- Fractional CMOs are an increasingly popular solution for many brands
- They offer executive-level expertise at a fraction of the price of traditional CMOs
- Building trust early, conducting a fast yet thorough business assessment, and finding quick wins will contribute to success in the first 30 days and beyond
- Amy Loesch, Fractional CMO at Chief Outsiders, breaks down these three tips to ensure the first 30 days as a fractional CMO yield the best possible results
The rise of the Fractional CMO has gained momentum over the past few years. As small and mid-sized companies find that they need to invest in aggressive growth but lack strategic marketing leadership in-house to drive it forward. Fractional CMOs are a solution for CEOs who need an experienced executive partner to develop strategy and an operational plan for growth without making a full-time hire. As a Fractional CMO, ensuring a successful outcome starts on day one of the engagement. CEOs want quick results, and time is not on your side. Your approach in the first 30 days could make or break your outcome. Here are three tips for a successful start.
- Build trust early
- Conduct a fast, but thorough business assessment
- Find quick wins
Build trust early
First and foremost, when you enter a fractional engagement, establishing trust early is fundamental to building relationships with the CEO, the leadership team (or key stakeholders), and the marketing team. Your colleagues must consider you a part of their organization. While this sounds intuitive, it’s not always easy to do. Let’s break it down by stakeholder.
It all starts with building rapport and good communication with the CEO.
- First, establish a cadence of consistent communication. Understand how frequently and through which channels the CEO prefers to communicate. Before the start of the engagement, you agreed upon a statement of work (SOW) and deliverables. Set up regular check-in meetings to review your progress. Style varies from person to person, but I’ve found that detailed checklists aligned to the SOW and deliverables that include a timeline, status updates, next steps, and potential risks are very helpful.
- Second, align your communication style to best fit with your CEO’s style so that you are speaking the same language. That said, be candid and don’t be shy about raising issues or problems that you uncover. You are there to serve as an objective voice and bring clarity to the CEO. This will help you to build trust. Finally, ask for feedback. It’s important to know where you stand and if there is anything you could be doing differently to best manage and meet expectations.
The leadership team (or key stakeholders)
While you may be reporting to the CEO, you must take time to get to know the leadership team or other key stakeholders within the organization that may have an impact on the work you are doing. You likely need their help and alignment to be successful. Strive to meet them within the first two weeks and gain their buy-in. There are two steps you can take to get the engagement off to a good start.
- First, set up a kick-off meeting within the first week to run the entire leadership team through the scope of work and the deliverables. Ask for feedback and be clear about how their participation can drive success. Reinforce that you are there to partner with them, encourage them to be transparent, and provide you with any information that will be helpful.
- Second, set up 1:1 interviews. Your goal is to establish rapport, understand their roles and department goals and gain perspective on their view of the vision and goals for the company. What do they see as the biggest opportunities for growth and the biggest challenges to getting them there? This will help you start to establish trust and get a sightline into organizational alignment.
If you are running a fractional engagement where you have responsibility for managing the marketing team, then establishing trust with the team at the outset is vital to your operational success.
- First, just as you did with the leadership team, set up a kickoff meeting with the marketing team. Run them through the scope of work within the first week and ensure that they feel part of the process. You are their team leader, so approach the role just as you would a full-time position.
- Second, establish frequent communication through team meetings, regular 1:1 coaching, and encourage open-door communication. Your objective is to understand their roles within the organization, their goals, and how connected they feel to the company’s priorities and initiatives.
Conduct a fast, but thorough business assessment
Unlike starting a new position as a full-time CMO, as a Fractional CMO, you don’t have the luxury of time to get up to speed on the business.
You are working under a limited engagement, with a fraction of your time and the CEO has high expectations. That said, conducting a thorough business assessment in the first 30 days is critical to success.
The deeper level of understanding you have about the business and the marketplace will enable you to develop insights to create a differentiated strategy that will be easier to execute.
