I had drinks last night with some agency owner friends. One of them has built their business to the point where they’re on the cusp of early retirement. One of the last hurdles is to replace themselves as the chief marketing officer for the business.

“I want to hire someone better than I am at marketing and have them build out additional channels to augment what we already have,” he told us around a fire pit.

This should be possible. There are people that are better than my friend at marketing and it’s likely that there are additional marketing strategies that would work for his business.

In practice though, it’s a challenge to achieve. There are many people that can execute tasks: build out a social media campaign, optimize a site for SEO, and etc. However, there are few that can innovate and build something new.

If you’re getting leads from organic social media, you can probably hire someone better than you to ramp it up. But it’s a much tougher proposition to say, “We need more leads. Build a new channel of customers.”

There are people who can do it, but they’re often running their own business or working for corporations at salaries a small business can’t afford.

Which begs the question: what should a marketing role look like in a small business? If it always comes down to the owner-operator solving problems, it limits what’s possible to the owner-operator’s time, energy, and attention.

For functions where value is proven, you hire employees or freelancers to execute them. If you know organic social media works, you have a social media marketer accountable for it. For creating or discovering new value, you need to have some sort of R & D budget where you try new tactics. What those tactics are can come from industry trends, internal insights, or trying what’s worked for similar business models. But they’re not executed by the owner-operator or the business manager- they’re also farmed out to employees or subcontractors to test the tactic within a limited scope.

In either the proven value case or the R & D case, whoever is executing a tactic reports to a manager, not a CMO. At some level of business size and marketing complexity, you have enough marketing tactics being executed that you need someone to own their management as a function and that’s when the CMO role emerges.