Fractional CROs and CMOs: The Only Times I’ve Ever Seen Them Work

So the market is flooded with folks that are now “Fractional CROs” and “Fractional CMOs”.  We’ve had Fractional CFOs for a very long time, and perhaps they inspired the trend.

But Fractional CFOs are often different.  They usually come in and handle compliance and oversight for an existing finance team that perhaps lacks the seasoned experience to handle models, venture capital and debt, prepare for an audit, etc.  A strong Fractional CFO usually comes into a team that already has a strong or at least decent full-time VP or Director of Finance, Controller, etc.  We have a Fractional CFO for our tiny team at SaaStr, he reviews the finances and corporate actions of the team that does … the actual work.  We’ve worked together for years and he’s a gift.

In my experience, this “fractional” model breaks down with a “Fractional CRO” or “Fractional CMO”.  For sure, if you have a strong existing sales team that needs some mentorship, I can see a Fractional CRO working.  If you have a new, stretch sales leader doing it for the first time, and they want someone more seasoned to help 0.5-1.0 days a week, that can be a win-win.  Although the part-timers that actually do this rarely use the title “Fractional CRO” — they are happy just being mentors, consultants, advisors, coaches, etc.

No, what I tend to see is founders struggling to hire a true VP of Sales or Marketing get tired or desperate and think a Fractional CRO or CMO is better than nothing.

I will tell you it rarely is.  Because usually, they just want to be strategists.  Tell you where to focus, and what to do better.

But the thing is, what you almost always just need is a great full-time leader to implement all the ideas.

Having said that, I’ve seen a Fractional CRO/CMO sort of work in two cases:

  • If the Fractional CRO/CMO works at least 60% time and owns the function and its core KPI for real.  They aren’t just a strategist, they actually own the revenue or pipeline commit.  That’s not as good as full-time but it can work if the person is truly strong.  Really, these folks often will call themselves an Interim CRO or CMO.  The difference isn’t always semantic.

and/or

  • If the Fractional CRO/CMO, as part of the job, finds and closes the full-time VP of Sales/Marketing for you.  Some of the best do this, and then they are worth their weight in gold. They come in for 3-4 months and help, yes, but they also make sure they put a full-time team in place that can scale.

But anything else from a “Fractional” CRO or CMO?  Well, I just rarely see it amount to all that much.  And worst case, it sets you back. Because you should have used that time and energy to find someone full-time.

In fact, the other day, I interviewed a Fractional CRO who raved about the experience and what an incredible job he’d done for a CEO I knew.  I asked him why his 3-month contract wasn’t renewed.  He said he didn’t know, but just knew he did a great job.

I think that sort of illustrates it all.

In any event — you’ve been warned.

Hiring a Fractional CRO or CMO rarely solves much of any problem, except in the two cases above.

Image from here and a related post here:

When It’s Worth It To Hire an Interim VP of Sales

 

Published on January 13, 2023

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