If you need C-Level expertise and experience in your business, should you hire a fulltime employee, hire a consultant, use a coach or engage a fractional executive?
Of course, we recommend a fractional executive. Why?
The fractional role offers the most value and the best ROI. All can work for you but be clear on what you need.
A fulltime employee is hard to find, can be expensive to find (recruitment fees), is the most expensive option and has the biggest impact if they are either a great fit or a bad fit (works both ways). If you can afford a fulltime C-Level specialist and you can find the right one the rewards will be worth it. If you can’t afford them, or if you get it wrong, there is a big downside.
A consultant has expertise, and they tell you what to do. Consultants are relatively easy to find, can be cost-effective and can positively impact your business. They drift in and out of the business as required and are never really “in” the business. Caution is recommended to find a consultant with expertise AND experience specific to what you need. Many are smart and knowledgeable but have not been a star in the role they are consulting on. For example, they may have been a great sales rep but not a great sales leader. They have little experience in doing the C-Level role (eg Sales Director) but can advise on that specialist area (eg Sales).
A coach provides training then leaves you to execute. A coach has the theory ready to deliver in a structured and cost-effective way. They sit outside the business and deliver content for you to interpret in your role. They do not fulfil a role but help someone already in the role with knowledge about the key aspects of the role. Coaching at the C-Level requires C-Level experience so make sure, as for the consultant, the coach is an experienced Sales Leader and not only an experienced sales rep.
The fractional executive combines their expertise and experience and then executes that role with you, and becomes part of the team. You get all the expertise, experience and engagement from a fractional executive as you do from a fulltime executive at a fraction of the cost. You must make sure the fractional executive has more than 10 years of successfully delivering in that role before they can work with you as a fractional executive (we ensure our sales leaders have 15 years experience as sales leaders and pass a rigid certification process before they become Certified Sales Director Central Sales Leaders). It is clearly the best value of all the options covered (yes we are biased).
In summary, the fractional executive must have the expertise and knowledge to be able to deliver sound advice, extended experience in the role to enable them to execute in that role for you, and have developed intellectual property they can implement to your company's benefit. It's more than a coach, it's more than consulting - it is an engaged, experienced, cost-effective, value add fractional executive.
But will companies look to fractional roles?
The rise of the fractional executive was just starting in the US at the time we founded Sales Director Central, and it was obvious the trend would continue. It has continued and it is growing about 15-20% p.a., depending on the research, and getting to a meaningful percentage of the entire workforce.
So what is driving this growth in fractional executive roles?
A few mega-trends are at play here. They have some themes that overlap but it all creates an environment where fractional executive engagements will continue to grow.
An aging workforce is impacting the adoption of fractional executives, including fractional sales leaders. The trends with an aging workforce include:
Experience and Expertise: The experience and expertise of those approaching retirement age is driving the availability of fractional executives as they chose to remain in the workforce with a reduced workload. We certainly have a ready stream of highly qualified and experienced sales leaders looking to be a Sales Director Central Certified Sales Leader.
Desire for Flexibility: Older executives, especially those nearing retirement, and younger executives, are both looking for more flexible work arrangements that allow them to balance their professional and personal lives. Fractional executive roles provide an attractive option for executives looking to continue working on their terms, taking on projects or assignments that align with their interests and skills. Younger executives are looking to take advantage of this talent in flexible and non-threatening engagements to fuel their career aspirations. Our sales leaders enjoy the flexibility of working fewer days in a month.
Mentorship and Knowledge Transfer: Fractional executives who are part of an aging workforce can serve as mentors to younger employees. They can share their wisdom and guide the next generation of leaders, facilitating knowledge transfer within organisations, professions and industries. We are passionate about this transfer of knowledge and regularly share that knowledge with posts like this and on other platforms like LinkedIn and X, plus through public speaking at industry events and our own free webinars.
Extended Careers: The official retirement age continues to rise and aging professionals realise they want to continue to contribute in some way rather than sail off in to the sunset. Fractional executive roles enable them to do so while still contributing their expertise to individuals, businesses and industries. The trends in the other megatrend below also drive this option.
Changing Retirement Landscape: The concept of retirement is evolving. Many older professionals are redefining retirement as a gradual transition rather than a sudden exit from the workforce. Fractional executive roles align with this trend by allowing individuals to ease into retirement while remaining professionally active.
Talent Shortages: In certain industries, there may be shortages of professionals with specialized skills and expertise. Fractional executives from an aging workforce can help address these talent shortages by offering their knowledge and bridging skill gaps.
Diversity of Thought: An aging workforce can bring diversity of thought to organisations. These experienced professionals may have a different perspective on business challenges and opportunities, which can be valuable in decision-making processes. We often are engaged to bring a different perspective to a sales team that has stagnated or needs to transform.
Succession Planning: Companies with aging executives at the helm may use fractional roles as part of their succession planning strategies. This allows younger leaders to gain experience and gradually assume more significant responsibilities with guidance from experienced fractional executives. We are seeing an increase in this role for our fractional sales leaders as companies promote the star performers beyond their experience. Through the fractional sales leader role we mentor the rising stars and share expertise and experience in the trenches with them.
Changing Nature of Work
The next megatrend is the changing nature of work and the business landscape, accelerated by the global pandemic. This is creating an environment ideally suited to the use of fractional executives, including fractional sales leaders. These trends include:
Technology Advancements: Rapid advancements in technology, particularly in areas like automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, have disrupted traditional business models. Companies now require executives who not only understand these technologies but can also adapt and harness them to gain a competitive edge. Knowing how to help a company sell an increasingly complex solution in a rapidly changing environment has driven a lot of new engagements for us.
