Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
Sept. 7, 2022

Considering Being a Fractional CMO? Tips to Get You Started

In this episode of Revenue Rehab, Brandi Starr is joined by Angus Robertson. Angus is a fractional  CMO  with  and co-chair  of  the  Comp  TIA  business applications and advisory council. Chief Outsiders...


In this episode of Revenue Rehab, Brandi Starr is joined by Angus Robertson. Angus is a fractional  CMO  with  Chief Outsiders and co-chair  of  the  Comp  TIA  business applications and advisory council. Chief Outsiders consists of more than 100 fractional CMOs, who help companies grow through best-in class marketing strategy and execution. Previously, Angus was CRO at a business continuity firm Axcient where he managed sales, marketing and partner success.  Angus was also EVP  of  Marketing  at  Conversant  acquired  by OneTrust, CMO at insightsoftware and VP of Product Marketing at public telecoms company Spirent.

On the couch, Angus and Brandi will discuss the pros and cons of the Fractional CMO role, as well as delving into some deciding factors when making the move.

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers

  • Topic #1: Fractional CMO Life: The Pros and Cons [5:18] Angus discusses the pros and cons that come with a Fractional CMO role. His top pros include autonomy, freedom, and flexibility. He also emphasizes how interesting the role can be; with diverse clients and companies, evolving pay rates, and a large pipeline for growth and opportunity. On the other hand, Angus also opens up to discuss the role’s cons: lack of security, higher risk factors than a traditional permanent role, and sometimes not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from.
  • Topic #2: The Timeframe of the Fractional CMO Role: [21:27] As Angus explains, there’s a lot of misconception around the tenure of a fractional CMO. He outlines how a CMO’s tenure differs depending on the company and its needs. In Angus’s experience, he breaks down the role into three core components: insights, strategy, and execution. The strategy phase generally happens in a 2-4-month timeframe, and within 3-6 months, Angus emphasizes how low hanging fruit can be executed on and improved.
  • Topic #3: The Full-Time CMO Versus the Fractional CMO [26:43] Angus opens up to discuss what he misses about being a full-time CMO; particularly the hiring and development of teams. When comparing the two roles, Angus outlines how, in his experience as a full-time CMO, a lot of his role covered office politics and bureaucracy. This consisted of making sure the board, CEO, Head of Sales, and Head of Product were all happy. While this is not something that Angus misses, he does miss the energy of working with teams. Luckily, as a Fractional CMO, Angus has been fortunate to work with international marketing teams that hugely inspire and energize him.

 So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

For those considering the life of a Fractional CMO, Angus discusses the importance of achieving four key components: autonomy, mastery, purpose and community. He emphasizes how your motivation will always come back to your ‘’why’’, and if you have a clear answer and path, you’re likely to be successful in a Fractional CMO role.

Buzzword Banishment:

 Angus dislikes the buzzword ‘’viral or guerilla marketing’’’, stating: ‘’I’m haunted by a SAS  CEO  I've  worked  for.  He’s like, just be scrappy, go  viral,  do  some  guerrilla  marketing  stuff. And I’m thinking, oh yeah, that’s  easy.  No problem.’’

Links:

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Transcript

[0:05] Intro:  

Welcome to Revenue Rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita, Brandi Starr.

[0:34] Brandi Starr:   

Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Revenue Rehab. I am your host Brandi Starr and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by Angus Robertson. Angus is a fractional CMO with Chief Outsiders and co-chair of the Comp TIA business applications and advisory council. Chief Outsiders is more than 100 fractional CMOS, who helped companies grow through best-in class marketing strategy and execution. Previously, Angus was CRO at a business continuity firm Axcient where he managed sales, marketing and partner success. Also, Angus was EVP of Marketing at Conversant acquired by OneTrust, CMO at insightsoftware and VP of Product Marketing at public telecoms company Spirent. When Angus isn't obsessing about marketing, he loves getting outdoors and spending time with his family. Angus, welcome to Revenue Rehab, your session begins now.

[1:44] Angus Robertson: 

Thanks Brandi. Great to be here. Great to see you.

