Do You Need a Chief Sales Officer to Accelerate Sales Growth? Consider This First


The pace of change in your marketplace is accelerating.  The ability to embrace and respond to complex markets is a competitive advantage. It used to be that a good VP of Sales had the competency to grow sales in most situations.  But, this isn’t always the case.


Chief Sales Officers are the latest addition to the C-Suite.  These professionals have the strategic mindset required to execute in the most complex markets. They have an enterprise perspective, collaborative instinct, and savvy leadership skills.


Is it time to step-up and add a CSO to your organization?  Or is a VP of Sales exactly what your organization needs right now?


In this post, I’ll give you a framework for making the CSO vs. VP of Sales decision. We’ll also give you a tool that will help you assess your current sales leader.


How Complexity Guides Sales Leadership Decisions

The first step is to understand the complexity of your business environment.


The more complex your business, the more likely it is you need a CSO. The next section will dive deeper into this. 


But before you read on, find out where your company stands with these questions.


How many markets do you compete in?


  1. Multiple
  2. 1 or 2


If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet.


CSO or VP of Sales? Making the right call is critical to accelerating revenue growth.

If you are selling solutions to a single market, the precision of a VP of Sales is ideal. However, if you are selling to multiple markets, each will need a unique strategy. And strategy is where a CSO excels.


How many industry verticals does your company participate in?


  1. You have a unique set of offerings that target multiple specific verticals
  2. You sell to a single industry vertical


If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet. Each vertical will require a unique set of offerings. To better target multiple verticals, a strategic-minded CSO is ideal.


How broad is your line of products?


  1. You have a catalog of products and services, and often bundle them
  2. You sell a single product


If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet.


If your company is focused on a single product, consider a VP of Sales. His tactical laser-focus is better suited to beating narrow (not broad) competition. He excels in competing fiercely with one or two specific, well-understood competitors.


How many competitors do you have?


  1. Many – this is a hypercompetitive field
  2. Very few


If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet.


The smaller the number of competitors you have, the better you understand them. Tactics and execution are keys to overcoming narrow competition. This is where a VP of Sales can help.


What is your overall organizational model?


  1. Matrix: you participate in multiple vertical markets, and your sales organization supports them horizontally
  2. Simple organizational structure


If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet.


Each vertical market is going to require a unique sales strategy. To manage this, most complex organizations are supported by business units. To create strategies for each unit and each channel partner, CSO expertise is required.


How many sales channels does your company have?


  1. Multiple channels, such as direct, resale, distributors, OEM partners
  2. A single channel

If you chose A, you may need a CSO. If you chose B, a VP of Sales may be your best bet.


Once again, complexity points the way to a CSO. Each channel will require a different strategy, and CSOs are best suited for this approach.


The Connection Between Complexity and the Need for a CSO

The split between strategy and execution changes dramatically as complexity increases. The more complex your business is, the more focus needs to shift to strategy.


A CSO is focused 80% on strategy and 20% on tactics (execution). With advanced experience and strategic thinking, a CSO can handle the many moving pieces.


A CSO understands how change ripples throughout an organization. They understand how decisions affect organizations, markets, product lines, competitors and business units.


A CSO is also gifted at collaborating with fellow executive leaders. They know how to bring the entire organization along with them. They also know not to necessarily listen to the loudest voice. Rather, they focus on the growth markets and allocate sales resources accordingly.


A VP of Sales has single-minded focus on execution in the present. But a CSO thinks several steps ahead, handling sales strategy like a chess game.


Consider this:
Do you know which type of leader you currently have?  What capabilities do they have and which role are they suited for?  It may be helpful to assess your current sales leader’s capabilities. Use our Sales Leader Competency Guide to understand your sales leaders’ strengths and skill gaps.


You can download the Sales Leader Competency Guide here:

CEOs, Watch Out for These Pitfalls

There are three common pitfalls that many CEOs fall into when establishing sales leadership. Watch out for these to avoid misaligning your sales organization with the wrong leadership.


  1. Not understanding the difference between the roles of CSO and VP of Sales. Don’t rely on recruiters to know this. They are generalists. Read this blog post to understand the differences and educate yourself. It may save you from implementing the wrong organizational structure as your company grows.
  2. Being off on the compensation. Offering a VP of Sales a CSO title to compensate for lower pay is a mistake. That VP’s tactical expertise won’t align to the huge strategic responsibility of a CSO. This is setting the leader up for failure. Instead, choose someone with proven CSO competency and experience.
  3. Interviewing a downsized candidate from a big company. Though the candidate has CSO experience, it won’t scale down to your smaller business. He is used to having VPs reporting to him, not directors and managers. He’ll have to use muscles he hasn’t used in a long time.


If your company has grown complex, it might be time to consider hiring a CSO. But don’t make this decision lightly. Read more posts like this one to get information from the trenches.


Greg Alexander

Leads the firm's focus on the CEO’s role in accelerating revenue growth by getting the product team, the marketing department, and the sales organization into strategic alignment.
Learn more about Greg Alexander >

Greg is the host of The SBI Podcast, the most listened to sales and marketing podcast on the internet.


He is the host of SBI TV, a monthly television program broadcast on the internet featuring top B2B sales and marketing leader sharing their strategies to grow revenues.


Greg is the Editor-in-Chief of The SBI Magazine, the leading B2B publication focused on sales and marketing effectiveness.


He is the author of two critically acclaimed books Topgrading for Sales and Making the Number.


Greg has authored over 100 articles on SBI’s award winning blog, The SBI Blog.


He graduated from The University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in English and received his MBA from Georgia Tech.




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