No matter the size or sector of your business, it is essentially impossible to accomplish your corporate goals without being laser-focused on sales. Sales are the lifeblood of any organization. Without obtaining repeat business from current customers and new business from recently-converted prospects, your business will struggle to grow.
To address this reality, it is easy for members of the C-suite to look outward. They may focus on things like improving their go-to-market strategies and shoring up their sales pitches. While these types of tasks certainly aren’t irrelevant, they aren’t the only things. In fact, looking inward at your company’s internal sales structure and hierarchy can create immense value. Understanding the types of sales leaders that you need—and how they help your organization accomplish its sales and revenue goals—is valuable whether or not you are currently hitting your sales targets.
In this post, an experienced sales executive recruiter at Cowen Partners shares important insights about some key sales leadership positions to consider including in your organization. While you will certainly need to find stellar talent to fill these positions, understanding their duties and responsibilities can help you decide whether, and how, to restructure your sales leadership team.
Before diving into the specifics of some of these key sales positions, there is a key caveat. When discussing sales titles and sales positions, it’s common for titles to mean different things. For instance, the responsibilities for a “VP of Sales” at one company may mean something entirely different at another company. This may be especially true if you work at a startup. Because these differences exist, our discussion of these three key sales positions will be from the perspective of larger companies.
The first position is one that many sales teams likely already have. This is the VP of Sales.
The VP of Sales lives and breathes sales. He or she is in the weeds of your company’s sales process, overseeing everything within your traditional sales funnel. Compared to the two other sales leadership positions here, your VP of Sales tends to spend more of their time in the field. They get an up-close-and-personal view of how sales associates and customers are interacting with each other. But even beyond that, they almost act as a liaison between different organizational departments. By collaborating with leaders in product, marketing, finance, and more, VPs of Sales can more effectively execute the sales process so that your company’s sales quota can be met.
From the VP of Sales, there is the Chief Sales Officer (CSO). You can think of the CSO as being one rung higher on the corporate hierarchy. CSOs aren’t solely focused on your organization’s sales funnel. While they may work with the VP of Sales to try to optimize that sales funnel, the CSO is focused more on strategy and structure.
Their role is especially important after some type of major corporate change or event. For instance, if the company decides to shift course and pursue a new competitive strategy, the CSO would step in and take an active role. He or she would look at important metrics (like customer acquisition cost (CAC)) and determine how the sales team could meet those metrics under the new strategy. In the end, the CSO has a broader, more long-term view of the sales strategy and how the organization can best carry out that strategy.
Finally, there is the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). You can think of the CRO as the individual that has the broadest view of achieving your sales goals. To put it another way, the CRO is more focused not only on optimizing the company’s sales funnel but also on optimizing what is happening outside of the explicit sales funnel. This means things like leveraging upsell opportunities for current customers and closely analyzing how potential prospects enter your sales funnel.
Ultimately, the title itself reveals that the CRO is focused on all-things revenue. He or she is thinking about new sales lines and how the company can strategically capitalize on those sales lines. Working with marketing, sales, and other teams, the CRO can help measure customer satisfaction and ensure that the company is on its way toward its annual recurring revenue (ARR) goals.
As you can see, these three positions have plenty of similarities. They are high-ranking sales positions and are focused on helping the company accomplish its sales goals. They just go about it in slightly different ways. While the VP of Sales is more focused on executing the current, complete sales process, the CRO looks at sales from a much higher level. These differences may seem slight, yet allocating responsibility in this way can make your sales team more productive, efficient, and valuable.
With this understanding in mind, you may be wondering how you can actually find and incorporate these types of sales leaders in your organization. While the specifics will depend on your organization’s wants and needs, there are several general principles to keep in mind.
First, consider where your company is in the corporate lifecycle. Quite obviously, a startup that is looking for product-market fit has much different sales needs compared to a blue-chip company that is looking to sustain consistent growth. Using the definitions provided above, companies in the startup phase are more likely looking to find a strong VP of Sales. This is because these startups need to create a strong sales process in order to survive. While some startups may be further along than others, most of them are constantly thinking about how they can get their product in front of a growing group of prospects. A VP of Sales can help them with this task. On the other hand, if a blue-chip company is in decline, it may need a CRO to come in and complete a larger strategic overhaul.
Ultimately, take a hard look at where your company is in the average corporate lifecycle. Even if you aren’t experiencing issues at this moment, anticipating potential issues down the road can help you build a sales team to overcome those issues.
Next, take a look at your pipeline of potential sales leaders. Whether you are seeking to promote from within or hire an external sales leader, you want to ensure that your new sales leaders can fulfill the roles described above. Each role requires something different. For instance, if you are seeking to hire a VP of Sales, you are likely looking for a scrappy individual who is focused on execution. With a CRO, it is more of a cerebral individual that loves strategy. Make sure you are screening for these attributes before making your decision.
Finally, don’t hesitate to hire slow. These are important roles that you are filling, so you want to make sure that you are selecting the best possible candidate. As with filling any type of position, make sure that you are following up on references. Try to remove as many biases as possible during the interview process, and don’t hesitate to conduct multiple interviews. Taking your time and being patient can lead you to the best possible candidate.
Finding the right sales team can make the difference between success and failure. However, before you actually bring on new talent, you want to ensure that you are filling roles that will help your organization reach its goals. By better understanding these three sales leadership roles, you are in a fantastic position to build an outstanding sales leadership team.
Our hands-on executive recruiters have experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion. Successful placements span the entire C-Suite – CEO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and include vice president, general counsel, and other director-level leadership roles.
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