by Billy Cina

CMO vs. VP sales: The inevitable battle

Jun 29, 2016
CareersEmerging TechnologyIT Leadership

Startups are difficult enough to manage; living with role-generated schizophrenia makes goal achievement nigh on impossible.rnrn

I always have a good chuckle when I meet yet another VP of sales and marketing. I love the idea in principle, and startups do need to be cost-savvy, but there’s a reason why at the first opportunity sales and marketing are split into two roles and essentially, two camps. This may not be a very mature attitude on my part but what can I say,

sales and marketing are not powered by the same motives, nor incentivized by the same results. Attempts to fix this are futile.

While all company department heads – sales, marketing, finance, legal and R&D have their company’s best interest at heart and they all want the company to grow, make it to Round A, B, C, IPO, etc. with lots and lots of customers on board so that staff don’t have to worry about their next paycheck, this is essentially where their common goals end.

From here on (in our case), sales care about hitting their quarterly sales target in any which way they can. To do this they require as many Marketing Qualified Leads as possible in order to complete the mission quickly. Marketing on the other hand have two key goals: (i) Managing the product life cycle and ensuring a sound product market fit. (ii) Communication and leads; namely increasing brand awareness and increasing the number of Marketing Qualified leads. Additional marketing budget is one sign that they are trusted to continue doing an excellent job.

Sound like doom and gloom? It actually isn’t. When kept in perspective, healthy rivalry between the camps is often what keeps the business fresh and goal oriented.

I’ve roped in a good friend and former startup colleague who is currently a Senior Sales Director at HP to offer his perspective on the common, hot conflicts between sales and marketing teams:

Conflict No. 1: Lead generation

Marketing: ‘ We know the target audience and we know how to get to them but even the most successful marketing campaign won’t generate leads that can be delivered on a plate, ready for  Sales to present to the prospect for signing. Yes, we can nurture them down the sales funnel, but with sales everything is always urgent and you/we don’t have the time for that’.

Sales: ‘We want Marketing Qualified Leads only, i.e. people ready to buy. Don’t ask us to speak with people who have downloaded our whitepaper and opened 5 emails, that doesn’t mean they are relevant for us’.

Conflict No. 2: Updating the CRM

Marketing:  ‘If sales don’t update the CRM, there’s no way for marketing to receive feedback and understand who is really a Marketing Qualified Lead, in need of nurturing and who is a waste of time. This disconnect results in pouring marketing dollars down the drain’.

Sales:  ‘Do you honestly think we have the time to sit around and update the CRM? We’re far too busy and constantly on the road meeting customers and prospects. This should be marketing’s job. How you get information out of the sales team in order to update the CRM is not our problem. Just do it!’

Conflict No. 3: Product market fit

Marketing: ‘ This feature should have priority over the other five because it’ll open our market to far more relevant customers. We’ve done the research, we know this. It’ll be time and money well spent’.

Sales:  ‘Understood, but we’ve better insights into the market and we are the ones struggling against the competition. Besides, Big Alpha Prospect has already been promised this feature, even if he is the only one who needs it. We need to get this to him’.

Conflict No. 4: Sale at any price

Marketing: ‘ You sold it for how much? Who on earth authorized that? You know that we lose money on such deals’.

Sales:  ‘Better a cheap sale than no sale. We have a sales target to reach, remember? You don’t understand how aggressive our competitors are; the views from your aircon office don’t reflect what’s going on in the field. Perhaps you should step out for a visit sometime’.

Conflict No. 5: Marketing tools

Marketing:  ‘Look at these fabulous brochures, landing pages, blogs, social media activity and, you name it, that we’ve been working so hard on for you’.

Sales:  ‘Great, but all this fluff is not what we need. Give us case studies and an ROI calculator to help us close the few Marketing Qualified leads you are pushing our way’.  

Conflict  No. 6: In theory and In practice

Marketing:  ‘We’ve excellent opportunities opening up for the company. Following months of market research, this is our vision and the direction we need to go in. This should be our product offering, for this target audience and by 2018 our market share should be on track for world domination of our eco system’.

Sales:  ‘Your vision is lovely, but not very realistic. Help us reach our sales targets, now! Speak to us about 2018 in December 2017, not before’.


The list can go on and on and I can sign blindly that these six conflicts do occur regularly in every healthy company. CEOs need every team to fight its corner in order to reach excellence.

Marketing will always consider Sales to be lazy bonus-driven zealots who would sell their grandma to hit their sales target this quarter. Sales on the other hand, will always regard Marketing as money burning idealists who like to make the company logo look pretty and deliver shabby leads. 

 This dichotomy is the reason why as soon as a company hits a certain size or position, the VP Sales & Marketing role is split into two. Startups are difficult enough to manage; living with role-generated schizophrenia makes goal achievement nigh on impossible.

“Not so in my company”, I hear you say? Show me a company with a VP Sales & Marketing and I guarantee there is one team that is getting far more love, attention and success than the other.

When can such a role have a slim chance of working? – When the VP Sales & Marketing has previously held both positions independently. Such a candidate understands the important elements needed for each side to succeed and may be able to rise above personal allegiances to do what is right for the company.