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Three roles of Chief Sales Officers

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The roles of the Chief Sales Officer become best visible in the value chain of business management:

First, the operational sales goal

This goal determines the Chief Sales Officer’s roles: executive selling, operational sales leadership and designing the sales related elements of company strategy:

Role 1: Executive selling

Sales success with important clients or opportunities requires personal time from the Chief Sales Officer.

This is a unique feature of the job - Chief Financial Officers need not work in accounting, Chief Supply Chain Managers don’t work on the assembly line.

Role 2: Operational sales leadership

This role is is by far the most important one both for your own and your company's success.

Leading the sales organization

This role is classic sales management: the sales organization reports to the Chief Sales Officer.

Leading the sales ecosystem

Far beyond leading the sales organization you must lead the entire sales ecosystem.

This network comprises any element, which influences - supports or constrains ("hinders") - achieving the operational sales goal - within and outside of the company's own functions:


Sales constraints by company internal functions

  • Your company product development cycle is so slow that customers view your products as outdated.
  • Customers refuse to buy because you spare parts price is too high.
  • Your supply chain offers 3 months delivery time. Competitors win orders as they deliver in 1 week.
  • Your service contract price is too high and prohibits your customers to place orders for products.

Sales constraints by company external functions

  • Suppliers are short on delivery - so your company cannot deliver on time.
  • A new law requires products to be certified - your company products are not yet.
  • Distributors prefer your competitor’s product and give them more shelf space.

To lead the sales ecosystem you need to lead any of its functions to perform as required for the operational sales goal - even if most functions in that ecosystem do not report to you:

  • Operational plans must align the efforts of all functions required to contribute,
  • While executing these plans all functions must accept to report to the plan's leader.

Role 3: Design sales related elements of company strategy

Company strategy defines the framework for operational leadership for the entire company.

Within strategy the Chief Sales Officer is responsible to collect data and define three elements most closely related to the sales goal - for example:

  • Customers (end user customers and sales channels): Segmentation, needs and satisfaction, constraints, trends.
  • Competitors: Financial performance, speed of key processes (new product development, response times to customer requests, delivery times, service response times) competence in operational leadership (PEC cycles)
  • Sales financials: Financial strategy for sales functions.

Three recommendations for defining the Chief Sales Officer’s role

Without clear agreement on your three roles you will run into nasty conflicts about rights to decide. Avoid such conflicts:

1. Find unconditional agreement of Chief Sales Officers role in management value chain

If this agreement is not rock solid your role as Chief Sales Officer builds on sand.

The entire C-level team must be in agreement on you three roles in the management value chain.

2. Find unconditional agreement on the sales ecosystem

The entire C-level management team must share one common view of the sales ecosystem. Lack of agreement will make your job impossible.

3. Find unconditional agreement on your assignment as leader of the sales ecosystem

For success you must lead the entire sales ecosystem. The entire C-level management team must agree to that.

More information

More about the top management's three roles in book SURF THE WAVES OF OPPORTUNITY, Chapter 1 "Surf the waves of opportunity". (Website, Look inside)

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