The Rise of the ‘Fractional’ CMO and the Role CIOs Play

A fractional CMO can help organizations target certain aspects of their business, but close coordination and cooperation with the CIO or CDO is critical to success.

Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer

August 12, 2022

5 Min Read
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Rawpixel Ltd via Alamy Stock

The job of the chief marketing officer (CMO) is to deliver superior brand experiences, but they are struggling to manage more channels than ever, are tasked with more responsibilities, and are under enormous pressure to drive profitable growth.

This poses new opportunities and business challenges for companies who are looking for immediate marketing leadership.

In today’s current market, many companies are focused on their short-term performance and have set a series of growth goals and objectives that require immediate planning and action.

If the fractional CMO is fully functional -- meaning engaged to manage the entire scope of the marketing leadership role, but on a temporary basis -- the CIO would need to be involved in the vetting of a CMO candidate.

“Given the symbiotic nature of marketing and IT, there needs to be a healthy relationship between the CIO and CMO,” says Chris Ross, vice president, analyst with Gartner.

He adds the use of interim or fractional CMOs is often related to a business transition: A new CEO, the exit of a previous CMO, mergers, acquisitions, new funding, or bankruptcy can drive a business to seek an interim CMO role.

“If the fractional CMO is being engaged to focus on specific aspects of the business such as brand, overall strategy or other aspects with limited IT involvement, the CIO may, or may not, be actively involved,” Ross says. “In many organizations, any new addition to the C-suite involves other peer-level executives to assure the right organizational fit.”

Ross explains that in the most effective organizations, marketing and IT work closely together, which means the CIO-CMO relationship is critically important both in terms of assuring alignment of strategy and downstream work as well as setting the tone and culture for IT-marketing workstyles and collaboration.

“The CIO relationship with a fractional CMO will always be important but may vary from a full-time CMO depending on the scope and focus of the fractional engagement,” he notes. “Regardless, there is always a need for strong CIO and CMO connection.”

He adds the pandemic created new attitudes and openness about more fluid, flexible approaches to leading and managing marketing teams, with increased support for more modular, dynamic talent sourcing, which can include very senior levels of marketing leadership.

CIOs Should Take More than a Fractional Interest

Relay Network 's CMO Tal Klein points out the CIO/CDO has a vested interest in the interplay of technology and business.

“Depending on what marketing pillar the fractional CMO is being brought onboard to address, the CIO may care a lot if the fractional CMO is being brought in to address operational issues like lead generation or lead-to-opportunity conversion velocity,” he says.

That's because that kind of work relies heavily on technology and may impact changes to the company's CRM, website, or even communication infrastructure.

“Whereas if the fractional CMO is being brought it to address messaging or market positioning, the CIO may have less of a vested stake in the recruitment efforts,” Klein says.

Klein adds other than the obvious infrastructure work associated with supporting marketing operations, the CIO or CDO may own a lot of the outputs from marketing engagements like the compliance issues.

These could arise from capturing customer information, security ramifications associated with new tools or processes (i.e. launching a new website as a result of a rebranding campaign), and ensuring whatever prospect or customer data marketing needs in order to run effective campaigns is available to them.

“Long story short, there is no shortage of interaction between CIOs and CMOs -- fractional or otherwise,” he says.

Getting the Right Technology in Place

Michel Feaster, Qualtrics chief product officer of research, says before committing to a fractional CMO, it’s important to consider what outcomes you are trying to drive, what gaps you need to fill, and what organizational alignment is required for success.

She points out a CIO’s role has become more of a strategic advisor and partner to key business functions, including marketing.

“When considering a fractional CMO for a business, a CIO should be a part of the hiring conversations to ensure the right technology is in place to scale personalized customer communication,” she says. “A CIO needs to understand how their technical skills will mesh with a CMO’s expertise on a customer's journey in order to put the organization on a path of innovation.”

Because a CIO can be busy multitasking across other team functions, they should be able to lean on fractional CMOs to focus on the marketing execution.

“The two roles complement each other nicely -- no matter how good the strategy might be, it’s not going to drive impact unless it’s implemented in the best way,” Feaster explains.

She says although she is seeing some of the lines and responsibilities between the two roles blur, a strong relationship among a CIO and CMO will be critical for organizations to create more customer-focused experiences.

“As a CIO steps into more of a strategic advisor role, they’ll need to be able to lean on a CMO dedicated to marketing strategies while they think through overall digital transformation,” she notes. “A CIO needs to have the technical expertise to decide which of the emerging technologies will give their businesses a competitive edge.”

This in turn will help inform a CMO on which strategies to push out to current and prospective customers to increase brand awareness and sales.

“Some areas we can see the two roles collaborate on can include customer data platforms, marketing tech evolution, digital transformation of the web or digital experiences,” Feaster says.

By utilizing the strengths and skills of each executive, the two can lean on each other to ensure the right technology and data is in place to scale personalized customer experiences across all channels.

“Before committing to a fractional CMO, it’s important to consider what outcomes you are trying to drive, what gaps you need to fill, and what organizational alignment is required for success,” Feaster explains. “Assessing these three areas will ensure you hire the right leader and get them set for success internally to achieve the outcomes you need.”

What to Read Next:

Interim CIOs Favored as Organizations Seek Digitalization Push

The Ever-Expanding List of C-Level Technology Positions

CTOs Evolve in Shake Up of Digital Leadership in the C-Suite

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Freelance Writer

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.

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