Getting to Know Your B2B Fractional VP or Director of Marketing

It’s becoming more common for start-ups and small businesses to hire contract marketing help. 

One of those roles being sought is a fractional marketing leader. It might be a VP or Director role and there is some difference: a VP would be more strategically focused and provide higher-level guidance whereas a Director would do more hands-on execution and management. 

This fractional help would come in and support your company where there are current gaps in experience and skill. Some of the benefits to hiring someone like this includes:

  • Cost-savings. A full-time marketing executive is an often expensive staff member, ranging from $150k annual salary and up (on top of benefits, bonuses and other expenses). A part-time or fractional saves you significant money while still getting a lot of the benefit of having a marketing executive in your organization
  • Reduce skill gap. Often start-ups and small businesses have an intelligent and savvy founder/CEO but may not have the marketing background needed for growth. Bringing in help to bridge the skill gap is an effective way to overcome those limitations. 
  • Test quickly. Hiring someone with experience will help you bring your current ideas (and new ones) to market more quickly, and likely with more success. A strong fractional marketing leader should have the background to make things happen with speed. 

A little background…

I’ve been a VP or director of marketing in-house and as a contractor more than a handful of times. From software start-ups to agencies and local businesses, I’ve helped a lot of businesses with their marketing, primarily focused on growth e.g. lead generation and pipeline creation.

As someone who’s held fractional marketing director roles (as well as full-time ones), the following is what I can tell you about what they do and how they help. Remember, this is speaking from my experience and how I show up to do the role. Results may vary with other fractional marketing help.

Feel like they’re in-house

You need to feel like this person is an extension of your team, not a third party who comes in every once in a while to share ideas and send others on their way to do the work.

In many of my cases, that was impossible because I wasn’t just fractional, I was the sole marketer. I would work almost daily on all the most important matters, collaborating with the CEO/business owner on strategy and seeing through execution. I’d report back on performance and formulate insights on what is working, what is not, and how to improve. 

Sometimes (not so much these days), I’d come to the office for everyone to know that I was part of the team. These days, as my clients are more spread out around the globe, it’s more so the occasional on-site visit.

To make up for in-person presence, at minimum, we meet over video for at least an hour and also stay connected via instant messaging platforms like Slack or Teams. We also meet ad hoc whenever necessary for important or urgent projects that need some extra attention.

Knows how to execute (and does)

It’s especially important that your fractional VP or Director knows how to and can do some of the “hands-on” type work. Why? If you only have the budget for a fractional leader, it’s also likely you need them to be able to get in the weeds now and again. 

Fortunately, I’ve built a huge part of my skillset around getting in the weeds while also developing the leadership and management skills to help develop other marketers on the team.

My skills are too long to list here (and would probably bore you) but some of the essentials you’d likely want in your fractional marketer include: 

  • Campaign development execution (e.g. paid advertising platforms like Google or LinkedIn)
  • Content marketing ideally with the ability to create content themselves
  • SEO chops and stays up-to-date on trends and changes
  • Copywriting for assets like ads, site content, email marketing
  • Reporting/analytics including digital analytics as well as CRM reporting

Your needs may vary a little so when you vet candidates make sure you ask for some examples of the experience and skills you are looking for.

Help others do their jobs better

This is probably the most underrated piece of a fractional marketing lead’s role in your organization. If they are the sole marketer too (like I’ve been), it’s not relevant but sometimes you have other junior marketers who need guidance and training from a more experienced marketer. 

Having someone who has been in the shoes of a current junior staff member goes a long way to helping them advance their skills more rapidly. As an example, you may have a junior staff member learning a new email marketing/marketing automation tool. Your fractional leader should be able to come in and provide guidance on best practices, potential gotchas, and ways to streamline their work. Just an example, as you may know, there are so many different disciplines, channels, and technologies that make up the marketing function today. 

Having fractional help that has a strong skill mix will be able to support the rest of your team’s professional growth. But not just through skill alone, strong communication and the ability to develop rapport with your team is key, too.

Knows numbers

From ad hoc reports to dashboards, projections, and budgets, ideally, you want someone with a good grasp of these areas with experience not just in years but across multiple companies. Every company is a little different so diversity of experience brings greater value than a singular, tenured company or industry background. 

There are several pretty common metrics B2B marketers are tasked to track: 

  • Pipeline generated (including by source)
  • lead generation (again by source)
  • cost to acquire leads, pipeline and customers
  • conversion metrics (sales funnel, site/channel performance). 

On the above metrics, it’s pretty common these days for pipeline generation to be the primary remit of marketing leaders/departments so finding someone who’s had that responsibility would be a plus in your search for a fractional marketing lead. 

There are other metrics and requirements by business that may vary but a savvy fractional marketing leader should be able to help your organization get the answers to these questions and more. 

This ability may be harder to come by when assessing different fractional marketers – they may know numbers but do they have experience building out the reports needed to make data-driven decisions? They may be now promoting themselves as a fractional leader but come from a background where they had support on the analytics front.

My journey is the opposite. My first few roles in marketing came on the analyst side and then I developed all of the other marketing skills I have based on that analytical foundation.

Share a continuous flow of ideas

This is one of the main reasons you’d hire someone for a fractional VP or director of marketing role: to bring new and a steady flow of marketing ideas to the business. 

The best candidates will be able to draw from a long history of professional experience but also are continuous learners. They do independent research, consuming industry research, and evaluating what’s new in the world of marketing so that they can also bring fresh and cutting-edge marketing ideas to the table for testing. 

It’s also helpful that the ideas marketers share are backed up by some quantitative historical data or research data.

Strong project management 

Being a proficient and efficient project manager cannot be understated, either. Since there is so much collaboration required between company leadership and junior staff members, even sometimes cross-functional team members like web developers (in-house or agency), having someone who keeps track of everything that is happening goes a long way to successful execution.

The best practice here would be using a project management system like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Monday, or others. The tool doesn’t matter, what’s important is that everything is documented and shared amongst the team and everyone understands their personal requirements, timelines, and dependencies. 

Project management is a discipline within itself but a good fractional marketing leader has a strong enough background to keep the wheels moving. Someone with an agency background is much more likely to have strong experience in project management as they have to juggle multiple clients and it’s not possible to do so without a formal project management process.

Ultimately, they’re a generalist aka they can do a lot

Companies that require a fractional marketing VP/director/manager are likely a short-staffed team looking for a single person to carry a large load…maybe they have a junior person or 2 on board at best. Nevertheless, the business needs an experienced doer, not just a strategist; they should be both. They may need a little budget for cursory, specialized work like design or video, but ultimately they can execute almost everything required. 

If you’re considering hiring a fractional VP or Director of Marketing, take into consideration what I’ve shared above when talking with potential candidates. They don’t necessarily need to check every box but it will give you a good sense of what they are capable of and how it will be of use to you.

And, of course, you can inquire about my fractional marketing services, too.

The difference between Freelance and Fractional

Isn’t a fractional marketer the same thing as a freelancer? Not exactly.

A freelancer is going to more likely be a specialist whereas a fractional marketing leader is going to feel more embedded in your organization without the label of employee (and all the additional issues and expenses that come with that). Good ones are going to have a strong work history, are self-directed, and bring a more holistic approach to marketing your business. Not only that, but because of their experience they’ll be more productive in less time while you save significant money. Bottom-line is you are getting true professionals* who know how to do their job and enjoy it (that’s why they chose the fractional path, so they can help multiple companies). 

*You should still vet candidates similar to an employee to make sure they know what they are talking about and will fit well within your team. While you’re saving money, usually a fractional marketer’s retainer is still an investment.