What Unicorns, Leprechauns, and Your VP of Sales and Marketing Have in Common

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Today, it’s virtually impossible to be both a head of Sales and Marketing in anything but title. Regardless of what a business card might say, no one is realistically capable of doing both well–like a mythical creature, they simply don’t exist. It’s like having one person on your team play both pitcher and catcher. If your business’s Marketing is operating under the direction of a Sales executive, then you’re missing an opportunity for better revenue and profits.

The trend of organizationally filing Marketing under Sales or selecting career salespeople during CMO recruitment is fortunately one that has become less common over time. It’s something that you could have gotten away with in the 50’s, when you had a limited selection of marketing channels and sales capabilities. But now both disciplines have become so complex and distinct, consolidating the two or having the wrong person in charge is a fool’s errand.

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Even so, 13% of marketing executives today come from a Sales background.

Most business leaders–especially of larger, more established organizations–are savvy enough to understand that the two disciplines are fundamentally different and require different skillsets to deliver a dominant performance. But we still see some situations that result in a Sales executive leading Marketing. For instance:

  • Small and medium-sized businesses don’t always have the executive experience to realize Sales and Marketing must be led and operated separately in order to be fully effective. When resources, team capacity and budgets are slim, sometimes leaders are asked to wear multiple hats whether they want to or not.
  • Quickly growing companies experience many organizational growing pains, especially if they’re rapidly acquiring new businesses or aggressively expanding their teams. During times of rapid expansion, proper leadership acquisition and division of responsibilities for both Marketing and Sales sometimes get lost in the chaos.
  • Occasionally, Marketing ends up under the wrong direction during a rushed or poorly-executed company-wide restructuring. When departments, teams and leadership positions are rapidly created, cut and reorganized, it’s not unheard of for an unqualified Sales executive to somehow end up in charge of a marketing team.
  • When there’s a new marketing executive opening but the hiring manager—whether it be a COO or HR executive or someone else—doesn’t have a strong marketing background and lacks the understanding needed to realize they shouldn’t be considering a Sales executive for the position.

Different Routes to a Shared Destination

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To understand why some businesses mistakenly think Marketing and Sales talent are largely interchangeable, it’s important to look at the two disciplines from the perspective of an outsider. Anyone with meaningful experience working in either field will be able to tell you that they’re distinct, but not everyone has that insider’s understanding.

Ultimately, both Marketing and Sales are jointly responsible for a company’s revenue growth. They take very different paths to get there, but someone with a background in Operations or HR or IT can’t be expected to detect the nuances–they just know that’s where the customers come from. So when leaders in those departments are asked to weigh in on situations like the ones listed above, they’re not always in a good spot to make an informed decision. In the worst cases, this can result in a salesperson running Marketing, a marketer at the head of Sales (this is less common), or the ultimate horror: a consolidation of Marketing and Sales into a single entity under the supervision of one executive.

In reality, someone whose background lies predominantly in sales execution and management is probably the last person you want running your Marketing. You’d be better off tapping a Finance executive for the job—at least they’d be able to masterfully manage a budget. Sales executives, while they may be very intelligent and excellent leaders, by necessity have a mindset that makes them poorly suited to the role of CMO or any other marketing executive position (for the record; the opposite is true, too—a career marketer will similarly struggle as head of Sales).

The reason is simple: the characteristics that make a great sales professional contradict the traits required to be an exceptional marketing executive.

The characteristics that make a great sales professional contradict the traits required to be an exceptional marketing executive.

The best salespeople are deal-oriented. They do what it takes to convert the lead in front of them into a customer ASAP and move on to the next sale. But a marketing executive’s mind must be elsewhere; on brand, on LTV, on analytics and demand generation. Marketing as a whole must be far more detail-oriented and long-term thinkers, and that goes double for the executive team.

Of course, that’s not to say that Marketing and Sales should be entirely siloed. In fact, it’s never been more important for the two to collaborate closely  for matters of customer experience optimization, relationship management, and data gathering. But they still require distinct leadership skillets and exclusive resources if you expect to succeed in today’s competitive environment.

This is why, when it’s time to find new marketing leadership for a CMO recruitment or other marketing executive search, it’s critically important to have someone running the process who really understands modern marketing. Without that kind of perspective guiding your recruitment, you’re much more likely to end up with someone who has the wrong experience and competency in charge of the most important aspect of your business.

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