A successful blogger (he's got 3.5M subscribers and some street cred.) once told me: "If people ask you the same question three times, there's an opportunity to write about it."
I get the same "What the #$@! is a Fractional CXO, anyways?" question dozens of times a year, and quite frankly, I have accumulated enough content on the matter to publish a trilogy of paperbacks. So here goes…
I came up with the fractional CXO title yonks ago simply because I could not fit what I did for companies neatly into any conventional box, or for that matter, in any of the newly minted titles in the digital economy lexicon. What I do know is that the term CXO has come to fruition and is slowly maturing on its own since you can Google it, read about it in HBR, and have Forrester report in 2020 that the number of CX executives is projected to increase by as much as 25% as companies across the globe start to realize the emphasis that needs to be placed on user experience right from their inception. That's fantastic news, but I'd like to think I can still retain some pride of authorship on the Fractional CXO model -- circa 2004.
For me, the Fractional CXO title has been composed of three principal components.
First, "fractional" refers to my relationship with my customers.
80% of my clients are startups that often can't afford another full-time leadership level role on their payroll but need leadership level work done ASAP. They often would prefer having one senior-level executive take on several hats at once, at least until they can justify several FTEs. So I take on a few engagements simultaneously (typically 2 to 5) and work part-time for each venture for a pre-determined period (usually 6 to 24 months). Nowadays, the gig economy is in full swing, so I suppose my model is now in vogue. Furthermore, many leading tech startups are doing away with the traditional 4-year equity vesting schedule and are now offering a one-year vesting schedule to sought-after candidates. I believe this trend is the beginning of a new era where talented knowledge workers and creatives will increasingly have the ability to do what I do by working for several startups simultaneously, have the flexibility to have their own "$10K creator" side hustle while working full-time for a startup, or have the ability to pivot from one startup to another after they've completed short-term engagements as full-time employees without the old-school negative connotations associated with 12 months stints on their CVs.
Second, the "C and O" stand for Chief Officer.
This is an essential attribute to the title because it refers to the fact that I take on an interim C-level role complete with responsibilities and sometimes with direct reports. Institutional investors often frown at startups that come with a stable of consultants. Somehow, most don't seem to mind when part-time leaders wear one or more official hats for the company for a pre-determined time horizon. Some have told me that they respect the CEO's choice to manage their money and the equity in the company responsibly. I am often featured on the official website under the leadership team. My LinkedIn describes my role at the company for added legitimacy (when I get to update it). But this is not all for show. I have well-defined roles and responsibilities and am accountable for specific deliverables. I am often a Board Observer – although I usually present my piece of the Board deck -- at the request of my client, who is often either the CEO, Founder, and/or Chairman of the company. I only report to one person: the CEO. Although, on occasion, I've been asked to mentor the newbie CEO or a Founder by a lead investor. And yes, my arrangements almost always feature a combination of cash and equity. No jet privileges, I'm afraid—just the fractional use of the microwave in the mess hall.
Third, the "X" stands for Experience. No, not the UX/UI design per se.
The "X" has evolved over the years. It started by meaning pretty much "anything." After all, I had cross-functional executive experience as a Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Business Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, and Chief Strategy Officer, so I took on such roles as an interim executive at dozens of startups. Over time, as I accumulated a broad spectrum of experiences in various functional roles, industries, and geographies worldwide, I realized that traditional leadership roles were no longer enough. Too many crumbs fell between the cracks of the CRO's and CMO's roles or that of the CFO's and CSO's, for instance, and the often prized but often under-represented user experience suffered.
A Silicon Valley CEO recently told me: "Louis, you know what I appreciate the most about our relationship? You bring perspective in a way that only a broad set of experiences can bring to the table. And that is very valuable in helping make the right decisions for our company. Too many executives have grown their careers into a pre-defined silo and have a hard time jumping from one silo to another or building bridges between the silos". This is the Business of Experience (BX).
In essence, I'm a Jack of some trades and a master of a select few.
Notice I did not say "all" because you don't want me to be your Chief technology Officer or your Chief Legal Officer per se. I also did not say "none" because I have deep expertise in a few traditional roles. But what I've learned to master over the years is how to build a playbook to act like the customer champion, the vision's catalyst, the user experience designer, and the orchestrator for the various stakeholders in the company's ecosystem.
As Simon Sinek famously wrote, "I believe that customers don't buy what you sell but rather what you stand for. If you can clearly articulate what you stand for, you'll be able to connect with the right customers."
Once you have the right customer fit, you need to design both your customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) and every interaction across your stakeholder ecosystem to align with your mandate and match your set of beliefs. Only then will you have the right to earn the customers' trust, and only then can you work your way towards achieving the business outcomes the shareholders expect. This iterative process is referred to as the Business of Experience, and it's become the new marketing.
Four key takeaways:
1. Delivering a connected, integrated, and consistent customer experience is no longer a side hustle for the product, marketing, support, and customer success teams. It's earned its stripes as a profession and, thus, its seat at the leadership table.
2. The best CXOs are a rare breed of professionals with cross-functional experience in sales, marketing, customer service, customer success, public relations, business development, product management, project management, and strategic planning.
3. CXOs are responsible for monitoring, analyzing, optimizing all user experiences across all touch points in the organization and its user ecosystem.
4. CXOs are responsible for fostering a customer-centric culture, delivering a consistent user experience on brand, refining the product roadmap, improving customer retention, and maximizing CLTV (Customer Life-Time Value).
Behold the rise of the CXO.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none but frequently better than a master of one." –Louis Lalonde, Chief on Demand at Match CXO
So, there you have it—the recipe for a Fractional Chief Experience Officer. Please connect with me to learn more.