How can a CMO balance the expectations of the CEO and CSO?

Are you a CMO caught between rigorous demands and expectations from the CEO to your right and CSO on your left? All too often in companies both large and small, as the CMO, you will encounter tension with the CSO. In too many cases, instead of working together, that tension makes you feel you are in constant competition, and as the mutual frustration mounts, it pushes you and your teams further apart. This leaves the company’s revenue performance to suffer and positions the CEO to pick sides.

As CMO, your job is alignment. Many will say this is the CEO’s responsibility, but top-performing CMOs embrace this charter. If you focus on alignment, you will begin to repair the frustrating dynamics, stemming from years of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Here are five areas where you can facilitate alignment as the CMO:

1) The Buyer Profile:

Agreeing on an ideal buyer profile is simply the most important thing you can do. If marketing and sales are on different pages as far as who you are targeting, the cycle of frustration and finger-pointing will unendingly continue. Even if you think you are on the same page, there is a good chance there are areas where you disagree or simply misunderstand.

Actionable recommendation: Get together with the CSO (and your solution leadership in many cases) and go through every single detail of your target profile — organization industry, location, business size, as well as buyer personas/roles. Create an ideal buyer profile and agree upon it. Take this to the CEO for final buy-in and then share with everyone on your teams. Each person needs to be able to explain the profile and know it front to back. Creating this will change things. I promise.

2) Definition of a Qualified Lead:

Once the profile has been decided upon, you also need to agree on what makes a lead “qualified” and worth pursuing. The distinctions between “marketing qualified lead” (MQL) and “sales qualified lead” (SQL) compound matters for many revenue teams. A lead can fit a lot of the profile criteria, but if it is missing a few key pieces, it could be a waste of time for everyone.

Actionable recommendation: Create terms of engagement that both teams agree upon. Agree on a framework that you jointly develop and revisit often to refine. Be careful with BANT as a model, as it is outdated for too many scenarios. We often employ the “4 As” as attributes for a qualified lead: alignment, appropriateness, authority, action. You can use a number system to score and prioritize the leads. This will allow sales to strategically pinpoint the most fruitful leads and communicate that in a way that makes sense to both parties: “The lead needs to be a 7/10 on this scale, and if it is we will go after it in 24 hours or less.” This is another safeguard against sending the sales team out on wild goose chases. When both marketing and sales agree on this together, it will help everyone zero-in on who your true target buyer is.

3) An Addressable Market and Coverage Model:

Sales teams often express frustration in being sent into a market this is either too small, over-saturated or already captured largely by another company. Sales teams are also being sent to sell in places where there is a misalignment in territory coverage — not having the right people in the right places.

Actionable recommendation: If you have aligned on the ideal buyer profile, then leverage market analysis (e.g., developed in-house or purchased from industry analysts) to analyze the market opportunity in a quantified manner. Segment the market as needed and map it out so you can visually “see it” (both the quantity and location). With that in hand, “pin” your current sales channels on the map, identify excesses and gaps in the coverage, and solidify a plan to address those mis-alignments. Step away for a couple days. This exercise can be both tedious and fraught with angst as it likely involves a “human element.” Do not shy away from that aspect as tenured professionals and “friends” in the coverage model can be a double-edged sword for the business and leadership engaged in this initiative. Once you and your CSO counter-part, have a model in place and review it with other members of the leadership team (the CEO, COO, CFO, head of human resources and others). Seek their counsel and input, then make adjustments and execute on the plan.

4) Messaging & Sales Tools:

As the CMO, you must value the fact that the sales team is out having the conversations with prospects and clients and they understand what is needed in a way your team does not. They are (or, let’s be honest, aren’t) using the materials your team is creating. Are you sure you are providing the messaging and tools that make sense and are relevant to the target profile? Finger-pointing is rampant on this issue. Sales blames marketing for not making good enough tools, and marketing blames sales for not using the tools at all or correctly.

Actionable recommendation: Stop the blame game and get on the same page. Invite sales to the initial meetings where these key pieces are identified and even built, partnering with them in the creation process. Don’t just ask for their input, but ask strategic questions to help your team better understand the buyers and how these tools could be crafted in a more relevant and useful way. You can even send members of your marketing team out with the sales teams to a few client meetings. These ride-alongs can be immensely helpful for them to experience these conversations first hand and learn how to create content to support their sales colleagues on the front lines.

5) Consistent, Ongoing Governance:

As sales and marketing align on elements of the go-to-market strategy, they need to have some “checks and balances” for ensuring that alignment is fine-tuned going forward. How often are you convening with your counterparts to re-check and refine the approach?

Actionable recommendation: Weekly and monthly governance calls between both teams are a must and should focus on:

  • Pipeline: after agreeing on target coverage, where is it versus target and where should money/resources be allocated
  • Demand generation: upcoming activities, including awareness and expectations from both teams to maximize ROI
  • Lead quality: meeting score expectations, change score

This keep teams talking and focused on continuous improvement. Invite your CEO to join the meeting/call between marketing and sales to hear the progress and witness first hand the impact of alignment.

In some way or another the tension between sales and marketing will always exist. Frankly, it can be very healthy as it creates a continuous improvement cycle. By taking the steps above, you can help alleviate the non-productive tension and turn it into a culture of teamwork that challenges both parties in a positive way.

The finger-pointing needs to end, and you, the CMO, can take the first step toward building something internally that will boost your company’s revenue performance like never before.

Take your CSO out to lunch, talk about all the elephants in the room, give them credit for their good work, express your desire to work together and reinforce that by requesting their input into what the marketing team can do to support them better. Then plan a regular dialogue with the two of you and the CEO to keep everyone on the same page and to create accountability among the teams. This will help redirect the cycle of miscommunication and frustration into a framework where both parties work in unison for a common objective — sustainable revenue performance.

Are you interested in taking some of these steps but would like some more insight? Feel free to contact us at, or check out our recent post: 3 Things to do This Quarter to Bridge the Gap Between Marketing and Sales.