This article is part of a two-part series where we explore the relationship between companies and fractional advisors. Part one shares advice from the advisor’s perspective, while part two (our upcoming second article) will share the point of view from the CEO. 

Need a top-tier executive to help build your sales team but not ready for a full-time hire? A fractional advisor might be just what you need, and you're not alone. We’ve seen more early-stage companies opt for fractional advisors in recent years — a smart decision given today’s dynamic market. It’s a great way to bring in senior leadership expertise without committing to the expense of a full-time hire.

For this topic, I reached out to Stage 2 Limited Partner and Fractional Advisor Travis Bryant. Travis has held various leadership roles, including professional services, and sales engineering, eventually leading global sales at Optimizely from pre-Series A to nearly $100 million in run rate. With two decades of experience working in B2B tech sales, Travis now works with early-stage companies as a fractional sales advisor, guiding them as they build their first sales team and GTM strategy. I asked Travis to share advice for companies considering hiring a fractional advisor, how to get the most out of one, and how to ensure you're set up for success.

As we started the conversation, Travis first acknowledged the popularity of his role. "One consequence of the attractiveness of this type of job is that there are a lot of people doing it. If you look on LinkedIn, you'll see many thought leadership pieces from people with varying levels of experience," Travis explains. "It's not that these individuals aren't useful, but it's crucial to match their expertise with the specific problem you're trying to solve."

What Problems Do You Need Your Fractional Advisor to Solve?

When asked about the best approach for founders seeking fractional advisors, Travis recommends starting with a clear understanding of your needs. "Begin by asking yourself: What is the problem I want to unstick?" he advises. "Have a point of view about the expertise you lack as a founder and within your company. Identify what kind of knowledge would help you grow faster or make scaling easier."

Travis emphasizes the importance of this self-assessment, stating, "I would recommend founders start by writing out their needs explicitly. Being deliberate about this process is key to finding the right fractional advisor who can truly accelerate your growth."

For example, you might ask yourself questions like, what challenges is the business facing? Are there new markets you want to enter, but don’t feel you have the expertise to confidently get you there fast enough? Where are opportunities breaking down in your sales funnel? What specific skill sets are you missing on your team?  

Travis warns about a common pitfall: Thinking all that all advisors are created equal or that hiring someone to “do sales” will get them the outcomes they’re looking for. “One of my favorite conversations with technical founders starts when they say, 'I've never done sales before. I need someone who knows how to do sales.' I'll respond, 'Let's think about this: You've convinced venture capitalists to fund you and persuaded talented people to join your company. Congratulations! You're already a salesperson.” 

The key is recognizing the sales skills you already possess and finding an advisor who can help you refine and apply them to your product. It's not about outsourcing sales, but about developing your abilities and strategy. 

Deciding to Hire a Fractional Advisor 

Perhaps you're launching a new product or expanding into a new market, and you need guidance on sales strategies or go-to-market plans. Or maybe you're facing operational challenges or seeking to optimize your sales processes that are leaking opportunities. A fractional advisor can provide an outside perspective and strategies to help you navigate these situations. Fractional advisors are typically engaged on a project or retainer basis, giving you strategic guidance and mentorship for a specific duration. They integrate into the company’s core team and work with people across all levels to provide strategic guidance. But before weighing the pros and cons of hiring a fractional advisor and starting a search for your first GTM or sales leader you should ask yourself some key questions:

  • Are you at a stage where you have a set of happy customers that will allow you to reverse engineer and identify patterns? 
  • Are you ready to transition from the early haphazard deals to the repeatable sales motions? 
  • Are you prepared to do the work of really defining your ideal customer profile, mapping out your busing process and finding the right sales people for your product? Do you have consistent leads? 
  • Do you have consistent demand (leads!)?

You’ll also need to weigh the financial pros and cons. Hiring a full time sales leader, for example, you’ll need to factor in all of the expenses of a full time hire, salary, benefits, bonus and equity, paid time off and your overhead costs. While fractional advisors tend to charge a monthly retainer or work on a set number of hours and have more flexibility and no overhead costs. Comparing these numbers will help you see the differences from a financial perspective.

Selecting the Right Fractional Advisor 

You've decided to hire a fractional advisor. Now what? Travis suggests starting by assessing your company's current stage. A Series D company preparing for an IPO needs a different advisor than a startup aiming for Series A. Understanding your position helps narrow down the type of expertise you need to reach your next milestone.

Based on Travis's insights, here are three key considerations when choosing a fractional advisor:

  1. Look for advisors who tailor their approach: Seek someone who doesn't rely solely on past experiences. Travis references a concept that Mark Roberge, Stage 2 co-founder and partner, wrote about in his book, The Science of Scaling called the inappropriate cut and paste. This is the concept of taking a set of motions or strategies that worked really well at one company and directly applying it to another. Travis explains, “There's danger there, because each company, each intersection of product and ideal customer, is a unique beast. The ideal advisor should be willing to immerse themselves in your unique situation, understanding your specific product, target customers, and company culture. They should be able to synthesize their knowledge and translate it to your particular needs, rather than simply applying a one-size-fits-all approach.”

  2. Match the advisor's expertise to your company's stage: Consider where your company is in its growth journey. An early-stage startup trying to achieve product-market fit needs a different type of advisor than a Series D company preparing for an IPO. Look for someone whose experience and skills align with your current challenges and goals. Be clear about what stage you're at and what specific help you need to reach your next milestone.

  3. Find an advisor who is adaptable: The right advisor should help you form and test hypotheses, ask critical questions, and set up growth frameworks, regardless of your company's stage. Look for someone who adapts their involvement as your needs change and measures their value by practical impact. Travis shares a useful rule of thumb: if the weekly hour spent with an advisor doesn't save 10 hours of headaches, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. An ideal advisor understands different growth phases, knows how to support each stage effectively, and recognizes when their expertise may no longer be the best fit. 

Just like in any hiring process, it's important to test the partnership before fully committing. Travis recommends a "first date" approach: a pre-sales session where he and the founder work through a specific go-to-market topic. This initial meeting serves multiple purposes: it demonstrates the advisor's problem-solving style and ultimately what it’s like to try and solve a problem together.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

Once you've hired a fractional advisor, the first few weeks are crucial. Proper onboarding sets the tone for the entire engagement.

To maximize the partnership:

  1. Get your advisor into the nitty-gritty of your company. Slack access, pitch decks, the works. Even throw in some call recordings - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why? Well, as Travis puts it, he wants to "sit with the company a bit." It helps avoid that dreaded "inappropriate cut and paste" advice that doesn't fit your unique situation. If your advisor doesn’t ask for this, it could be a red flag that they aren’t willing to dig deep enough to truly understand your business.

  2. Come prepared: Whether you're meeting weekly or getting chunks of support, make those sessions count. Jot down topics throughout the week that you want to dive into. Trust me, your future self will thank you for this prep work.

  3. Be transparent: Being a founder can be lonely. Your advisor is there to help you see the forest through the trees, but they can only do that if you're honest. Share your wins, sure, but don't shy away from talking about the challenges. The more transparent you are, the more valuable their advice will be.

  4. Details, details, details: Travis is big on this one. He believes that diving into the nitty-gritty is where the real magic happens. It might feel tedious, but trust the process. Those small tactical insights often lead to big aha! moments.

  5. Think long-term: When it comes to metrics and goals, resist the urge to focus on quick wins. Instead, have a chat about where you want the company to be in the coming years. This isn't a short-term gig; it's a partnership for the long haul.

Remember, you'll get out what you put in. A well-onboarded advisor can be the difference between a short term project with little return and a long-term partner.