The Difference Between a Chief Sales Officer and VP of Sales


It’s important to understand that the roles of VP of Sales and Chief Sales Officer (CSO) are equally complex. But putting the wrong role into play in your growing company can spell disaster.


You must design the right job description in order to set the right expectation. This will increase the speed of sales revenue generation and create more sustainable growth.


Here’s how to put the right set of experience and expertise into the right role.


The Fundamental Differences:

A VP of Sales is focused much more on execution. He’s a tactical master and laser-focused on beating the competition. This role works best in simpler business environments with a single sales channel.


A CSO knows how to increase sales by designing the right strategy for each channel.

There is a very low margin of error in the VP of Sales role. If he misses his mark, it can be difficult to recover. Also, cross-functional collaboration can distract him and make him miss windows of opportunity.


The VP of Sales is surgical in his execution. He processes every opportunity through the sales methodology. Sales operations are his top priority. His tactical sales plans are as targeted as his sales territory mapping.


A CSO is focused on strategy. This role works best in complex business environments with multiple channels, verticals and competitors.


Because complex environments have so many moving pieces, strategic expertise is critical. A CSO finds success in collaboration with cross-functional peers. He doesn’t just listen to the loudest voice coming from the product management organization. He understands where the growth markets are, and allocates sales resources accordingly.


A CSO knows how to increase sales by designing the right strategy for each channel.


The Costly Result of Putting the Wrong Person in the Wrong Role:

When you put the wrong expertise in either position, misalignment is the inevitable result.


Strategy and execution are unique skill-sets, and equally challenging. But aligning them with the right role is the critical ingredient to sales success.


If you put someone with CSO strengths in a VP of Sales position:

Sales execution will suffer. A CSO is a strategy expert, but a VP of Sales must focus on execution. A CSO’s inclination to collaborate will slow down decision-making and jeopardize necessary decisive action.


If you put someone with VP of Sales strengths in a CSO position:

Sales strategy will suffer. A VP of Sales personality will not give enough thought to organizational strategy. He will push tactics and program implementation. He is used to making things happen quickly, and will likely neglect collaboration.


How to Tell if Your Sales Leader is Ready for the CSO Role:

As business units increase in complexity, sales leader roles also increase in complexity. As CEO, be on the lookout for this situation:


  • A business unit evolves and begins to compete in several products
  • A business unit leader’s performance review shows above-average strategy and collaboration capability


This situation is preparing an individual to step up into the CSO role. Design tests for each business unit to monitor for this situation. Leaders in this position may be ready to make the leap to CSO.


Use This if You Need to Recruit A CSO:

We compiled a Chief Sales Officer Checklist that has 30+ tasks to complete when hiring a CSO.  Use this tool to organize your search effort and make sure you are getting the best candidates.


Download the Chief Sales Officer Search Checklist Here 


Now That You Know the Difference — Make the Right Combination:

There are critical differences between a VP of Sales and a CSO. Create the right role for the current state of your business. Then choose the person with the right skill-set for the role. This is your winning combination. The right person in the right role will grow your organization in the right direction.


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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