How CEOs and CMOs Can Work Best Together

In an insightful conversation with David Reske, CEO of Nowspeed Marketing, on the show “In the Now,” fractional CMO and brand strategy expert Sherehan Ross shared valuable insights into the dynamic between CEOs and CMOs,…

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In an insightful conversation with David Reske, CEO of Nowspeed Marketing, on the show “In the Now,” fractional CMO and brand strategy expert Sherehan Ross shared valuable insights into the dynamic between CEOs and CMOs, especially in the startup environment. Here are the key takeaways from their discussion:

Distinct Roles for CEOs and CMOs

Sherehan emphasized the importance of CEOs and CMOs having clear, distinct roles. While it’s common for startup CEOs to wear multiple hats, including that of a CMO, this approach has limitations. The CEO’s role is to build, structure, and manage the organization, while the CMO’s role is to experiment, test, and discover effective marketing strategies. These functions, Sherehan argues, are often in opposition, and mixing them can lead to internal conflict and stunted growth.

The Importance of Specialization

As a startup evolves, the necessity to separate the roles of CEO and CMO becomes apparent. A CEO’s focus should be on overall company strategy and growth, leaving the specialized, often experimental work of marketing to a qualified CMO or marketing team. This separation allows for focused expertise in each domain, enhancing the company’s chances of success.


A Science of Experimentation: Sherehan highlights that the core of marketing lies in experimentation and adaptation. Unlike the more structured and risk-averse nature of a CEO’s role, a CMO must be willing to take risks, innovate, and pivot strategies based on market response. This approach is crucial for startups where market dynamics are rapidly changing.

The Challenge of Innovation for CEO-CMOs

When a CEO also takes on the role of CMO, innovation often suffers. CEOs, by nature, are more risk-averse and may not have the marketing intuition needed to effectively engage with the market. This lack of specialization can hinder a startup’s ability to innovate and adapt in its marketing efforts.

Complexity of Marketing

The conversation also touched on the complexity of marketing. Sherehan argued that while individual marketing tasks might seem simple, creating an integrated strategy that effectively leverages all aspects of marketing is complex and requires expertise.

Trust and Communication

A successful relationship between a CEO and CMO is built on trust and open communication. CEOs need to trust their marketing leaders to make informed decisions and should avoid micromanaging. This trust is not about blind faith but about understanding and respecting the complexity and expertise involved in effective marketing.

No Guaranteed Results in Marketing

Sherehan also addressed the unrealistic expectations of some CEOs for guaranteed marketing results. In the unpredictable world of marketing, especially for startups, there are no guarantees. Successful marketing requires time, experimentation, and an understanding that not everything can be measured directly.

The Ideal CEO in a Startup Environment

The most effective CEOs in a startup environment are those who are open-minded, strategic, and understand the value of teamwork. They know their strengths and weaknesses and hire people who complement them. They are also good at delegating and trust their teams to do their jobs.

In conclusion, the conversation between David Rescue and Sherehan Ross sheds light on the critical need for clear role differentiation and trust between CEOs and CMOs, especially in the fast-paced world of startups. Understanding and respecting each other’s expertise and fostering an environment of trust and open communication are key to the successful collaboration between these two pivotal roles.

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