How to exploit the real value of your virtual CMO

Let’s face it, marketing gets a tough time. Sales takes all the credit when orders are placed and revenue targets are hit. Marketing, well marketing is the first area to be cut when times are hard, and if you asked 100 people what someone in marketing does, the likely response is “post something on social media” or “drawing pictures”.

Coming from an engineering background, marketing functions are non-existent, the finance-focused executives seeing no need for a cost centre that delivers no tangible results.

So, if there is no belief that marketing is a finance positive function, how and why on earth is a business going to spend valuable resources on an expensive leader to get marketing back on track?

In this article, we’re going to look at how organisations not known to deploy, with any seriousness, a marketing function can benefit from marketing leadership that delivers a positive financial return through the form of a virtual CMO.

What is a Virtual CMO

The first place to start is to consider what a virtual CMO is, and in order to do that, we need to understand what a CMO is and does.

CMO, Chief Marketing Officer - a term that’s been driven predominantly by the US software industry but over here in the UK might be more aligned to Marketing Director.

A CMO would hold the same responsibilities that a Marketing Director does. They are responsible for developing & executing the marketing strategy, and delivering the results committed to in any such strategy.

So, following the logic, a virtual CMO could also be known as a part-time Marketing Director (although that doesn’t sound as fancy now, does it).

With the rise in technology, virtual CMOs can provide this strategic leadership function from any location, for only certain amounts of time per month, and the nature of marketing allows the CMO to complete their actions without having to be in the office all the time either.

The reasons everyone gives when selling virtual CMO services

There are a growing number of people searching for virtual CMO services, and subsequently there is information available online to read. Let’s take a critical look at some of the core benefits detailed in the information available.

A Marketing Function

To many, a virtual CMO would be viewed as someone who can DO your marketing. They have a good knowledge of creation and distribution so can gain exposure to your business on the myriad of channels available online. You might need a couple of people in-house to achieve the same level of output at the same quality.

But, where’s the value. As a leader of the function, and presumably, you’re paying for this level of expertise, why would you want your Director being in charge of “posting on Twitter”? To apply a strict boundary of responsibility, the vCMO is there to develop and execute a strategy, to provide a leadership function.


Cost is another highly promoted reason why you might want to use a virtual CMO, with the data showing that a virtual CMO can cost 30-80% less than what a full-time in-house resource might cost you.

This is a valid point. The economics stacks up. Because you're only using a marketing leader only part of the time, but still accessing the expertise they hold, they are less costly than a full-time equivalent.

But cost in itself isn't the best use of this argument. My question here links to the above point. What do you have your virtual CMO doing? If we had a virtual CMO they’d be used as sparingly as possible to minimise the cost and would be held strictly to performing strategic based activities.

We can take your 30-80% cost reduction and shrink it even more by blending different skill levels to get the required scalable output. Using your resources as effectively as possible.

In-house vs Outsourced skills

It’s often viewed that the virtual CMO provides a broader and deeper knowledge level to marketing and as such they can DO more. Replicating the ability of the virtual CMO would be something that is hard to replicate in-house without blowing the budget.

But considering that many businesses who are considering a virtual CMO might not have a marketing function to begin with, hiring an in-house resource to DO rather than to think is not going to set the business up to deliver the expected results.

I believe that this would be far too risky for any intelligent business leader to consider and so is not necessarily going to be a good reason to hire.


And finally, albeit briefly, it is commonly reported that a virtual CMO is in a good position to decide which technology should be used in marketing.

A very basic point, yes a virtual CMO is probably going to help with tech, but it’s a small point considering that what a business really cares about is the results that can be achieved by the marketing function.

Ok, so if the existing reasons for why you might want to use a virtual CMO are pretty basic, why would you want to make use of one? (And why do we subsequently offer it as a service?)

Let’s go back to the beginning...

Why would you want a CMO / Marketing Director

We discussed earlier in the article about the main responsibilities of the CMO/Marketing Director being the development and execution of the marketing strategy in order to achieve the organisations' objectives.

Having a leader in place delivers on this role.

What is commonly seen when we begin talking to prospects is the use of marketing personnel to DO marketing without having the marketing strategy in place.  No matter how many social posts are published, blogs created, videos filmed, without specifying what is needed to be achieved by marketing you’re always going to be disappointed.

If you have no consideration of an objective but partake in “marketing” because it needs to be done, even if the result is amazing how are you not going to feel like you could have got more?

How do you make investment decisions on marketing technology without recognising the return your marketing is going to deliver on its contribution to financial performance? How do you avoid the shiny pretty things that are wanting you to open your wallet?

So, going back to the point, having a marketing leader/CMO in place puts all the jigsaw pieces in the right place and is accountable on the end result.

3 Superstar CMOs

Whilst we’re talking CMOs, let’s take a look at 3 of them who are making waves in the results they’re getting for their respective businesses…

Keith Weed - CMO for Unilever

A multi-talented CMO that is responsible for growing a multitude of products under the Unilever brand. Keith has been a mainstay in Unilever having held his position for over 14 years over which Unilever has seen continued positive growth trends.

