Mark Coronna, Partner & CMO–Chief Outsiders
with John Morris, Partner, and Ken Saddler, CFO, B2B CFO®
The use of contract executives (also referred to as fractional, on-demand, or outsourced executives) is relatively new in leadership and organizational staffing models. The oldest and largest contract executive company, B2B CFO®, was founded in 1987. The largest contract executive company providing CMO-level talent, Chief Outsiders, is only 10 years old.
There are three key takeaway points in this article:
- Contract execs are a relatively new option for small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs)
- Small- and mid-sized businesses are in a great position to secure significant value from this leadership staffing model
- While contract Marketing executives are a “newer” concept than using contract execs for functions like finance, contract Marketing and Finance execs both can provide critical strategic expertise and timely support to SMBs, with growth challenges or those interested in more rapidly accelerating growth.
Let’s explore what a healthy interaction looks like.
Contract Executives and the Needs of Small- and Mid-sized Businesses
Small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) face a “scale handicap” against their larger competitors. Their business scope is often very similar as they are forced to compete under the same regulatory regimes, accounting regulations, industry certifications, and market conditions—but without the deeper expertise or financial wherewithal of their larger competitors. SMBs all have customers, suppliers, and employees—just fewer of them than their larger competitors. Their transaction volumes may be lower, too.
Because of their “scale handicap,” small- and mid-sized businesses often compete in a world where they have an expertise disadvantage. They may not have the same level of strategic planning skillsets, industry knowledge of best practices, or experience in developing their employees to even the playing field with larger competitors. They often do not have the financial strength to hire full-time executives with the deeper industry expertise who could help them compete more effectively with larger players.
Experienced contract Marketing and Finance executives usually have experiences working in both small and large organizations solving complex problems. The SMB can learn from both the successes and mistakes of other organizations through these experienced contract executives.
Contract Marketing executives offer SMBs a timely, cost-effective option to tap into the expertise of senior executives who join their business for a defined period, assist in identifying key insights, design a growth strategy and implement an accompanying sustainable growth engine. When the strategic work is done, contract Marketing execs will often enhance execution of that strategic work by developing processes, platforms and the staff so the company can move ahead in a more competitive manner than before the contract exec was engaged.
Contract Finance executives offer practical, as well as strategic value, too. Services offered by B2B CFO®include profit improvement, cash flow management, working capital improvement, financial statement production—basically everything a CEO needs to ensure the finance organization is professionally supporting the business needs. B2B CFO® also help with business planning and banking relationships. On an ever-higher level of engagement, B2B CFO® help support mergers and acquisitions and business exits and transitions. B2B CFO® also help their clients with financial transactions and relationships (investor and banker relationships). Additionally, due to their decades of experience, B2B CFO® become close confidants of business owners—helping them to navigate the myriad challenges they face operating their businesses. The benefits to a business owner are significant, and they tend to be reduced cash flow worries, increased company value, and a solid retirement strategy.
There’s one critical point of intersection between a B2B CFO® and a Marketing CMO. B2B CFO® execs engaged with clients early-on recognize companies with revenue and growth problems. They often identify and address cost-related issues, but they are also like “canaries in the coal mine” in their ability to spot concerns with revenues. Using their experience and industry references, B2B CFO® may see revenue-related concerns before company execs do. These may be short-term issues or longer-term structural issues.
Identifying an issue is not the same as proactively solving it. B2B CFO® execs know when a more formal process of growth planning, a refined growth strategy, and a more comprehensive and strategic marketing plan are required. That’s when a partnership with a contract CMO makes sense.
