In Search of the Mythical VP Sales & Marketing

Bruce Cleveland

General Partner


I have to admit to harboring an extreme prejudice.

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

At that point, I stop listening and start thinking 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.

Why? Simple. Sales and Marketing are vastly different functions that require substantially different personalities, skills, and decades of experience to master. In my 30 years of operating experience, 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 to head up both functions simultaneously.

A CEO who doesn’t understand this basic fact, or doesn’t believe it, is not a CEO I want to invest in. Here is why.

Someone who is 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. This is a 1:1, short-term focus game and success is predicated upon a career of working closely with buyers. In many cases, it also requires someone to travel and meet with prospects to gauge for themselves whether or not a deal is really a deal. It is the realm of 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, he/she must constantly work with industry analysts, the media, execute trade shows, keynotes, and the web. Perhaps even more importantly, today’s head of Marketing must be an excellent demand creator (the “owner” of future revenue) through sales-ready leads.

Marketers must know how to generate those sale-ready leads for the lowest acquisition cost and ultimately nurture any sales-ready leads that fall out of the sales pipeline. This is a 1:many game and requires constant refinement through 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 verbal/written communicators.

A CEO who has combined the Sales and Marketing functions, indirectly but undeniably, telegraphs me that he/she does not truly understand the diverse nature of these positions and the fact that it is impossible to execute both functions simultaneously with excellence. In most instances, I have found that the CEO who makes this serious mistake hasn’t worked with someone who is an excellent Marketer and therefore discounts the role it plays.

So, if you ever come and present to me and think you are going to show me a “real” VP Sales & Marketing,  don’t be surprised when I look at you as though you’re trying to convince me there are Unicorns and excuse myself early from the meeting.

Sep 01, 2015