[1:47] Brandi Starr:   

Awesome. Thanks. I'm so excited to have you and to continue our chat around being a fractional CMO. But before we go there, I love to break the ice with a little woosah moment called buzzword banishment. So, tell me what industry buzzword would you like to get rid of forever?

[2:10] Angus Robertson:    

For me, I think it would have to be viral or guerilla marketing.

[2:15] Brandi Starr:   

Yeah, as I say, guerrilla is the old school term and then going viral is definitely the thing now. And it's so interesting how people try to set out to go viral, and that's usually the stuff that doesn't go viral.

[2:33] Angus Robertson:    

Exactly. That's right. I think I'm haunted by a SAS CEO I've worked for. He's like, just be scrappy, go viral, do some guerrilla marketing stuff that is like -- oh yeah, that's easy. No problem.

[2:46] Brandi Starr:   

Sure. I mean, if we want to pay for views or those sorts of unethical things, it's like, it's not quite that simple. It's not really how that works. 

[02:56] Angus Robertson: 

Exactly. 

[02:58] Brandi Starr:

Well, too funny. Now that we've gotten that off our chest, I am really excited to continue the discussion. For anyone listening, in Episode 20 I talked to Alon and Will and we talked about becoming a fractional CMO as a potential exit strategy. And there we talked a lot about how you know if that's the right path for you, what are some of the functions of being a fractional CMO, and also how to identify some red flags as you are considering companies that you work with. And so, I know that that piques the interests of a lot of our listeners in determining their next path. And so, what I really want to dig into with you is just more tactically if someone is interested in becoming a fractional CMO, what does that look like? How do they structure themselves? How to set expectations? And so really excited to just really help marketing leaders to figure out what is their next step? 

[04:04] Angus Robertson: 

Sounds great. That's what I do.

[04:06] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. And so, I believe in setting intentions. It gives us focus, it gives us purpose, and most importantly, it gives our audience an understanding of what they should expect from our discussion today. So tell me Angus, what's your intention for our discussion?

[4:25] Angus Robertson: 

Just like you said Brandi, I think is fractional CMO right for you and some of the considerations that go into making that decision. It's not a simple one. There are certainly some amazing pros but there's also some cons from being a full time operational CMO. So providing some clarity on how to make that decision and if that decision is right for you.

[4:51] Brandi Starr:   

Okay. Well, I like to jump right into the cons. I'm generally very positive and optimistic person but when I go into decision making, I personally like to think about what are the gotchas and the things that could go wrong before I start to sensationalize the positives and what could go right. So talk to me a bit about what are the concerns? What are the cons?

[5:18] Angus Robertson:   

I can't help myself, I always go to positive. So one of the amazing positive things about being a fractional CMO is the autonomy and the freedom. But the con to that or the contrast to that is the risk and uncertainty that comes along with the gig. So you have amazing freedom in who you work with, what kind of rates you charge, all that sort of thing but there are times when you may not have a lot of pipeline or a lot of opportunity, a lot of clients and the money may not be coming in. And then there's just a lot more overhead and managing and thinking about that. And then I think the benefits too. If you're working for a large company, there's just a certain -- even if it's not real, there's a certain perceived comfort that you're getting that pay check, and you're getting those benefits, even if some board somewhere or some CEO somewhere is plotting your demise, you're not really aware of it. Whereas if you're a fractional CMO, day in and day out you're very aware of your revenue stream and whether you're going to be paying the bills or not.

[6:29] Brandi Starr:  

And I do think the risk is a key thing to consider. Because with a full-time role, although generally you are brought in to solve particular problems, you are brought in to do the full job end-to-end. In a fractional role, you're really there or you have a bit more of a focus in this is what you are expected to accomplish in a shorter period of time. So it is almost like you're kind of always potentially on the chopping block.