Globalisation: The globalisation of markets has expanded business opportunities and competition. Companies are increasingly operating on a global scale, which demands executives who can navigate the complexities of international markets, regulations, and cultural differences. It has also driven more fractional sales leadership roles in that expansion. Why hire a country manager as the first hire in a new country when you can hire a fractional sales leader and 2 sales reps for the same price?
Digital Transformation: Many industries are undergoing digital transformation, which involves integrating digital technologies into all aspects of operations. Fractional executives with expertise in digital strategy and transformation are in high demand to lead these initiatives. Often this leads to a spin off tech company where the leader needs the support of a proven sales leader, on a fractional basis of course.
Remote Work and Flexible Work Arrangements: The recent pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work and flexible work arrangements. Fractional executives can work from anywhere, making it easier for companies to access talent worldwide and adapt to remote work trends. We have been able to support customers in their global expansion without the need to be on a plane every week.
Gig Economy and Portfolio Careers: Executives and professionals are increasingly pursuing gig economy and portfolio careers, where they work on a project-by-project or contract basis for multiple clients or employers. This trend aligns with the fractional executive model, where experienced professionals offer their expertise to multiple organisations. The buyer must ensure the fractional executive has the proven experience of doing that role for at least 10 years before engaging them in their business.
Agile Business Models: Traditional hierarchical organisational structures are giving way to more agile and adaptive models. Companies require executives who can pivot quickly, make data-driven decisions, and lead cross-functional teams in dynamic environments. The fractional executive is ideally suited to getting their boots dirty to help your company pivot. We have performed this role when the buying behaviour changes and becomes more complex, requiring a different set of sales leadership and sales execution skills.
Startups and Scale-ups: The proliferation of startups and scale-up companies has created a demand for experienced executives who can help these organisations drive and navigate rapid growth, secure funding, and establish scalable business processes. Helping a founder transition from sales rep to sales leader to CEO with a separate sales leader is our most common engagement model.
Customer-Centricity: Customer expectations have evolved, with a greater emphasis on personalised experiences and convenience. Fractional executives with expertise in customer-centric strategies and data-driven marketing are essential for businesses seeking to meet these demands. We consistently engage with product and services companies who need to shift their focus from internal solutions (features and functions) to a buyer focus (value).
The final megatrend we’ll explore is the “work” mindset of the younger members of the workforce. They are now dominating the workforce creating a fractional executive friendly environment. These trends include:
Entrepreneurial Mindset: Younger generations, such as Millennials and Generation Z, show more entrepreneurial tendencies. They are more inclined to pursue freelance, gig, or project-based work, which aligns with the fractional executive model. Many are comfortable with the idea of working on a contract basis, allowing them to gain diverse experiences and build their portfolios. They also seek to learn from proven executives.
Digital Natives: Younger workers are typically more tech-savvy and comfortable with digital tools and platforms. This digital fluency can be an asset in fractional roles, allowing fractional executives to thrive from any location.
Preference for Purpose-Driven Work: Younger generations often prioritise work that aligns with their values and contributes to social and environmental causes. Organisations may seek fractional executives who can help them integrate sustainability and social responsibility into their strategies, meeting the expectations of younger consumers and employees.
Demand for Continuous Learning: Younger professionals tend to value ongoing learning and skill development. They are open to taking on fractional executive roles as opportunities to gain new experiences, learn from seasoned executives, and develop their expertise in specific areas. They are also more likely to seek the guidance from a fractional executive if they are in a fulltime position. We have helped many rising stars with the development of their sales leadership skills.
Changing Leadership Styles: Younger CEOs and Founders have different leadership styles compared to their older counterparts. They are not as likely to use the stick and prefer the carrot than older leaders. In this environment it is important to look at how to fix the environment rather than blame the employee. Fractional executives are ideally placed to fix a broken team. We have been engaged many times to turn around a broken or underperforming sales team. For further reading see this post on managing underperforming sales reps.
Collaborative Work Environments: Younger workers often thrive in collaborative work environments and are accustomed to interdisciplinary teamwork. This inclination toward collaboration is an ideal environment for fractional executives to interact with existing teams and contribute to a culture of growth, innovation and agility.
Tech Start-ups and Scale-ups: Many younger professionals are drawn to tech start-ups and scale-up companies, which often rely on fractional executives for their specialised expertise. This trend is driving the demand for fractional roles, especially in HR, Finance, Marketing and Sales. The Founder is often a technical specialist with little experience as an HR Manager, CFO, CMO or CRO/Sales Leader.
Remote Work Advocacy: Younger generations have been at the forefront of advocating for remote work and flexible work arrangements. Their influence will contribute to the continued growth of remote and fractional work models in the post-pandemic era.
Three overlapping megatrends are driving the availability of and uptake of fractional executives.
An aging workforce with tremendous knowledge and experience who want to share that under a reduced personal workload.
A changing business landscape that is disrupting the nature of work and making a fractional executive role more and more viable and valuable.
A younger more entrepreneurial workforce that seeks and needs more expertise and experience to drive business and personal growth.
These are ideal conditions for the growth and uptake of fractional executives.
I’m interested in your views on the mega trends and how they are impacting your business and career. Reach out for a confidential discussion on how a fractional sales leader could help your business or career.
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