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Understanding Fractional CMOs vs. Marketing Consulting

The Question.

As the lines between Fractional CMOs and marketing consultants continue to blur, it can be somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly where one ends and the other begins. Most importantly though, as a CEO - which do you need and when do you need it?

During our podcast, GROW Powerful’s Managing Partner, Brett Schklar, walks you through a few of the ways in which the Fractional CMO route differs from consulting engagements.

Similarly, if you’ll recall from our last blog post, we discussed the ways in which full-time CMO employees differ from that of Fractional CMO services. You can read more about that here!

Amidst a smattering of questions such as, “Which route is right for me?” and “What kind of growth can I expect?,” we lay out our proven guide to choosing between a Fractional CMO and a marketing consultant, so that you can make the right decision for YOUR company.

Without further ado, here are our 13 guiding questions for making the decision between Fractional CMO vs. Consultant.

Specific vs. Generic

When there’s a particular problem at hand that requires solving—whether that be a market analysis, competitive inquiry, or a briefing on existing programs—a consultant might be your best solution. When looking for a targeted outcome with pinpointed results, a consultant will be there to work directly with you to point out problem areas and room for improvement, so that you are equipped with all the necessary tools to reach your specific growth goal.

When it comes to general problem-solving, a Fractional CMO is your best bet. Starting with a ground-up viewpoint with a wide range of possible avenues is the bread and butter of Fractional CMO work, so if your vision seems more like an array of puzzle pieces to be pieced together than a nearly finished masterpiece, we say: go Fractional.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term

For emerging B2B technology companies who are in need of short-term “fix”, consultancy is the way to go, especially if the engagement is set for around 3 months or less.

Fractional CMOs are there to explore all possible options to take your company to the next level — this will typically take at least 6 months, and could last up to a year. On average, Fractional CMO engagements are set for 9 months.

Ownership vs. Answers

As a CEO, what kind of help are you looking for? Are you looking for ownership, or are you looking for guidance? No CEO is built the same, so this answer might vary depending on the personality, but from a company perspective, are you situated more towards need-based problem solving, or are you willing to bring in an additional leader to oversee specific marketing operations?

If ownership is what you seek, then a Fractional CMO is what you should acquire. In contrast, if quick, pointed wisdom is what your company needs, then the consulting route is probably a better use of your time and resources.

Internal vs. External

While a Fractional CMO technically does not qualify as a company “insider,” our main goal here at GROW Powerful is to integrate all of our operational iCMOs as smoothly as possible into B2B tech programs, as we believe that incorporation equals opportunity. If you’re interested in someone who can come in, optimize teams, and create a joint framework for your company’s success, then a Fractional CMO might be the right fit for you.

Conversely, the consultant is the proverbial “outsider.” This person is not meant to shake up any internal operations, but rather is there to advise, locate problem areas, and provide insight from an outside point of view.

Answers vs. Execution

We get it: sometimes, all you're looking for is answers. For issues such as market opportunities and recommendations, go for a consultant. However, if you’re interested in an invested, full-fledged execution of a certain program, then a Fractional CMO is what you want to look for. A Fractional CMO is going to be there to fully carry out a vision from end-to-end, with minimal need for communal ownership.

Team vs. Solo

Much like the matter of ‘Answers vs. Execution,’ this decision really boils down to whether or not you are looking for a collaborator or an innovator. Whatever your company’s need(s) may be, make sure that you are accounting for what your core team might need. For an outside, hired gun-style collaboration, go with a consultant.

If you’re more interested in the idea of having someone come in who is eager to work in a more collaborative, explorative setting, then we recommend hiring a Fractional CMO.

Integration vs. Separation

We’ve discussed the ways in which a CEO’s individual personality works within the confines of the Fractional CMO vs. consultant discourse, but what about the elements of your company’s overall culture? Will your team members and clientele be open to working with an integrated collaborator, or would a more hands-off consultant be a better choice?

Moreover, would the Fractional CMO be a good fit for your company’s culture? Here at GROW Powerful, we try to preemptively address such concerns by utilizing interviews with both our iCMOs and prospective CEOs to create the best fit possible for short-term engagements.

Such alignment is a necessary element of consideration when formulating growth programs, and can play an essential role in the success of your company. Know your culture!

Board Support or Not

If you’ve decided to bring in a Fractional CMO that has operational experience as a full-time CMO, they likely have had time with a board of directors or investors. It’s important to think about this as CEO’s deploy Fractional CMO’s vs. Consultants to achieve growth goals.

While not all Fractional CMO’s have the level of experience and maturity to interact with board members, we here at GROW only leverage battle-tested and proven CMO’s who have been in front of board members over and over again and can interact and present to them at a trusted level.

In most cases, bringing on a consultant to solve a specific need or issue required should not involve board or investor engagement; the exception, of course, being if the board has hired a consultant. If that’s the case, we highly recommend you watch Office Space and get comfy with “The Bobs”.

In the end, it’s up to the preference of the CEO , so maintaining awareness of how you work best and where your relationship lies with your board is key to knowing whether to go with a consultant or Fractional CMO.

Part-Time vs. Isolated Pro

While a Fractional CMO is not technically a full-time employee, they are a extension of the company’s image, working to deliver high-impact results. In short, you’ll be seeing them a lot.

In contrast, to revert back to our ‘hired gun’ analogy, the consultant mainly works as an “isolated pro” – someone who is there to provide a company with solutions and answers, but not necessarily there to work on behalf of the company.


Fractional CMOs typically work under a retainer, and committed to a certain number of hours for a certain level of pay. These hours can range from weekly, monthly, or quarterly, and can also depend upon the expected amount of deliverables on a periodic basis.

Unlike the Fractional CMO, consultants usually operate under a Statement of Work, have a standard timeline, and include an expected amount of accomplished items in accordance with their established timeline.

Company vs Project Results

Another important divergence between Fractional CMOs and consultants is the differing definitions of ‘results’ for each agent. In the consultancy world, ‘results’ could equate to accomplishing the details of the proposed deliverables included within the Statement of Work, and pertains mainly to the specifics of the project that the consultant was hired to address.

For a Fractional CMO, ‘results’ are more aligned with the trajectory of the company’s growth both during and after the time of their contract. Brand awareness, sales/marketing calibration, and growth pipelines are all tangible measures of Fractional CMO success which can act as indicators of executive quality.

iCMO as Consultant vs Consultant as iCMO

As we have witnessed here at GROW Powerful, an iCMO can be a consultant. In truth, the pipeline between consultancy and Fractional CMO services is strong enough that work as one can be a great indicator of work as the other. Usually, this pipeline plays in favor of the iCMO who can be initially brought in as a consultant, then integrated further as a Fractional CMO.

However, while iCMOs can make for great consultants, the same cannot always be said for consultants looking to engage in Fractional services. Oftentimes, what makes a great consultant as an independent function does now work well in cultural and company alignment.

Wrapping Up.

We hope our guide can be of some help in your future Fractional CMO vs. consultant decisions, but if you'd like more content from GROW, don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog posts! For updates on all things GROW, subscribe to our LinkedIn newsletter, follow our YouTube channel, and search for the Grow Up with GROW series wherever you get your podcasts.

All the best,


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