What's in a title?

For those who may not have noticed my peculiar spelling, I happen to be English and live in England (and yes it is raining). A number of my bosses over the years have been American and when one of them joined the company he asked me what was going on with all of the Business Development Managers in the org chart. What were they and what did they do? To which I replied... "they're sales guys". To which he replied (not unreasonably), "well why the hell are they called Business Development Managers?" Good question.

What we have here is a cultural dissonance. In the USA with its immigrant, enterprise-led culture sales people are seen to represent all that is good about the American Dream. They are self-reliant, entrepreneurial and pretty much get rewarded in direct proportion to how hard they work. Historically in Europe (and particularly the UK) we have things such as the class system and the old-boy network with sales being pretty low in the hierarchy of professions. In fact probably the only lower status professions are journalism and politics. So over here we go out of our way to hide the fact that someone is a sales person. This is done by giving them titles such as business development manager, account executive and commercial manager... anything that doesn't mention the "s" word.

On a more serious note what does your title matter? I would say that we have to separate out two things here - What your position is within your company and what title you present to the outside world (particularly customers)? Your internal position may be "sales engineer" with a job grade, clear reporting lines in the org chart and relevant pay scale. However, if you are dealing with CxO level contacts at customers it might make sense that your business card says "VP - Northern Region"... whatever gives you the credibility to get the job done.