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Your CRO is NOT Your VP of Sales

The estimated reading time for this post is 7 minutes

For those navigating the intricate landscape of sales operations, the titles “Chief Revenue Officer” (CRO) and “VP of Sales” might seem synonymous. However, delving into the core functions of  these roles reveals a stark contrast in responsibilities and strategic outlook. If you’re an aspiring sales leader, a seasoned executive, or simply intrigued by the world of revenue generation, this article is your guide to demystifying the realms of the CRO and VP of Sales.

The Strategic Spectrum

I see that too many of today’s VC-fueled startups are quick to name a CRO to their team as a signal that they’re focused on creating revenues for their shareholders. As a result, they wind up hiring someone who held the CRO title at another such VC-drunk company or a “Rockstar” VP of Sales from the market (or even a Director).  But these people are NOT CROs, they have spent the majority of their time in the sales organization who happen to focus on the creation of new business acquisition revenues instead of managing all the parts of the revenue journey.. 

At first glance, both the CRO and VP of Sales might appear to tread similar strategic paths. However, the distinction lies in the horizon they set their sights on. A CRO dons the cap of a general manager, the head honcho of all the specialized roles, the 3rd base coach, the infield manager, the pitching coach; harmonizing sales, marketing, and customer success departments into a synchronized team effort. 

Thus your CRO  transcends the conventional sales funnel, aligning the entire revenue engine for maximum impact. On the other hand, the VP of Sales operates within the confines of the sales domain, optimizing sales processes, pipeline management, and team performance with a particular focus on new client acquisition..

The CRO Holistic Vision

In contrast to a specialist like the VP of Sales, the CRO creates  a holistic portrait of the company’s revenue journey by linking the dots between marketing initiatives, new customer acquisition, and post-sale nurturing. This comprehensive vision empowers a CRO to shape a revenue strategy that transcends the short and medium-term sales gains, seeking sustainable growth.

As a CRO , my primary responsibility is to develop a comprehensive revenue strategy that harmonizes the efforts of our sales, marketing, and customer success teams. I’m concerned about the entire revenue journey that prospective and current customers receive.  As such, this involves identifying market opportunities, defining target customer segments, and creating a cohesive plan to acquire, retain, and expand customer relationships. By aligning these critical departments, we (myself and client) ensure that our revenue generation efforts are unified, efficient, and customer-centric, driving sustainable growth and profitability.

In terms of new business acquisition, the CRO is responsible for all of the potential sources of revenue (see my post on the 6 paths to revenues growth) as well as maintaining the integrity and reputation of the brand equity so that existing customers will continue with their services.  Top CROs have a clear vision as to how to drive profitable growth within the organization with the current people, processes and technologies, in most cases, they have been operators, marketers, influencers or entrepreneurs at some point in time.

The CRO  Alignment

If revenue generation was a baseball team, like I mentioned earlier, the CRO would be the General Manager. This role ensures that sales, marketing, and customer success harmonize, eliminating the silos that often impede growth. 

In contrast, the VP of Sales is more like the infield manager that directs the preparation of and play on the field within the sales teams, including executing the tactics and plays that drive sales targets.

As a CRO, my foremost responsibility is to ensure synergy and alignment across revenue-related departments (primarily marketing, sales customer success). For instance, I might work to integrate our customer relationship management (CRM) system with our marketing automation platform, allowing for seamless lead generation and handoffs from marketing to sales. I’ll also ensure that this same CRM is easily used by the account management or service teams so that all data from when the customer started their interaction with us until the time they became a customer is in one single place.  

Additionally, I’d  implement regular cross-functional meetings to facilitate collaboration between sales, marketing, and customer success teams. By  bringing these teams together to analyze customer feedback and conversion data, we can refine our messaging and product offerings, ultimately driving higher revenue through improved customer satisfaction and retention.

Conversely, as a VP of Sales, my role revolves around directing and managing the sales team’s efforts to achieve revenue targets from the various new business acquisition channels. 

Additionally, as VP of Sales I may implement and execute a sales training program that emphasizes active listening and GAP selling methods alongside objection handling, equipping our sales representatives with the skills needed to manage conversations effectively. I could also establish a structured sales cadence that outlines follow-up procedures, ensuring that leads are actively pursued and nurtured to maximize conversion rates. 

Thus my  focus as a VP of Sales is on translating the broader revenue strategy crafted by the CRO into actionable plans for the sales team as it relates to some or all of the 5 paths to revenue, continuously monitoring progress towards revenue goals and making necessary adjustments to optimize performance.

The Quiver of Metrics

For a VP of Sales, the metrics arsenal revolves around sales-specific KPIs: conversion rates, deal velocity and revenue targets. The CRO, however, assembles a bigger quiver that includes metrics that span lead-to-customer conversion, customer lifetime value, and even customer satisfaction, measuring the full spectrum of revenue impact.

As a CRO, my role is to oversee the entire revenue ecosystem, which involves monitoring a comprehensive set of revenue-related metrics. This encompasses not only the traditional sales metrics but also broader aspects such as customer satisfaction and lifetime value. By assessing these metrics, I gain insights into how well our organization is nurturing customer relationships and creating long-term value.

Customer satisfaction metrics reveal how well we are meeting customer expectations, while lifetime value metrics help us understand the overall economic impact of our customers on the business. These insights enable us to make data-driven decisions that optimize revenue strategies, enhance sustainable growth and overall brand equity strength..

In contrast, as a VP of Sales, my primary focus lies in driving sales-specific metrics. This includes closely tracking  team activities, conversion rates, pipeline inputs, deal velocity, and revenue targets. These metrics are the lifeblood of the sales team, reflecting their performance in acquiring and converting leads into customers.

By monitoring these core sales KPIs, I can ensure that our sales team remains on track to meet their targets and contribute effectively to the organization’s overall revenue goals. This focus on sales-specific metrics helps us maintain a sharp and results-oriented approach to sales operations.

The North Star of Growth

A CRO navigates the ship toward long-term growth, steering the company’s revenue course with a compass set on sustainable success. 

.In the intricate realm of revenue generation, understanding the distinction between a Chief Revenue Officer and a VP of Sales is paramount. If you’re an aspiring sales strategist or an executive keen on orchestrating revenue growth, embracing these roles’ differences can be transformative. It’s time to peel back the layers and recognize that a CRO’s canvas stretches beyond sales, encompassing marketing, customer success, and long-term strategic orchestration.

Conversely, a VP of Sales is the infield manager, shaping tactics, nurturing leads, and driving immediate results. For those with an appetite for strategic revenue orchestration, it’s an invitation to explore the full spectrum of opportunities both roles offer.

So the next time one of your investors and someone on your board says “we need a CRO”, stop and pause and ask ‘why”.  If what you’re seeking is strong sales leadership then hire for that, but if you’re seeking someone who will drive the entire prospect and customer journey then you’ll likely need a real CRO.  But don’t be confused, your VP of Sales is NOT a Chief Revenue Officer, so don’t give them the title.

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