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What’s In a Name?

Shakespeare famously wrote: “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” That may have been true for roses, but it is not typically true for the titles people are using to attract your business.

Names conjure characteristics of the person. Titles are the same on some levels. They may not describe the person who holds the title, but when used as a convention to distinguish roles, they convey significant meaning, and it is important. Unfortunately, not everyone respects this significance.

A few weeks ago I posted the chart below on LinkedIn. It drew quite a bit of attention – for good reason. Many people have begun to use names and titles to make it appear that they are the same as their competitors. In some cases the titles are appropriate to use. But other times ….

Enter the word “fractional CxO.” This once indicated that the professional using it has experience working in a corporate C-Suite capacity. The implication here is that they worked for a company they did not own, reported to the CEO and Board, and had performance metrics tied to the company’s growth. It was never supposed to mean they just decided to use the title after performing the function only in their own company.

I don’t mean to be overly rigid here, but I’ve been called in to rectify things after an unqualified CMO has mishandled a company’s marketing strategy on more than one occasion. It’s never pretty – or inexpensive – to do that. And the issue is not limited to CMOs.

Being less experienced doesn’t necessarily translate to a discount either. The fees charged by less qualified (and, in some cases, unqualified) professionals can be as high as those charged by experts. Sometimes, they’re even higher.

This chart should help you understand the roles a person in each position would be expected to fill and the impact you can expect to see because of their work. It’s rare for anyone to try to handle more than one role. Except, of course, if you’re the business owner.

Most experienced professionals “swim in their lane” because they know their own skills and limitations. Ask the professional(s) you are speaking with some good questions and compare what they say against this chart. If they have had the right experience, the comparison should be very close. If the professional you’re speaking to has not had the experience you need, they will usually tip their hand here as well.

It’s your prerogative to work with whomever you choose and negotiate whatever fees you can. However, I felt compelled to address this issue because the practice of using inflated titles to command higher fees is becoming more prevalent. I care about your company’s success and wouldn’t want to see you adversely affected by this trend simply because you weren’t aware of it. Do you have questions about the roles of a CxO versus a consultant or strategist? Email me, and feel free to follow me on LinkedIn