So, you’re small- to mid-sized company that has done everything right. But you cannot seem to cross the chasm into year-over-year double-digit growth and improved EBITDA. Customer loyalty seems strong. Your people are heads-down, trying their best. Competitors are no more disruptive than you. Somehow, they have a better website, land marque deals, and get more coverage.
Maddening. Simply maddening.
No banker can help you. No investor has constructive advice—and asking again just raises more questions than answers. Your executive team came up with ideas. It all sounded so tactical and short term. Or, so costly and long-term it isn’t realistic. Now, they just throw one another under the bus.
Frankly, this is when you hire a fractional chief marketing officer. This does not mean a consultant with a CPA/MBA. This does not mean a creative person with a nice portfolio of websites. You want the person who drove them to aspire to gain more credentials and deliver quality output.
Marketing maturity at a mid-sized company
At a start-up, everyone is a musician in a wedding band. When requests get shouted from the dance floor, all hands on deck for marketing and sales.
As you graduate into a mid-sized or mature operation, lines get drawn. But the reality is that the CEO or other key players still drift in and out of other people’s business. They feel they must, and perhaps they’re right.
The goal is for the CEO be extricated from part-time duties as the marketing manager and top sales producer. Maybe this calls for assessing whomever holds those titles now—or writing the job descriptions. Maybe it is a matter of training, coaching, and instituting some process.
This is a process that includes telling the CEO to stay out of it, let people fall down once in a while, and stop telling everyone what to do every day. It produces results some of the time, but chaos and stress as the day is long. (CEO, be ready to hear all of this from the right fractional CMO.)
Inside a mid-sized company, survival and scale demand a more mature marketing model. It necessitates the re-division of roles and responsibilities and that takes time. The endgame remains the same: stay the course to arrive at a scalable, accountable end state. Only then can your marketing mix, creative branding, and sales process be analyzed with reliability.
The Mid-Sized Business Marketing Maturity Model
Spending a few moments with the marketing maturity model, the CEO can check off boxes in the matrix where help is most needed. The executive team may be tasked to do some self-examination, too. How do we rank ourselves on a 1-10 scale for each box?
Not single model fits all. The SaaS startup has unique needs; its website is a storefront, the salesperson, and the promise of the brand for support of a product that’s sound and will continue to evolve. It is more like a retail store on a street corner, where its transparent marketing model invites passersby to express their impulses and opinions of the merchandise, 24/7/365.
Meanwhile, a Long Island CPA practice that helps owners to value and sell small businesses has an entirely different subset of opportunities and threats. Same goes for the midwestern tier-3 supplier to the auto and truck market. The supplier’s brand assets are the company itself, its reputation, capacities and fixtures, its ISO certification. But the cheese moved with globalization; now the OEM decision-makers live in Neu Ulm, Germany, not in Ohio. How do they pivot and return to relevancy?
Each sector has its own flavors of what it means to do branding, marketing, and selling. Each faces unique challenges.
As the CEO, your job is not to find a fractional CMO who knows everyone in your market with 20 years on his resume at your competitor’s shop. Your job is to find a fractional executive who can fill in any market knowledge gaps quickly, but comes armed and dangerous in using pragmatic, low-ego approaches to find some quick wins while implementing repeatable ways to win even more.
Leveraging an interim marketing executive
Virtual CFOs from companies like Tatum and VCFO have been around for decades. They add value to companies where a full-time CFO doesn’t yet make sense. They can advise on high-level P&L and tax issues. They also can log into Sage or QuickBooks and close the month or pull financial statements.
But what does it mean to hire a fractional CMO? What do they do? What should they know how to do? And can they do it themselves in a hands-on capacity? Many are skeptical because marketing managers from central casting arrive from either graphic design or an MBA program. And neither of them can write a lick of sales copy that you like.
The true CMO is a right- and left-brained phenomenon. The true CMO is as comfortable in Excel as PowerPoint. Within 30 minutes of meeting the fractional CMO, your senior-most finance or operations executive will report they met a peer. They met someone they enjoyed talking to, who relates to what keeps them awake at night, and who has been there and done that. The CMO talked about revenue growth, cost per lead, field work with salespeople, profitability, product development, and other nuts and bolts that one must live and breathe as an executive in a complex organization.
Fractional CMOs get their hands dirty
Being clear, the fractional CMO has personally performed many or all of the duties in the maturity model matrix.
They can roll up their sleeves, perform research, craft messages and creative briefs, and build PowerPoints for sales pitches.
Ideally, the fractional CMO’s low ego includes introducing other specialists or agencies. They can lead the efficient implementation of a growth strategy while making your brand look like a million bucks—or $35 million, if that’s that revenue target you aim to reach next year.
Is it time for a fractional CMO?
Inside, you already know the answer.
Perhaps it is the cost of consultant that stands in the way. Let’s say you spend $100,000 over 12 months on a part-time CMO. Sounds like a lot of money. You could hire another webmaster or two with that kind of money.
Imagine things went reasonably well—not perfect, nothing ever is—but well enough. You continued month after month for a year.
Year end, your finance officer pops in with the CMO’s latest invoice wondering if you still need the expense. You lean back.
“Remind me, what’s our average monthly growth rate in sales since we hired him?”
“Maybe one and a half points per month,” she guesstimates. “We weren’t growing at all before he came on board, I’ll say that.”
“If the best he can do is 1.5 percent per month,” you say returning to your laptop, “this company will have doubled in size over thirty-six months.”
She nods, smiles, and carries on.
That’s all it takes: 1.56% per month growth to double any revenues over three years. Find a fractional CMO that’s done it a couple times. Let them do their job. It’s a steal.