The Top Interview Questions For A Fractional CMO Agency

Hiring a fractional CMO may be one of the most consequential decisions you make for your business, but it doesn’t have to be the hardest one. Though there are striking differences between a full-time CMO hired as an employee and a part-time CMO you hire for outsourced marketing services, you’re still hiring a person to help plan and execute the marketing functions of your business.

However, the process of hiring a fractional Marketing Director can be quite different than the normal hiring process. Instead of thumbing through potentially hundreds of resumes, you’ll be reaching out to a fractional CMO agency; instead of considering the hire’s effect on company culture, you’ll be looking for strategic competence; and instead of the typical interview process, there are specific interview questions you should ask your potential fractional marketing manager that you might not normally ask a full-time employee.

To help you with this process, we’ve put together three of the top interview questions for a fractional CMO agency. These are questions you should ask when interviewing the agency offering fractional CMO services as well as the candidate they have in mind. We also have suggestions on what you should listen for and what these answers reveal about the quality of your candidate.

Interview Question #1: Tell me about a marketing campaign that failed?

Why It’s Important

The answer to this question will show you the candidate’s ratio of ego to intelligence. The truth of the matter is that everyone has failed. Does your candidate have the honesty, candor and sense of personal responsibility to admit she has done so?

What to Look For In Their Answers

Honesty is most important, which includes a personal sense of ownership that comes from taking responsibility for your failures. If the candidate stammers because they’re revealing an embarrassing or difficult period in their life (because who likes to fail?), that’s a lot different than a candidate who stammers because they’re thinking of ways to put the best light on their failure.

Again, everyone has failed. What’s important is the way you picked yourself up from that failure, the lessons you learned because of it, and how you moved on from it. A talented fractional CMO is one that has failed, then taken the lessons learned from that failure and applied them to the next project, leading them to eventual success.

Interview Question #2: What do you look for when hiring a creative professional?

Why It’s Important

This questions shows how well your fractional CMO will be at hiring the right people and assembling the right team for your project. Whether you call the role a fractional marketing director or fractional chief marketing officer, this person will be a manager, which means they need to have a specific set of people skills. This question will help you determine if they have the required management skills for this position.

What to Look For In Their Answers

This is another one of those areas where the fractional CMO hiring process is different from hiring a full-time employee. Many small businesses find themselves either hiring a “One-Man Show” to run the marketing department or having hands-on involvement in every aspect or hiring the creative team (even if that team is only a few people). Fractional marketing services are different: your part-time CMO should have an extensive network of creatives and other marketing professionals to call upon for assistance for whatever vertical they’re hired into.

The answer to this question will tell you a lot about work ethic and attitude. Does your fractional CMO value creativity over intelligence? Is prompt delivery of action items more important than an amazing idea, or do they try to find a balance? Is the ability to stay on time and under budget the best gauge of a contract worker? These are all answers you should be looking for. Most importantly, these answers must be in line with your own value system in order to create a good fit with your new outsourced CMO.

And here’s a quick rule of thumb: if you’ve never hired someone before, you’ve never been a fractional CMO.

Interview Question #3: How do you define a successful marketing department?

Why It’s Important

This is similar to the previous question because it allows you to determine if your fractional CMO’s value system aligns with your own. Defining success is one of the most important things a business can do (so you may want to make sure you’ve defined it before starting this process!). So it’s critical that your new fractional CMO values success in the same manner you do.

What to Look For In Their Answers

A good answer here will sound very similar to the way you would answer this question. This is a way to make sure everyone is in agreement with key metrics of success. Are they aligned with driving revenue? Driving growth? Are they focused on brand awareness, brand messaging, business growth…or all of the above?

Since you’re looking for answers that align with your own business goals, make sure you don’t give away the “right answer” during this line of questioning. Don’t ask, “Are you as focused on simplifying brand messaging as we are?” That’s a cue for your candidate to reply, “Yes, absolutely.” Instead, ask her about success in broad terms.

There’s also a wrong answer to this question: success defined by vanity metrics. What you don’t want to hear is an answer that has nothing to do with the lead generation funnel or any item that is not in line with the KPIs of your business. This includes metrics like social media likes and engagements, new followers, or visits to a website page if you don’t have a click-through or CPM revenue model.

Red Flags When Hiring a Fractional CMO

Red Flags When Interviewing a Fractional CMO Agency

There are several red flags you should look out for no matter what questions you’re asking your fractional CMO agency or potential part-time CMO:

  • The candidate can’t provide references. Without references, it’s pretty obvious that they either have no experience, or none of their previous jobs ended well. Either way, if there’s no one to vouch for that candidate, then…next;
  • Fractional CMOs who wear too many hats. You simply can’t be the CFO, CMO and CIO at the same time. How qualified at each of these very different skill sets can you possibly be? How does that show dedication? This is also a good sign that your candidate doesn’t know how to hire and is potentially a micomanager;
  • Off-shoring is a red flag. If your fractional marketing services are all being farmed-out to unseen, potentially inexperienced freelancers, this is a sign that your candidate isn’t taking personal ownership of your project. It’s important to understand who is doing the work that’s required. Don’t expect your fractional CMO to be completely hands-on and creating all your collateral, but don’t settle for one who doesn’t share your vision or worse yet, is totally out of the picture;
  • People who guarantee results. What exactly does that guarantee cover? Do you get your money back if specific KPIs are not met? Which ones? It’s better to avoid guarantees entirely rather than get one;
  • Any fractional CMO who comes with a proprietary dashboard. Being organized is great, but without standardization, you can’t judge your metrics against other data sources. In the same respect, you don’t want to hire a person whose ulterior motive is to sell you an automated platform.

Questions to Ask a Fractional CMO

Other Helpful Questions to Ask the Agency

Here are a few other important questions to ask. Most of these are logistical, but that’s an important topic to cover when hiring a outsourced CMO:

What does the engagement look like?

It’s important to know what your fractional CMO’s expectations are – just as important as it is for them to know yours.

When do I pay?

Compensation is never an easy conversation, but it’s critical you have it. Make sure your candidate knows that the pay schedule is weekly or monthly, and if they’ll be working on an hourly or retainer basis. For more about how much you should pay in a fractional CMO salary or fractional CMO hourly rate, check out this post.

What is the time commitment?

How much time do you expect from our part-time CMO? Remember, this person will not be working for you full-time, so it’s important that you’re both on the same page about the amount of time commitment is required to get projects done on your deadline. This will also reduce surprises when it comes time to pay.

How do I renew?

There needs to be a mechanism set up in advance for renewal or cancellation of the engagement. Most renewals happen automatically: either you request a cancellation in advance, or the contract rolls over to the next period. If you want a different arrangement than this, make sure your requirements are known in advance and put in the engagement contract.

Hiring a fractional CMO is indeed one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your company. Finding a good fractional CMO agency—and at a price your business can afford—is the first step. After that, it’s a matter of asking the right questions of your potential part-time CMO candidate that will make the difference between success and failure in your project. Remember that this process may be different than hiring a full-time marketing person, but the end-result of finding a person who mirrors your own business goals and values is still the same.

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