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How small businesses benefit from partnering with ‘fractional’ executives to boost sales and marketing strategies

Thanks to the pandemic, as well as an expanding remote workforce, better online tools, and the desire of many small businesses to use talent for specific purposes instead of hiring full-time workers, a new industry of “fractional” sales and marketing executives — chief marketing officer (CMO), chief revenue officer (CRO), or chief sales officer (CSO) — has grown over the last few years.

“Companies are realizing that in order to get the talent to meet their goals, they don’t necessarily need to hire a full-time workforce anymore,” said Rajat Kapur, who, after two decades of marketing, sales, and strategy development, now leads a team of outsourced sales and marketing professionals that serves businesses of all sizes.

“A fractional executive can be hired to drive a result and for a temporary period of time … and at a ‘fraction’ of the cost,” Kapur said.

Is a fractional sales and marketing executive right for your business? Can that help you drive growth? It’s very possible. But to leverage the skills of these professionals, it’s important to know how the relationship works.

Strategy and direction, not tasks

One common misconception is that a fractional sales and marketing executive will perform tasks like sending out emails or making phone calls. In reality, their role is much more strategic. They’re there to help a business define and focus their business strategy, and then to assist setting up an organizational infrastructure to accomplish those goals.

Owen Murphy, who has held numerous senior sales and marketing positions at large corporations, has for the past six years focused his fractional CMO services on underdeveloped or underachieving marketing departments. He finds that clients call on him when they’re concerned that competitors may be surpassing them.

“They’re doing what you think are all the right things, but they don’t seem to be generating the results that they hoped for,” he said. “A fractional CMO, for example, will help with rebranding and redefining their value proposition. They can bring in all types of approaches and a holistic view.”

Industry-specific experience may be important

There are different viewpoints as to whether hiring a fractional sales executive with experience in a specific industry is important. For example, whether a business sells to other businesses or direct to consumers, whether it’s a manufacturer or a landscaper.

These are reasonable concerns, but most experienced fractional executives should be able to adapt to any environment, regardless of their experience.

Justin Zucca, for example, is not an accountant. But he specializes in providing fractional marketing services for accounting firms.

“I saw a niche in the accounting firm market because so many accountants aren’t generally good marketers,” he said. “Even though the partners of these firms recognize the need for someone in that role to help them grow, they’re oftentimes reluctant to hire someone full time.”

Murphy doesn’t feel that industry experience is a make-or-break criteria when hiring a fractional executive.

“A fractional CMO or CRO can be valuable as long as they’re rather battle-tested,” he said. “What’s important is that they bring in best practices from the culmination of all of their experiences, regardless of their industry.”

Technology recommendations are critical

Many companies use multiple software applications for their sales and marketing teams when oftentimes this software can be consolidated into one platform. Implementation of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT are also becoming more commonplace.

Good fractional sales and marketing executives are familiar with many different types of sales and marketing technologies and customer-relationship-management systems that would make sense for a firm to use.

“It’s incumbent on a fractional CMO to make recommendations on the latest and greatest tools and techniques,” Murphy said. “They’re instrumental in identifying what technologies will enable the best sales and marketing processes for their clients.”

Interactions will vary

Thanks to remote working, it’s no surprise that many fractional executives rely on online tools to attend meetings, coach, and offerconsultation. Some fractional executives prefer to come on-site periodically; others can perform their services competently with minimal face time.

Zucca says that once a company is up and running with a fractional executive and the right processes are in place, a company could expect to see that executive — online or on-site — perhaps 10 or 15 hours a month.

Kapur says that his typical relationship may be about 1½ days a week for probably six months. Fees will vary by engagement but generally run $200 to $300 per hour.

Some fractional executives require up-front payments while others may work on a fixed monthly plan. Most engagements are generally short-term.

“I’ve found that at about six months, a business owner can determine if the relationship is really working,” Kapur said.

These executives can impact the entire organization

Because of their growing popularity, fractional sales and marketing executives can be easily found on LinkedIn, through networking, or by word of mouth or online sales and marketing communities. But regardless of where you find someone, it’s important to vet them carefully, get references, and then, once hired, take full advantage of their capabilities.

“Companies will get the most value when they realize that it’s an opportunity to impact change in their entire organization outside of just marketing,” Murphy said.

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