Fractional vs. Consultant vs. Agency: What's the difference? And why care?
These questions I hear a lot.
From colleagues, from prospective clients, and even just friends and family.
As someone who has worked as a marketing leader at multiple agencies, runs my own consulting firm, and now operates as a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for multiple businesses in B2B tech and SaaS, I feel pretty comfortable easily answering this!
EACH ADDS VALUE TO BUSINESS GROWTH.
But the WHAT + HOW + WHEN context around that value is different.
So let's dive into a quick look at:
A definition of each
Format of engagement
Outcomes to expect
Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
A fractional executive fills a leadership role at the company, but in a part-time format.
For Example: A Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) will work with your business approximately 10 hours per week, but will leverage systems and processes to FULLY guide strategic direction and team leadership.
A fractional serves your business through a longer term retainer-style contract, with a focus on full ownership of your whole marketing team and processes of your business.
The Fractional will bridge business leadership needs into big marketing strategy, while also guiding that into actionable campaigns, sprints, and ownership for execution by the marketing team.
A fractional is a leader that guides, not a doer of tasks.
They are a great opportunity to acquire extensive expertise at a fraction of the cost, and have the knowledge disseminated within your team.
A fractional will GROW your internal team as they GROW your business.
A consultant comes in for strategic projects, with an intended goal to own the deliverable.
For Example: A growth marketing consultant may come in to do a pipeline audit, map the customer journey, and provide recommendations for both go-to-market strategy and internal processes to improve revenue.
A consultant serves through a short to mid-term length project-style contract, with a particularly defined set of deliverables and actions.
The consultant will provide strategic direction and extensive expertise in a great area of need, but they DO NOT own the role of hands on leadership of your marketing team.
A consultant is a powerful expert that can help fulfill a much needed asset, process, or key strategic missing piece to help your business growth.
They are a great opportunity to bring in the right "change agent" to find clarity on something fast, overcome growth hurdles, or outsource big strategic needs that may not need repetition in house going forward.
An agency brings a full team to support strategy and execution, but often within a niche segment of of your marketing team function.
For Example: An advertising agency will develop full ad program strategy for your business, inclusive of setup, operations, and reporting. But all other areas of marketing, like brand content creation, social media engagement, event operations, etc., are still owned by your other in-house marketing team members.
An agency may serve through short, mid, or long term contracts, dependent on their focus within marketing.
The agency will often own that niche area of their expertise for your company, but they DO NOT own leadership of your whole marketing team, and all other areas of marketing will still need both personnel and leadership.
An agency is an opportunity to bring in experts that can help pick up and complete a big project or a full functioning area of operations without needing to hire any part of that in-house.
That said, they are often a higher cost, create a dependency in your business for them, and you don't get the value of knowledge dissemination and growth of your in-house team. They often work better for short-term gap fill, or long-term with larger companies.
Full team leadership + strategic expertise
Longer-term support through change needed now + scaling later
Growth of both the team + business
Greatest compounding, long-term return on investment (ROI)
Expertise for specific project(s) and/or goal(s)
Great "change agent" in time of much needed growth
Owns deliverables, but not team leadership
Greatest ROI for short to mid-term
Full support in a particular area of expertise
Great for big projects needing more than 2 skills not in-house, or initial lifts
Cost may be high if small to mid-size business
No knowledge growth/dissemination to team
Long-term creates dependency
While the overview here is pretty general, keep in mind that other factors unique to your business will be the MOST important factors to determining which is right for you...
➡️ What stage is your business in (early, high-growth, established)?
➡️ What's the current state of your marketing (strategy, team, budget)?
➡️ What are the short and long term marketing goals?
Since I specialize in B2B tech and SaaS brands that are in high-growth stages, there's a reason I specialize first in Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) support, secondarily in strategic consulting project support.
With the current state of what works in marketing, the economy, and other factors, these formats will have the greatest ROI for these companies at this stage - and my goal is always around where I can create greatest value for a client!
I hope this gave you some clarity on the differences of these two outsourced support formats. If you have any question on what might be best for you, or how I can help, please feel free to schedule a marketing clarity call with me!
I'm always so happy to help, even if the best solution for you, isn't necessarily working with me ;)