The War Room

Breaking into C Suite or VP level positions

Hello my fellow Sales Savages,

I've been thinking a lot about career development and would like to become a VP of Sales or CRO down the line. I'm currently on a track to becoming an Account Manager and will eventually be cross selling and up-selling into existing client accounts.

One thing I've quickly noticed is that many of my organizations VP's and C Suites have developed their careers at other companies and then made a lateral move into the organization after decades of experience.

I don't see many examples of someone who started off as a BDR or even an AE who was steadily promoted to the VP level or C Suite level.

What are your thoughts on the path to becoming a VP or C Suite exec? It seems like often it is not a linear progression and may involve changing organizations a number of times. What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear your all of your perspectives.


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WR Lieutenant
Bean Juice Drinker | Sales Savant
I have not worked for many VPs that were "homegrown" from the trenches of the sales team all the way up to leader...unless it's an early-stage startup.

I myself moved a few orgs, changed career tracks, and even tried to get out of sales (product management is alluring) before I landed my first sales leadership position. In that process, I learned a lot about what makes a sales org tick from SDRs to Ops, to Marketing, etc...and it's given me a well-rounded perspective.

There is no one way to get into the hot-seat, but. you do need to bust your ass and learn as much as you can along the way.

PS, I have never met a VP or CRO that was an AM. Just my experience, but it doesn't seem like a common thread I've picked up on.
Business Development
Great insight thank you! It seems like a varied amount of experience that makes you well rounded is ideal. Thanks for sharing!

VP of Sales
I have never met a VP of sales or CRO that was NOT a rep in a past life. Β many cases it was decades ago. Β I knew of 1 CRO that was never in sales, only customer success, and it went terribly. Β VP's already have to deal with "you haven't sold in 2 decades, what do you know about modern selling?" Β A CRO or VP of sales with no IC sales experience would have zero cred with me
Praised Answer
Inside Sales
Going to another company is the new promotion.Β 
VP of Sales
you will rarely see this BDR to CRO except early stage, hyper growth start ups and people who have stayed at massive companies for an entire generation. Β the former CEO at BMC was a BDR there and worked his entire career there. Β most VP's at companies like Cisco are either CEO/head of LOB at other massive companies or have been there for 20 years

in MOST cases, you are looking for an opportunity to make good money and get promoted 1-3 times at a current company over a 2+ year span. Β less than 2 years consistently creates a lot of concern on your resume because that's about how long it takes (1.5 years) for a bad rep/manager to be found out and worked out

inevitably something will change no matter how good things are going. Β an exit, bad boss, change in leadership that changes your path, your internal champions leave, etc

it is VERY rare to get promoted from an IC to a first time leader, by changing companies. Β people recruiting you want to see your current employer put their faith in you as a leader and you show success first

but the value of moving beyond keeping yourself with a strong network and company, is that you can typically gain a level or 2 within your existing "role." Β ex, BDR to ISR at one company with success. Β follow a manager or leader over and get promoted to field or enterprise. Β or for a leader, leave a company as a first line leader and join a new company as a second line, but have to build the org first

This only happens with a strong network.

also word of advice, CRO is very glamorous but the sacrifices are REAL
Corporate trainer
so from what I have seen over the last 15 years, clicks dominate leadership. If your already friends with the execs it's more likely that you can move upwards past the mid-management barrier because they take care of their own.Β 

However, the reality is if you are not, then you just end up fixing all their major issues to earn that exec spot, but they now have no need to pay you more since you already fixed the problems. and they would rather pay someone else to fix a problem that they cant fix internally.

On the other hand by going to another company that does not know or have experience in solving said problem then you can pitch yourself from higher ground. without the history, experiences, drama, or assumptions of your current coworkers who would resent an equal for moving up. crabs in a bucketΒ 

The value you learn from company A is readily available to anyone at company A however that value is exponentially more valuable at company B who has 0 access to a solution without paying you for your learnings.Β 

Just my 2 cents, get paid to learn then get headhunted to implement your learnings. I also get my gf to call first and act as a recruiter head hunter to book the meeting for me hahaΒ 
Yes move around a bit! Up or sideways, sideways is additional experience as well.Β 
References from C Suite
Deal Story
SportSalesPro closed CA Women Lead for $7.5k to the C-Suite department
Sold a private event for a leadership seminar and happy hour for 75 people. Nothing too crazy, typical event, but closed in less than four weeks with a few add-on packages. Same challenges as recently ...
Say congrats!
for the execs and above C SUITS i need your secrets!!!
When would you actually take a call?!
gundaal , Β  pmoney88 , Β  ThomasRCallahanIII Β  and 65 people voted