See Keith on LinkedIn


Dave Gerhardt - VP of Marketing, Drift

Drift’s first full-time marketing hire Dave is now managing a team of over 100. The hyper-growth status of the company can be attributed mainly to the brand first approach of Dave and his team.

Entering a saturated market, Drift has consistently delivered on its category leading potential forcing major competitors to follow suit.

See Dave on LinkedIn


Janine Pelosi - CMO at Zoom

Delivering unprecedented financial results for a business that entered a very saturated market with big know brands, Janine at Zoom has certainly made a name for herself.

Zoom forced investors to consider their portfolio by delivering staggering returns, in part following the contribution of the excellent marketing effort by Janine and her team.

See Janine on LinkedIn

The real value a virtual CMO can bring

On establishing what value an organisation can get from a CMO, and hopefully by now you recognise our view of the acronym, we can start to consider what the real benefits of a virtual CMO are.

Marketing Strategy

First and foremost, a virtual CMO provides your organisation with a business objective aligned marketing strategy.

A strategy is a fundamental element for any business function, including marketing, and to align it to business objectives concretes the value the marketing function can have in your business.

No longer will it be a subjective view that marketing is not worth it, the financial output is clear to see and monitored against clear goals that are specified and agreed to.

Latest industry insight

Because part-time Marketing Directors are not so inward looking into the organisation they can identify and track potential opportunities for better results based on what is happening elsewhere.

Don’t underestimate how important and valuable this can be. By being first to market with a new campaign or proposition, by leveraging data from other industries, your organisation can set itself apart in your marketplace.

Take a look at Hubspot for instance. They were the first company to name and categorise inbound marketing and used it intensively as part of their marketing. Now, they are one of the biggest CRM products in the world.

Marketing and sales alignment

We’ve written previously about the financial benefits of ensuring your sales and marketing efforts are aligned, well, your virtual CMO is responsible for ensuring that happens in accordance with the strategy.

Take a look at how important sales and marketing alignment is, how impactful it can be, and you’ll see that this benefit is worth pursuing.

Keyholder and accountability

There’s a reason Leadfreak is a full-service agency rather than just focusing on one marketing channel or marketing form, it’s because every element of marketing ties into each other to deliver the end result.

If we only have responsibility for, say, search traffic, but you’re looking for sales growth, how could we be responsible for that metric when our remit is search traffic? By working at a strategic level, we can identify, based on your objectives what needs to be done.

Your virtual CMO does the same thing. They are responsible across the board for marketing performance. Rather than approaching an agency or having in-house to do one thing, a marketing leader can pull all the necessary strings and keep consistency in behaviours because they’re focused on delivering the stated results.

Board representation

In delivering against business objectives, each function within a business will have in place a strategy that will enable them to deliver success.

But the strategy needs an owner, someone who can come to the table and show what is being done, what results are being met, and most importantly, what roadblocks are in the way of success and who needs to help them overcome these hurdles.

The virtual CMO is the right person, of the right seniority, to do this. To champion the success of the marketing efforts and to influence others to make the strategy more effective.

(Just a quick note, our virtual CMO service comes with a real-time performance dashboard, perfect for those board meetings)

So is a vCMO a good idea for your business?

Hopefully, on reading to this point of the article you can determine whether or not a virtual CMO is right for your business, but let me ask some questions that might help guide you:

  • Do you have sales growth targets that you know are going to be tough to hit?
  • Can you afford a full-time marketing leader?
  • Is your marketing all over the place?
  • Do you see your competitors doing a really good job at it?
  • Do you want to just dip your toes in before fully committing?
  • Have you been burnt by people selling the dream before and not getting results?
  • Do you need a marketing strategy that will get sales results?

Basically, do you need help? If so, let’s have a chat.

To recap...

So to recap, here are the real reasons why you might want to work with a virtual CMO:

  • Cost: 50-90% cheaper than recruiting a full-time CMO/Marketing Director
  • Marketing Strategy: They develop and execute a strategy aligned to your business objectives
  • Industry Insight: A vCMO can identify opportunities based on market shifts and tech developments
  • Marketing & Sales Alignment: They can help to realise the financial benefits of alignment
  • Keyholder & Accountability: Maintain consistency in leading towards a goal and are accountable to that
  • Board Representation: They promote success and remove roadblocks at board level

Remember, if you choose to work with a virtual CMO, make sure they’re delivering CMO level work such as strategy development, implementation, communication, and accountability.

Don’t work with a vCMO to do basic functions that someone else can do as that is a very quick way to waste a lot of money.

About the Author

Alex - Leadfreak

MD of Leadfreak, Alex Thackray likes to spend time speaking with clients, solving problems, and getting results. With a background in complex sales, B2B industries, and lecturing at Aston University, he enjoys the commercially focused creativity that Leadfreak brings.

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