the Mythical "VP Sales & Marketing"​

February 17, 2017

PUBLISHED BY Bruce Cleveland

I have to admit to having an extreme bias. It rears its ugly head when a startup CEO comes into our offices to take us through their business, introduces the management team, and describes one of the executives as the “VP Sales & Marketing”.

I am not talking about a startup that is new and/or unfunded and has to “make do”, I’m referring to those companies that are up and running and the decision to combine these functions is a matter of choice, not cost.

At that point, I start to think about how I can end the meeting on a professional note. Like the mythical unicorn, I don’t believe in the mythical VP Sales & Marketing. Actually, I am more likely to believe in unicorns than a VP Sales & Marketing.


Sales and Marketing are vastly different functions that require substantially different personalities, skills, and decades of experience to master. In my 20+ years of being an operating executive and 10 years of venture investing, I have found very few people – I mean less than a handful – who are experts at both functions. And, for that rare individual, in my experience I do not believe it is possible for them to head up both functions simultaneously.

A CEO who doesn’t understand this fact, or doesn’t believe it, is not a CEO I am likely to invest in.

Here is why.

Someone who is a head of Sales must have an in-depth understanding of current key deals in the sales pipeline, a deep sense of the probability of whether those deals will close, and what it will take for them to close. Sales is primarily a 1:1, short-term focus game and success is predicated upon a career of working closely with potential buyers and companies. In many cases, the sales role may require someone to travel and meet with prospects to gauge for themselves whether or not a deal is really a deal. Sales is the realm of great oral communicators.

The head of Marketing, on the other hand, must develop and maintain an in-depth understanding of the overall market and the company’s brand in that market. To do this, the Marketing executive must constantly work with industry analysts, the media, execute tradeshows, develop presentations and material for keynotes, and generate content for the web and social media. Perhaps even more importantly, today’s head of Marketing must be an excellent demand creator (the “owner” of future revenue) and understand how to use a variety of differenty technology to generate cost-effective Marketing Qualified Leads that are ready for the Sales organization and nurture those that fall out of the sales pipeline along the way.

This is a 1:many game and requires constant refinement by analyzing campaign, market and customer data. It requires continuous meetings with internal staff including the CEO, Product Marketing, Sales, etc. It is the realm of communicators who can write well.

CEOs who combine the Sales and Marketing functions indirectly but undeniably telegraph that they do not really understand the diverse nature of these positions and that it is virtually impossible to execute both functions simultaneously.

Typically, companies that combine these roles discover that the executive in charge spends 90% of their time on sales processes and 10% on marketing issues – usually hiring a “director of marketing” to “do the tactical things marketing must do”. This short changes the critical role of a professional marketing executive who must position the company correctly in the market, generate thought leadership, deposition competitors, create a global market presence, and constantly increase well-qualified leads while driving down CAC ratios.

In most instances, I have found that the CEO who doesn’t understand or believe that these roles need to be held by different people doesn’t really understand how to execute cost-effective revenue creation or hasn’t worked with people who are excellent marketers and therefore discounts the role marketing plays in the process.

To date, I have not discovered a “VP Sales and Marketing” who is both an expert in sales and marketing and, more importantly, is executing both functions at the same time with excellence. They may exist but in my experience they are as rare as unicorns.

Read the original post on LinkedIn here.