Here are three steps to achieve a fast assessment.
- First, before the kick-off, provide the CEO with a list of all of the information you need to conduct your assessment – documents, strategy work, financials, data, marketing and sales plans, access to systems and tools, etc. You need to understand how the business operates, the products or services, the pain points or potential roadblocks to growth, the competitive landscape, the customer perceptions, the market opportunity, and much more. Dig into the data. Run analysis of their marketing and sales campaigns to date. Understand the financials, the sales pipeline, and the financial growth plan.
- Second, conduct a voice of the customer analysis. Spend time with customers or clients to develop a perspective on the opportunities for growth or areas of differentiation. I recently did this within the first two weeks of kicking off an engagement. There was consistent client feedback around poor communication and process breakdowns. This wasn’t surprising to the leadership team, but hearing it from their clients lit a fire under them to start addressing the issues. As part of this exercise, we confirmed a need for a new marketing role focused on client success and made immediate plans to shift internal resources. This is a good example of a quick win, which I discuss in more detail below.
- Finally, after conducting your assessment, summarize your learnings into a gap analysis. Evaluate the business problems you set out to help solve and determine if the original scope of work needs adjustment. It’s not uncommon to find additional areas of opportunity or improvement. Create an action plan with an updated timeline and identify the resources you need to move forward. Present your plan to the CEO and the leadership team, get feedback, and make agreements on the next steps.
Find quick wins
While learning the ins and outs of a business in 30 days with a fraction of your time is no easy task, the CEO has expectations that you are going to move fast and start to produce results. Spending 4-6 weeks developing insights is essential but doing so without identifying opportunities for quick improvements or action, may lead to an impatient CEO.
Are there some easy wins that you and the marketing team can execute against that help drive forward progress?
For example, a recent client was using a legacy version of MailChimp to send an email that had minimal analytics and list management capabilities. They also were using HubSpot as their CRM, so we were able to move all email execution over to HubSpot, connecting the analytics and email lists with the sales pipelines. We saved some money by consolidating the martech and created a seamless lead nurture workflow by integrating the marketing and sales email execution. It took less than two weeks.
By identifying and executing quick wins that are easy to implement and can have an immediate impact on the business, you continue to build the CEO’s trust and establish credibility in your analytical approach to developing insights and strategy.
The key to actioning change quickly is to outline the business benefits, whether cost savings, efficiency created through a process improvement, or a revenue increase. This enables you to get buy-in from the CEO or key stakeholders who need to approve or help implement the change.
In my MailChimp example above, there were both cost savings and process improvements. It was a no-brainer.
Why the first 30 days as a fractional CMO matter
The old saying, “You only have one chance to make a first impression” couldn’t be more true. The first 30 days set the tone for your fractional engagement moving forward. Failing to establish trust at the outset, can hinder your ability to get collaboration from your colleagues or the marketing team, which will make your job much more difficult. If you conduct your business assessment in a vacuum, without regular communication, or failure to show progress, the CEO may wonder about the value you are bringing. By gaining a fast understanding of the business operations, challenges, and opportunities and implementing quick wins, you establish credibility and confidence. You want the CEO to feel that they made the right decision in hiring you.
Are fractional CMOs the future?
Fractional work at the executive level is on the rise, particularly for marketing, sales, and finance.
It’s a cost-effective solution for small and mid-sized companies who need to drive aggressive growth quickly but may not need or have the budget for a full-time hire. It allows CEOs to bring on seasoned executive-level talent at a fraction of the price.
For companies that have a specific growth problem, need interim senior leadership, or want to build their marketing function from the ground up, a Fractional CMO could be a perfect solution.
Amy Loesch is a Fractional CMO, for Chief Outsiders, a national management consulting firm of executive-level, execution-oriented CMOs who help companies build and drive top-line growth. Amy specializes in working with CEOs and senior leaders of digital and consumer companies to launch and grow products and services that are at the forefront of changing consumer behavior.
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