But just as the title of Chief Marketing Officer grew from the ascendency of the marketing role in the 1990s, sales is now in its own ascendancy. As marketing becomes more complicated with customers informing themselves via the Internet and social media, selling as a function (finally) has risen to a high level of importance in most B2B organizations.
Today, the strategic purpose of selling is to create clarity for a customer, helping them to answer the question "what should we do?"
As a result, the selling function has risen to the other "C-level" functions. The title is only now catching up.
It's still an unusual title, almost non-existent a few years ago. Do a search on Google or any of the career sites and "VP Sales" dramatically outnumbers "CSO." I've run across this title only a few times:
- AMD and Intel have CSOs
- Don Grantham, recent addition to HP, uses the title
- Mary Delaney was CSO at CareerBuilder before she became president of Personify, a CareerBuilder subsidiary
- Paula Shannon has been CSO at Lionbridge for some time
- Scott Rudy, former VP of Sales at salesforce.com, is now CSO at Savo Group
I expect the title to become more common (and embarrassingly, I should have posted this particular blog entry before I assumed the title!). Sales is now a critical function of any B2B organization and the sales organization needs a seat at the executive table, with operations and finance and marketing and people (what had been called HR).
With sales at the executive table, customers have a direct pipeline into strategic decision making. Sure, marketing organizations are chartered with collecting and delivering the "voice of the customer" but there's nothing like the voice of someone who has voted with his or her budget and has substantive input.
As a newly minted Chief Sales Officer, I'm learning the responsibilities inherent in delivering this input from the field. As a simple cost center, sales was less accountable for the results of their demands. With this greater visibility comes the responsibility of making the best decisions for the company and the customers.
I expect that my fellow CSOs are finding similar responsibilities. At the table with the rest of the executive team we represent the view from the outside. At the same time we have visibility into other company activities in a way sales never had before.
Personally, I welcome that responsibility. Together we are stronger!