Why Sales and CEOs will always give me a migraine

Catherine Farley Avatar

Catherine Farley | 15 February 2021

Saleswhale is the 5th place I have worked in Marketing. Even as the smallest company and a company focused on alleviating the stress Marketing teams endure between Sales and CEOs - I continuously find myself stuck between my head of Sales and CEO. 

Here are the questions I ask myself weekly and some of the answers I’ve constructed to alleviate the teeth grinding, migraines, and stress eating.

Why can’t Sales and CEOs get on the same page? 

Simply put: Sales will only ever have one goal (revenue), and CEOs’ plans change with the wind. Something I genuinely admire about Sales is their openness and transparency in their priorities. No matter the company or the time of day, a salesperson will always put revenue above all else. Now that means that don’t give two nickels about “brand campaigns” or “nurture streams” or your “e-book.” If you’re not getting them a meeting - they don’t care. 

CEOs, on the other hand, are far more complex. With each CEO you work with, you’ll notice they have a select number of passion projects and teams they gravitate to. Usually, it’ll be what area they used to be a subject matter expert in and what tasks they think will brand them well in front of investors, board members, friends, and the press. This means Marketing is top of mind for CEOs. But not for scoring meetings with Sales. CEOs care about marketing in terms of captivating metrics, glossy brand projects, and anything they leverage to share their talking points. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I find both reasonably annoying. When I work for weeks on end for a brand campaign and Sales will flat out tell me they don’t care. Or when I work on that same brand campaign and a CEO derails the entire thing because he wants it to include an illegible and snooze-worthy e-book that I know will get 0 leads, meetings, downloads, or views. 

Just last week, my CEO asked me to work on promoting a product demo webinar. Harmless right? Except what marketing person wants a technical product tutorial on a random Tuesday? That doesn’t scream purchase ready ICP or even conversation ready lead. For obvious reasons, my Sales leader agreed that focusing efforts on a technical presentation was not a good use of our revenue-driving resources. But alas, the CEO wants what he wants. Whether it’s to practice his presentation skills, appease the product team, or because someone told him it was a good idea, it doesn’t matter. It is not a revenue-driving event, but I will be working on supporting it. (Register for it and bring me some serotonin)

Why do they take it out on Marketing?

Short answer: Because they can. 

Don’t hate the messenger. 

Sales’ job is to get as much help as possible, use any resource at their disposal to close the deal. I promise you on everything that no CEO is telling Sales to focus on anything but revenue. So Sales is telling you what they know is true - revenue is king. So when a salesperson asks you for help - they are going after the only goal they care about - revenue. 

CEOs have to deal with the politics of board members, investors, people managing and picking the right metrics and tactics to tell a captivating story. They’ve got a lot more s%&# to worry about, and they need to use every tool at their disposal.

P.S. Marketing, you are a tool at a CEO’s disposal. 

Who should Marketing listen to? 

I bet you think I’m going to say Sales? 

You’re wrong. 

While Sales priorities are 110% clearer than a CEO, they don’t always take precedence. 

If Marketers only listened to Sales, they would be a tactical event planning / BDR / swag buying team. There would be no copywriting, brand building, SEO, sales enablement, collateral libraries, and all the other functions we know need to exist to have a successful company. Even if a Sales team appreciates the unseen efforts and products of Marketing’s work - they don’t know what it takes to get the job done. 

On the other hand, if Marketers only listened to CEOs, we would go clinically insane. While there might be some “strategy” backing the decisions and everchanging direction, we wouldn’t complete the project’s lifecycle, and most importantly, we wouldn’t be helping our Sales comrades. 

Think of yourself as a child with divorced parents. You are caught in the middle. You are being asked to pick aside. When in actuality, you’d prefer the parents just to figure it out. But guess what? They won’t. So put on your Marketing shoes and pick. Yes, for each project, you need to choose either Sales or your CEO. 

Spoiler alert: Sometimes you’ll pick one side but have to work overtime to appease the other. 

Just this morning, I was told Sales needs more pipeline. So I put aside the glossy, buzzword full, fun projects that my CEO loves and launched an email campaign to dig up any leads for my Sales leader. 

Is there a job that doesn’t have this issue? 

No. So like shed a tear. Grieve. Scream into your pillow and get back to it. 

How do I deal with it?

I pull out my hair. Take a breathe. Then follow my playbook and get to business. If you want a copy of my playbook stay tuned. I'll publish my proven fool-proof guide next week. 

Catherine Farley Avatar

Catherine Farley

Catherine Farley is the Director of Marketing at Saleswhale. She has 10+ years experience designing unimaginable marketing campaigns and storytelling. Catherine is the proud owner of two Great Pyrenees and due to their shedding is rarely seen wearing black.

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