Scaring potential clients away if it would undermine current marketing leadership
This is one of the main reasons I don’t position myself as a fractional CMO, except for during sales conversations or times when I say I’m “like having a …”.
The main reason is I want the current marketing manager to feel empowered and know that I will build on their work, not overhaul it or become a new boss to them.
My ideal clients have marketing managers in many cases, but none have CMOs. So it’s critical that I set the expectation that I’m not becoming a permanent member of their team, but instead someone who will mentor and advise on the process for as long as I’m needed.
Hence, my position as marketing advisor and mentor who is like having a part-time CMO on the team.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for you and your business. I used to position myself as a fractional CMO, but not any more. It may change again over time, who knows.
How do you position yourself? Let me know on Twitter.
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