We counted 'em: 232 companies on last year's Inc. 500 list had hired both a sales director and a chief financial officer. Since the two positions were often filled within a year of each other, it's hard to identify which was the more important hire. (Businesses with growth slower than that of our 500, though, often need a sales manager before a CFO.) Below, three founders of Inc. 500 companies contrast the positions:

"The CFO kept me out of hot water with government agencies and tax reporting. We got a handle on the numbers. The marketing person made us able to grow by investing money in marketing while our competitors didn't. The marketing person definitely affected our profitability more. If you can't garner market share, you won't need anyone to pay the bills."

-- Richard Looney, CEO of Looney & Co., a $6.5-million provider of litigation-support services in Houston

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"Three years ago Account Pros was breaking even. We decided we needed a sales director to analyze the business and develop a vision of where to go. And we needed a CFO who could show the sales director and me what numbers had to be reached. They have to work together -- the CFO analyzes the numbers weekly with the sales director, so they're constantly refining them. Our CFO came from a sales environment, so he knew how to push the salespeople with goals they could understand. And the sales director has a financial background, so he can analyze the numbers qualitatively."

-- Joseph Strong, cofounder of Account Pros, a $5.3-million employment agency in Boston

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"Initially, after hiring those positions, there was a lot of redundancy. They had so much experience, either could have run the company himself. Both contribute to profitability in their own ways. Our CFO is experienced in regulatory and investor issues, which helps us manage the company. The VP of marketing is responsible for securing a clear position in the marketplace, so people know who we are and how we can meet their needs."

-- Christopher Multhauf, CEO of First Commonwealth, a $17-million managed-dental-care service in Chicago

-- Researched by Susan Greco and Phaedra Hise

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