[7:03] Angus Robertson:    

It's really interesting though, because coming into an engagement -- So Chief Outsiders has been around for more than 10 years. And actually, we're celebrating our 9th year of being on the Inc 5000, which is an awesome milestone for us. But when we started fractional CMO, it really wasn't a thing. And I would say even a few years ago it wasn't really well known, and even today. So more often than not, when you're working or engaging with the CEO, they may not understand what a fractional CMO is. They may know what a fractional CFO is, but they're going to be a little bit more leery about does a fractional CMO really work? Can it work? And often, they're much more comfortable with having somebody who is full time. It just feels a little bit less risky for them. And so getting over that perception and proving the value of fractional CMO within the first three to six months, is really important. But what I've found is that after that happens, the gigs tend to not end. So we have a fractional CMO, actually he's retiring, he's in his 70s. But he's had a client for as long as Chief Outside has been around. He's had a client for 10 years. So they can be long engagements. And I think it depends a lot on what that CMO is looking for. Because there's some CMOs or just people in general who liked those longer-term engagements and really digging in to help the company succeed over a longer term. But then there's others who have shorter attention span and want to come in and really make a difference and move on to the next shiny thing.

[8:45] Brandi Starr:   

That's really interesting, because I know most conversations that I've been a part of around a fractional CMO, it has been around short-term engagements. 3-6-9-12 months the most has been the conversation. So the fact that someone could be in a fractional role for a decade is really interesting. And so thinking about -- I do think that that is a self-awareness thing for the person, whether you are someone who likes to hop around, which that's like me. That's one reason I got into consulting is because I do have a short attention span. And I do like working with a variety of different companies and being able to deploy different tactics and see how they work. And so consulting was the path that I went to be able to do that. So even I work with clients long term, I might work with five or six accounts. Whereas you are right that there are some people who that will be a nightmare. They want sort of blinders on, stay focused on one particular end goal. So the fact that both of those people can have a home in a fractional role actually means that the potential is wider than I realized.

[10:09] Angus Robertson:    

I really think it's interesting. I had a boss for a long time that helped me, sort of mentored me on the marketing side. And he's actually one of the reasons I came to Chief Outsiders. And he was here for more than six years. And he actually had a client that he worked with for four years when he was their fractional CMO when he first started with them. They're part of the Service Now ecosystem. When he first started with them, they were 10 million in revenue. And after four years, they are over 50 million in revenue. But he's also -- he won't like me saying this, but he's about to turn 70 as well but he's actually leaving fractional CMO to go back to a full time CMO gig at a at a high growth start-up. So it's interesting, the flexibility and the opportunity there. And one thing that I've been exposed to, is we have more than a hundred CMOs at Chief Outsiders, and we have B2C, B2B folks who are stronger in a particular industry or a particular discipline like digital or branding. And so you get a sense of as a marketer where you fit. And also, maybe you like working with companies that are less mature earlier, or more mature. So there's a lot of dynamics to consider. And it's very reassuring to me that there's lots of places to explore.

[11:37] Brandi Starr:   

Okay. So I appreciate you giving me a little more insight into Chief Outsiders. And so I'd like to dig into that a little more, because I think it sounds like the two models of being a fractional CMO is to attach yourself to a company like Chief Outsiders, or to kind of go at it alone in more of a freelance capacity. If someone is considering which path is more advantageous for them, what key things do you think they should be thinking about?

[12:12] Angus Robertson:    

There's the Chief Outsiders approach where you're part of a larger collective or community. And there's also the single shingle approach or grouping up with a few others. On the Chief Outsider side, since you like the cons, Chief Outsiders will take a cut. They're going to take a percentage just like Apple takes from the App Store. So the benefits there though, are that Chief Outsiders has a brand and a platform for you to leverage. They're managing the billing for you, so you're not having to worry about that and chase that down. And there's a number of CMOs that over the years have turned into what we call managing partners. And they spend almost all their time selling. And out of the, I think we're 117 now to be specific, but there's about 10, who are doing most mostly selling now` even though they started out as a CMO. And what's interesting is, in terms of the business that it has brought two chief outsiders, those 10 CMOs bring half of the opportunities in the business, and then the other 100+ bring the other half from their personal network. So there's a little bit less risk there because if you bring in your own business you get a greater percentage, but if you're not having any luck, or there's a dry period when it comes to your own business development, you can always go and partner with one of those managing partners to be one of the CMOs that they assign to the opportunities in the pipeline they're developing. And then on the single shingle side you just have so much more autonomy and freedom and you really get to just completely decide how you want to do things, when you want to do things but then there's more risk, there's more overhead that goes along with building and managing that business.

