How is a CRO (Chief Revenue Officer) Different From a VP of Sales?

In a nutshell – a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) is responsible for figuring out how to grow sales revenue at the company.  Thus, a CRO is the “CEO” of the entire “Revenue Engine” of the company that they must lead in a profitable and economical way. The CRO runs the global sales team & the full revenue generation team.

But there is more to the CRO role than meets the eye.

There have been a number of articles about a CRO role:

And Wikipedia also has a decent definition for a Chief Revenue Officer

  • A chief revenue officer (CRO) is a corporate officer (executive) responsible for all revenue generation processes in an organization. In this role, a CRO is accountable for driving better integration and alignment between all revenue-related functions, including marketing, sales, customer support, pricing, and revenue management.

But there is a difference between an executive VP of Sales (or even a VP of Sales & Marketing) and a CRO.  We will cover that below.

CRO is Like a Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager

A CRO, like a hedge fund portfolio Manager (PM) figures out how to make money for the company, how to scale revenue.  It’s not just the tactics and managing the day-to-day team execution but the ability to understand, analyze and create a game plan (strategy) to grow the business effectively.

Hedge fund PMs generate consistent returns on their investments. They do this by figuring out the right strategy backed by rigorous analysis and research, by building a great team that helps support the execution and by consistently figuring out ways to achieve the results irrespective of any impacts from the market or economic cycles.

The Key Takeaway:

It’s about figuring out how to achieve the result.  It’s not just the analysis or managing the team – the really hard part is to figure out all the inter-connected variables, be able to see all the complex components that affect and impact the execution to achieving the end goal, the result. It’s about delivering the ROI by managing and affecting all the key drivers, variables, people, systems, and processes  that drive to the necessary result.

How Does this Translate to the CRO

The first priority of every CRO is to run Sales.  Just like their prior role of a VP of Sales (executive leadership VP role – i.e. EVP or SVP), a CRO has 4 Key Responsibilities. Part of having the “Sales Management” responsibility – it’s all about “quota attainment” for the entire sales team.  Whether you have 30 sales professionals or 300, as a CRO, you must know how to set the right strategy and get the team to execute and hit the sales targets.

CRO is a VP of Sales With More Responsibilities

The CRO job starts first with leading the Global Sales team.  So a CRO is fundamentally an Executive Vice President of Sales (i.e. EVP of Sales) who is also responsible for all sales driving functions such as Marketing (specifically, B2B Demand Generation which, according to Jason Lemkin, the #1 Lever to Drive Revenue Growth and drives the Sales Pipeline) as well as Customer Success (Renewals, Upsells, Cross-Sells). It also includes Sales Ops and Marketing Ops.

But, just like in the comparison to the Hedge Fund Portfolio Manager – the most important part of the job is to figure out how to hit the goal and get the necessary results.

The CRO will do all of the responsibilities of a VP of Sales like building the sales team, leading the sales team (be a coach, etc.), etc. But the more complex responsibility of a CRO is that they must also operate at that “next level” of figuring out how to achieve the results above and beyond just being a VP of Sales. This requires not just the VP of Sales execution but also more strategic and analytical rigor and depth of experience across the entire funnel.

This responsibility is for the entire Revenue life-cycle, full Revenue funnel: New Sales + Marketing + CS.  The reason the title is not simply “VP of Sales & Marketing” is that it can also include running a customer success team (i.e. due to up-sell and cross-sell).

Summary of the Role:

  • Generate scalable, repeatable and predictable sales revenue
  • Manage the teams responsible for all revenue generation & execution: sales, marketing, customer success, revenue ops, etc.
  • This is a very demanding, complex & challenging role. Requires more experience than in a single function like Sales or Marketing and thus 2x – 3x more responsibility and accountability. Thus the total comp of a CRO is higher than that of an individual VP of Sales or a VP of Marketing.

Example – What CROs Do:

  • Collaborate with the CEO and the Executive Leadership team and the Board of Directors to create a Sales & Revenue Strategy (backed by all other functions)
  • Have full P&L responsibility
  • Align the sales team to the company’s strategy, maximize the commercial footprint globally, and drive performance
  • Inspire, lead, and enable the global sales team and all revenue-driving teams to meet or exceed all goals
  • Develop, refine and execute the Go-to-Market strategy by analyzing information, assessing where there are opportunities to improve,
  • Ensure a predictable, repeatable, and scalable sales process and execution towards results
  • Operationalize all the processes that drive revenue growth and increase profitability
  • Communicate the full go-to-market, New Sales & Full Revenue strategy, implement key performance indicators, and hold all the global revenue teams accountable for results
  • Instill a customer-centric culture across all the sales and revenue teams

Example – Experience:

  • Significant experience as a senior sales leader on executive management teams at high growth companies from $20M to $100M in global sales and experience scaling fast sales growth of 100% YoY
  • Broad understanding of all go-to-market functions and how they work together to maximize growth
  • Proven experience leading sales reps, and an exceptional track record of managing VPs, Directors as well as front line sales managers, and a consistent track record of achievement of hiring, developing, and mentoring highly successful sales teams; proven experience managing executives or managers of all other revenue-supporting teams
  • Proven success exceeding expectations in hitting revenue targets and retaining and growing customer relationships, within a fast-paced and constantly evolving environment at a B2B SaaS company
  • Proven track record leading teams of tenured, high-performing sales leaders and building an inclusive, psychologically safe and empowering team environment
  • Experience leading enterprise field sales as well as inside sales teams
  • Ability to set a clear vision and execute on a strategy as well as roll up your sleeves to get into the details when necessary
  • Experience with global change management and effectively communicating strategic objectives and action plans to multiple teams
  • Strong global experience to help drive international expansion

p.s. There is a rise of CROs in high-tech and SaaS (see this VentureBeat article). Also, see this article about the role of a CRO.


UPDATED from an original 2014 article.