Skip to content

Are We Overcomplicating Sales?

1. Titles

In Sales, we overcomplicate everything…no seriously, EVERYTHING even the titles we use…

Sales vs. Business Development

How many different titles can we toss out that compensate for the title of “sales rep?”

First off, we have the separation between “sales” and “business development.” Business development was changing up a name so people didn’t get associated with being in sales (ok, I don’t know that for sure, but seems legit). We suited up, shaved, and went out for a night on the town celebrating the fact that we weren’t associated with sales! Although now, it’s turned into a bit of both/and. It’s still sales, but also starting to represent more lead generation. See below for how sales continued to confuse everyone.

Lead generation

We started specializing in sales roles, separating functions to focus on top-of-funnel vs bottom-of-funnel activities. I like it, it shows some optimization. We couldn’t decide on a single title for this position, so everyone re-invented the wheel…sales development rep, account development rep, lead development rep, business development rep, channel development rep, etc.

Now, many are simply referring to this top-of-funnel development rep as an XDR. Again, we overcomplicate things so we’re using an X as a placeholder for all-encompassing descriptors. *Sigh*

Account executive

This one is near the top of my list as a pet peeve. What exactly makes this role, an “executive?” What are they the executive of? A transaction? Most account executives don’t own the customer, they just own selling the customer then handing it off to an account manager/customer success manager, etc.

Did we just want to pump up someone’s chest, give them an executive title, but treat them like a transactional cog in the assembly line of sales?

Again…overcomplicating, although this time a misnomer as well.

Vice President of Sales

Much like the AE role is near the top of my list…

This one takes the cake as a number 1 pet peeve! I blame SaaS companies for this. Actually, I blame SaaS companies for most of these inflated titles. I’ve seen VPs of Sales that are individual contributors, a player/coach (with quota and team management responsibility, ugh!), directly managing a small team, directly managing a larger team, directly managing managers, and finally managing managers, directors, and a larger sales organization.

Why give someone a VP title if they aren’t leading a team of leaders? The same is true for the Director of Sales. If you aren’t leading a team, you shouldn’t be a director. I don’t care if you are selling financial services, enterprise deals, or talking to C Suite of Fortune 100 companies.

We overcomplicate and overinflate. Maybe this is one reason why the average tenure of VP of Sales is declining. Inflated title matched with the incorrect hire at the incorrect stage of the company.

Chief Revenue Officer

This one is definitely in my top 3. If there is a CRO title, and that role doesn’t own every part of revenue creation and retention, then simply put it’s not a CRO. I can count on 500 hands how many job descriptions for a CRO I’ve seen that only owns sales. Maybe owns marketing too, but rarely owns customer success.


If a CRO only owns sales, call it a Chief Sales Officer (CSO). If you want to put someone in charge of sales and marketing, have their own post-sales customer service/success/experience and own the full customer lifecycle. Revenue doesn’t just mean new revenue, in fact, existing revenue often represents the largest piece of the pie. If someone oversees revenue, then make them own everything about revenue.

2. Outreach channels

This is where things really get interesting. I’ll first say there’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to building sales and marketing outreach. Customer acquisition is tough and regularly requires testing. Testing is the key component here that I believe gets overlooked often.

Testing also can become an unnecessary crutch.

When you start performing tests and make assumptions about correlation and causation, you can get into trouble. A lot of companies tout a lot of data out there! Here’s how to get a 50% open rate, call CEOs at 7 am on Tuesday mornings and they’ll pick up, send text messages because they get opened and read more than emails, and on and on and on.

These tips are great, and quite frankly should be taken with a grain of salt.

Don’t buy into the outcome, buy into the activity. If you see some data out there about texting, take it to your team and talk about it. There are plenty of providers out there where you can get cell phone numbers. But, do you text in a first outreach sequence? Or is it better to use it after a first conversation? Do you use it to confirm/hold a meeting? Or is it better to text a gatekeeper in hopes of getting in front of your decision-maker? These are all things you won’t see in these data studies. The reason is…there’s no one right way. Test it in your world with your buyers throughout your cadences, then make decisions from there.

Now let’s look at the long-time debated cold call vs every other digital channel (email, social, video, etc).

Again I’ll say, there’s no right answer for every application here. Don’t buy into the hype. Try it and test it! Is cold calling dead? No, and I don’t believe it ever will be. Is email useless? Maybe, but we all send and receive an email so there’s no argument that it’s a popular channel. Is #connectandpitch or #pitchslapping becoming the norm on LinkedIn? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that channel isn’t beneficial.

Video is all the rage now! Embedding video into emails, using LinkedIn video to send messages, posting videos on LinkedIn with or without transcription. Does it work? Yes and no. You won’t get an easy-button answer!

3. Metrics, KPIs, and Goals

Who knows the difference between a metric and KPI (Key Performance Indicator)…without Googling?

What about a goal vs a KPI?

Let’s be honest, they got tossed around interchangeably all the time. That’s not really the point here, but it is important to understand that at times they can mean the same thing and at other times they are inherently different.

As this article said in the beginning, in sales we overcomplicate things. One great example is an amazing book that Jason Jordan wrote, titled Cracking the Sales Management Code.

This book opened my eyes to the world of metrics and left me wondering how and why things got so complicated when trying to measure the effectiveness of a sales operation.

He starts out by conducting this study with sales leaders and executives and found that they used 306 DIFFERENT metrics to evaluate their sales teams. I don’t know if I can even conjure up 306 different metrics across every part of a business, let alone JUST in sales. Wow! As you can imagine, the book then starts to dissect them all, group them into buckets, and then summarizes which ones should be attached to reps, front-line leaders, executives, and companies. He does a great job articulating the outputs here and giving sales leaders of all sizes a great playbook to focus on the inputs throughout each stage of your company and within the selling motions.

Ok, now back to the metric, KPI, goal thing. I don’t know if I’m right, but this is how I operate, and it seems to work well…

Goals are overarching outputs (lagging indicators). These would be things like revenue goal, market share, net profit ($ and %), cash flow, etc. These are high-level points in time that are allowing the business to move onward and upward. There could be arguments to make these KPIs, so I’ll surrender to that. For this example, I’ll use those as goals and then dive into metrics and KPIs.

KPIs would then be those key metrics to demonstrate how on or off target you are from your goals. Some KPIs under revenue could be net new revenue, retained revenue, cross/upsell revenue, or reduced revenue (lost and/or package downgrades). Metrics are then subsets of KPIs and should be aligned accordingly. Metrics should give you pulse checks on how well you are performing against a KPI. Metrics underneath retained revenue could be the number of users renewed, lifetime value (LTV), or time to value. Metrics become the inputs that are used to assess effort, success, and ultimate alignment toward those KPIs that will get you to your goals.

I recognize I did a lot of venting in this piece. Not everything had a solution, but hopefully, it gets everyone to really think about the problems we place on ourselves in sales.

In conclusion, here are a few things you can do tomorrow to start making an impact:

1. Stop fixating on titles and fixate more on the role definition and the expected contribution of each role. Make sure that everyone knows their role and, more importantly, knows how to be successful!

2. Don’t overanalyze outreach. It’s easier to just do than it is to postulate what you should do. My friend Ryan Reisert. makes this simple: Make a list, know what to say, call the list, and follow up.

It really is that simple.

3. Look at what you can control and use those metrics to drive your activities. Boards, VCs, executive leadership, and finance, all want something unique and different. Sometimes they need to be appeased, sometimes you can fight them (figuratively of course). Focus on what you can control and what your teams can control and go execute!

Ed Porter | Fractional Chief Revenue Officer