[14:14] Brandi Starr:  

Because it's almost like when you are independent you're required to do both the selling and the fractional work. It's almost like even though you may have a contract, you still have to always be selling to keep that pipeline going so that you don't have those dry periods in between. Whereas if you're partnering with someone, you could technically not, do any selling and tap into your own network and really just be the person that is being sent out. Which I think really does cater to a lot of different personalities. Because there are, I mean, even if any sort thing you've got attorneys that are same thing. You work for a big firm, you go out on your own, consultants. There's a lot of those differing personalities. So now understanding that this is also an option in a fractional CMO role, tells me that this is a step in the career path that is actually appealing to a broader audience. And so I appreciate you sharing that perspective, because in my mind, it was more narrow of these shorter term gigs, where you're kind of constantly moving around having to, you know, eat what you catch, so to speak. But there are places that you can land and almost have some of that same full-time role mentality of being under a brand while doing the fractional role.

[15:54] Angus Robertson:    

Absolutely. I think you're completely right. I mean, there's some people who really are good at the sales side and just like doing that, and we call it mailbox money, because you're placing other CMOs, and you get that commission coming in as long as they're working. And then the other end of the spectrum, the CMOs who really just like doing the delivery, and just focusing on the marketing work. And then I'm somewhat in the middle, just because I don't like to give away too much of the of the percentage.

[16:25] Brandi Starr:   

No, I can understand that. So let's talk about how to structure fractional engagements. So what are some of the examples of what these can look like?

[16:41] Angus Robertson: 

There's two main offerings. We have more but mostly they fall into two categories. The primary one is the fractional CMO where you're on retainer. And with us, you can cancel it 30 days, but you are the CMO of the organization, and generally reporting to the CEO, if it's a larger organization, you could be reporting into the CRO or the CMO. And you're responsible for that function and that includes everything from budgeting, to hiring, to running all the campaigns and building out the marketing and executing the marketing strategy. So you're doing all of that. And then the secondary kind of engagement that we see most often is advisory. And the easiest way of making a distinction there is that there's no deliverables. So you're helping a future marketer leader develop their skill set, understand what paths to navigate, helping them make decisions, helping them develop in certain areas. And that's a lot of fun. I have some fractional engagements right now but I also have an advisor advisory engagement. And it's very rewarding, working with smart leader who's really interested in developing the capabilities and being able to share your experiences and your learnings.

[18:05] Brandi Starr:

So just to restate that, so when you're on retainer, you are in there, you're doing the role, you are the face of that role, you own everything end-to-end, but in more of a fractional capacity. In the adviser state, you are really more giving the advice, but it is on the others to actually take that and do the work.

[18:31] Angus Robertson:    

Right. Be responsible for the outcome.

[18:34] Brandi Starr:  

Okay. And so in an advisory capacity, how are you measured?

[18:41] Angus Robertson:    

Mostly by the perceived value of the person you're supporting, and their manager. So thankfully, in the engagement that I have, the person I'm working with, she's very strong VP of marketing. She generally appreciates my support and providing my guidance and direction. But at the end of the day, I really want to make sure that I am providing that value.

[19:12] Brandi Starr:  

And then in terms of time, because with the fractional roles, I have seen people talk about where it is very small time commitment in that you may be the fractional CMO for multiple companies at the same time. It could just be that it's almost like interim where you're doing the job full time in a day's work, but it is for a short planned period of time. What does that look like in terms of the commitment to different clients?