Revenue and Growth Challenges
There are many situations where contract Marketing and Finance execs step in:
- Untimely loss of key executive talent
- Need to boost internal expertise to compete more effectively
- Stagnated growth or declining revenues
- Lagging peers or competitors’ benchmarks for growth
- Board or shareholder challenges to build on success and grow 2x or more
- Lack of accountability, performance metrics, or understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in sales, lead generation, and marketing programs and investments
- Desire to accelerate into or maintain top category or industry leadership position through growth
- C-suite dislike or lack of interest in “owning” the finance or marketing function
The advantages of contract executives are numerous. They are usually familiar with your industry, so learning curves are reduced and you don’t spend your money teaching them your business. Effective contract executives are adept at assessment, pattern recognition, solution design, and implementation. They bring an outsider’s view and best practices from a variety of organizations they served in—often from larger companies in your market space. They bring in best practices from a variety of clients. Sometimes the most creative ideas come from someone who has tried things you have not.
These benefits can be summarized as:
- Timely support when you need it for as long as you need it
- Short-term ramp-up as you access their expertise
- Their knowledge of best practices helps reduce risk and improves confidence
- They help with strategy and implementation as you need it
- They usually cost less than a full-time exec in a similar role, employed by the company
- Previous history of seeing what has worked or not worked in organizations trying to “scale up”
- Fees vary with your needs, but should always be much less than the tangible benefits to you and your business
- The CEO/Owner of a large number of SMBs also wears the finance leadership hat. Outsourcing this responsibility to an experienced contract finance leader allows the owner to focus on leading the business in a visionary or integrator role.
Let’s look at two case studies to see how this relationship works in the real world.
Case Study: Rapidly Declining Revenue in a Software Business
Case studies are usually success stories. Advance notice to readers: this one is not!
A B2B CFO® working in support of a $5-10M software company identified a troubling revenue pattern in the business. Revenue forecast after forecast came up significantly short. Initially, the company had enough cash to weather some of these variances. The revenue trend line was heading in the wrong direction, too. The B2B CFO® expressed concern to the exec team and offered to make an introduction to a contract CMO specializing in revenue growth, who in turn offered to come onsite and perform a free half-day assessment of the business.
For reasons no one understood, the company kept deferring from taking advantage of this free discovery meeting even with the B2B CFO®’s constant encouragement. After eight months of continuously declining revenue, the company at last agreed to a phone conversation with the contract CMO which the B2B CFO®brokered.
By this point the company agreed it had a problem. A new sales and marketing manager had been brought in and was not receptive to outside assistance, however. When asked about what he thought the root causes of the sales challenges were, he couldn’t identify them and at the same time was convinced that he could sort them out. This manager also had no defined approach to revenue growth.
Waiting too long, believing you can figure out major revenue and growth challenges yourself, and an unwillingness to listen to outside counsel—even when they have vastly more experience—represent key factors for potential failure. Two years later, this business is still “stuck” even with opportunities to grow materially. The business owners poured a lot of cash into the operation for no return, reduced staff > 50%, and are growing impatient for results. They have lost confidence in the management team.
Case Study: Contract Financial Exec
Here’s another brief case study of a client in process of improving their business. A contract CMO working on a consulting basis with a small building products manufacturer and distributor noted that the business had no strategy for marketing the business and focusing its sales efforts based on the marketing. In short, the company was extremely opportunistic. A case of being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.
The CMO identified a need to create a marketing strategy, specifically to pick a product line and process on which to focus. He correctly noted that to make such a choice required financial analysis and information. That information does not exist in the business and so the CMO reached out to a B2B CFO® partner with whom he had worked with in the past.
Together the CMO and the B2B CFO® partner are working to derive actionable product and margin information in support of a strategy session to be jointly led by the CMO and the B2B CFO® partner.
This business owner recognized the need to find expertise. The CMO and the B2B CFO® partner realize they can have more success helping this business owner when they team. In short, it’s a joint effort between the business owner, CMO and B2B CFO® partner.
Why Marketing AND Finance?
If you are unclear whether you need a contract Marketing exec or a contract Financial exec, we would encourage you to review these corporate links on both contract resource businesses:
You might need one resource or the other (or both) depending on the challenges you are facing.
Free consultation offer:
The simplest and fastest way to determine what type of contract executive support might provide you with the highest benefit is to give one of us a call. We’re happy to discuss your needs.
John Morris, Partner, B2B CFO Email John
Ken Saddler, CFO, B2B CFO Email Ken