[19:51] Angus Robertson:    

It's pretty consistent with Chief Outsiders. So when Chief Outsiders got started the belief was a CMO could do work with 3-4 clients at any one time. That's changed and over the years, and the benchmark now is really 2-3, and that could be a mix of fractional and advisory. Now, that does vary depending on the CMO and the industry and the type of work they're doing. So we have a lady who is known as the queen of industry, and she never wants to go back to corporate. She loves fractional, she's been doing it for I think, with Chief Outsiders 6-7 years now, but she generally has seven clients at a time. But she loves working that hard and she loves the industry. That sort of industrial manufacturing space that she works within. But then we have other folks who really just do one engagement, and it's part time and they're spending a lot more time with their family or their hobbies. So there's some flexibility there.

[20:54] Brandi Starr:  

As I say, I can't imagine six or seven all at once and being that involved, but in my head, two to three seems like what I would expect to be the norm. So it's nice to hear that confirmed. So going into a role where you are on retainer how do you set expectations around what will be accomplished in the timeframe that you are serving as fractional CMO?

[21:27] Angus Robertson:   

Usually engagements initially are three to six months and then based on how that goes, or if you're there to help hire a full-time person, it'll either extend or you'll roll off. And most of the companies we work with are in the $10 million - $100 million range. And we generally work with the CEO, we do work with larger companies too. But often they're looking for growth, they're looking for pipeline, and they're looking for the KPIs to support that. And that's not always possible within that timeframe. So one of the most important things that we do is, we follow up pretty standard methodology based on the Chief Outsiders book, the growth gears, so insights, strategy and execution. And at the end of the day, the goal is to establish marketing as a driver for growth. So as you're doing your budgeting and your forecasting and your annual planning, you know that you can invest a certain amount of marketing, and you can get a return from that. So a big part of what we do is on the insight side, understand the market, the customers, the customer interviews, and then from a strategy standpoint, put a growth playbook in place that establishes a pragmatic approach for growing the business over time, and then get into the execution. In that strategy phase, so in the 2-4-month timeframe, within that 3-6 months, we will have identified a few quick hits, just low hanging fruit that we can execute on. So it's sort of a combination of setting the stage of this platform for growth, this plan that they will have the management team and the CEO will have confidence in that they know will help the company grow. And then in parallel, making sure there's some quick hits that deliver some nice returns and just to keep things moving along before the longer term sustainable numbers start to come together.

[23:41] Brandi Starr:

So it sounds like the initial engagement is almost around coming up with the plan, getting some of those quick wins and then I'm assuming the next would be that's going well, you then get another engagement to continue executing?

[24:00] Angus Robertson:    

And sometimes it can happen faster. It really depends on the company. I was involved with a client last year, they're 500 million in revenue. And they needed to generate more than $60 million in pipeline per quarter and at least $30 million from marketing, but they were only on track to generate $15 million. And when I came in and did the initial research, talk cross functionally, talked with some customers, it was fairly clear that they had almost everything right. They had an amazing brand, they had great products, but they had fragmented and fractured their go-to market. And it was across so many different campaigns and so many different products, which just undermined their go to market. There was just too much overhead too much time and too much confusion in the marketplace. So very quickly, we were able to simplify that down to four primary campaigns. And it was only 3-4 months before that $15 million went to $45 million. But that's rare, it's because they had such a strong brand already. And they had such good fundamentals in terms of the product and product market fit. But generally, it takes a bit longer because you're having to plug those pieces together, really optimize the product market fit, help to inform the product strategy, align the marketing efforts to the sales follow up. And if there is an infrastructure in place, for example, when people aren't there, or the systems, the marketing automation is not there, you have to get that done. So it really depends on how those pieces are established within the client.

[25:47] Brandi Starr:  

That makes sense. That is impressive going from $15 million to $45 million in a short period of time. But I do agree, that's one thing I talk about a lot is when you have that revenue engine infrastructure in place, then it really is just about pulling the wrong levers. It's like we got too many baskets, we don't want to put all our eggs in one basket, but we don't want to have this many baskets either. Let's focus our efforts, and you can move the needle a lot faster. So really, really interesting there. One of the things that came up when in Episode 20, when I talked to Alana and Will, was around some of the challenges with managing a team, while technically being a third party as a fractional CMO. Have you experienced that or run into any challenges there?

[26:43] Angus Robertson:    

I think I've been lucky. That's one of the things I would say I would miss being a full time CMO. I don't miss as much the air cover the politics and bureaucracy and making sure the board's happy, making sure the CEO is happy, making sure the head of sales is happy, the head of products is happy. I mean, half of my time would be that. But I do miss the hiring and the development of the team. So that's something that I really do enjoy in the clients that I work with. And in that example, I gave last time, I had 25, people I was looking after and a $20 million budget, and there was no issue. I mean, I have a pretty standard approach to -- I like Lencioni's approach to meetings and collaboration. So I generally follow that and do daily stand ups and weekly ad hocs. And then have programs associated with the channels for demand gen, and make sure that there's program owners and that there's budget aligned to those program owners. So a big part is understanding if we've got, Good to Great Jim Collins, all the right people on the bus and everybody in the right place. But then empower them and give them the budget and the agency to execute those programs. If you have that communication infrastructure in place, you have the programs defined and the ownership there, and you have that alignment on the overall goals and priorities with the management team, it works great. It's something I really enjoy the teams, I had a client in Denmark, the client in Texas client in Florida, and I looked after the marketing teams there, and just their energy and their ideas, and their perspective is a lot of what motivates me.

[28:44] Brandi Starr:   

Awesome. Well, that is definitely a blessing that you have not run into any of those people challenges. And I do think the minimal politics has been one of the selling points that has come up in a number of conversations for the fractional role. So I think we can all definitely live with less office politics. I know that was one of the motivations for me going into consulting is to run as far away from that kind of stuff. Well, that is really awesome, Angus and I would say that, talking about how to solve our challenges is just the first step. And in traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client homework but here at Revenue Rehab, we like to flip that on its head and ask you to give our listeners some homework. So help to summarize your key takeaways and then give us our one thing, what is the one thing that you would want someone who is considering going down the fractional path to do?

[29:49] Angus Robertson: 

So one of the things that I got exposed to when I went through the interview process at Chief Outsiders was Dan Pink and his theory of motivation. And I think it's phenomenal. The idea of autonomy, mastery and purpose that drives motivation. At Chief Outsiders, we have one more, which is community. So I think thinking about is Fractional CMO right for you relative to those three or four things - autonomy, mastery, purpose and community is really key. And if it comes back that that why, relative to that motivation really sticks, then go for it and you're going to be successful.

[30:37] Brandi Starr:

Awesome. So the self-assessment would be our one thing, and you've given us a nice framework. I am not familiar with Dan Pink, so I'm going to have to look him up.

[30:49] Angus Robertson: 

He has a 20-minute TED Talk, which is great. 

[30:53] Brandi Starr:

I've got to go to soccer practice, so that'll be my listening while I'm sitting on the side-lines. I will find that TED Talk. Well Angus, I have enjoyed our discussion but that's our time for today. Thank you so so much for joining me.

[31:12] Angus Robertson: 

Thanks so much for having me Brandi, it was a lot of fun. 

[31:14] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. And thanks to everyone for joining us today. I hope that you have enjoyed our conversation with angles. I can't believe we are already at the end. See you next time.

[31:27] Outro: 

You've been listening to Revenue Rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. Join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenuerehab.live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at Revenue Rehab. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

Angus Robertson Profile Photo

Angus Robertson

Partner & CMO

Angus is a Fractional CMO with Chief Outsiders and co-chair of the CompTIA Business Applications and Advisory Council. Chief Outsiders is more than 100 Fractional CMOs who help companies grow through best-in-class marketing strategy and execution. Previously, Angus was CRO at business continuity firm Axcient, where he managed sales, marketing, and partner success. Also, Angus was EVP Marketing at Convercent, acquired by OneTrust, CMO at insightsoftware, and VP of Product Marketing at public telecoms company Spirent. When Angus isn’t obsessing about marketing, he loves getting outdoors and spending time with family.