Lately several VPs of Sales have approached me or been referred to me. Some want help understanding what is happening with their sales force. Others are new to the role and “need to make sure this goes right” to prove they can do it. Others are concerned that they might “short change the team with gaps” in their skill set.
All these conversations made me wonder, how are CEOs determining who to hire as their VP of Sales? This is arguably the most important position in your company if you are looking grow revenue. The right person leads your organization down the path of record breaking growth that investors and stockholders look for. The wrong person results in a culture of under performance, excuses, and churn (both in salespeople and customers).
Before we get to what to look for in a VP of Sales, we first have to answer the seemingly simple and obvious question of where you are now and where you want to get to. Steve Martin describes the different stages of a sales organization in this HBR article. Are you a startup adding product lines, establishing a brand and market presence, hiring sales people as fast as you can? Are you getting competition pressure and need to differentiate yourself? Or perhaps you’ve won the battle and need to maintain your position and standing. Maybe you have been around for a while and are seeing increasingly diminished returns and need to clean house a bit...
And while each stage requires a different skill set in the VP of Sales you hire, whether you're a startup or an established small company looking for accelerated growth, or if you have new division or a territory that is under performing, your VP has the daunting task of building a sales model, recruiting (or culling) a team, and personally developing that team.
What 8 competencies are necessary for a VP of Sales to do that? What questions should be answered to determine these competencies?
What is their impression of themselves as a leader? Do they believe, look, act, and sound the part? Do they focus on their ability to lead, or their team’s ability to follow? What do they do when their strategies do not align with others, can they still get to the desired outcome and consistent results? How do they make decisions; top down, bottom up, or a combination? Do they take strategic actions to achieve a written and shared goal, or act for the sake of action? How do they prioritize time on the team (not in it)?
- Strategic Thinker
How will they focus on the right issues, not the most urgent ones demanding their attention? Will they train and coach with a process and system? Can they put their ego aside and know when to concede a point or quit a losing battle? What would their first 90 days look like? Will they chase the next shiny object or adopt best practices in the areas that are in need of improvement? How do they determine what needs improvement? What is their approach to change and problem solving? How resilient are they in the face of failure?
- Develops Strong Relationships
Are they respected inside and outside of the organization? Do they have a social media following? Can they handle criticism without hurting relationships and use it to improve? Will they spend time in the field with both their managers and reps? How do they handle managers who are upset? Will they spend time building relationships?
How high is their EQ (emotional intelligence)? How committed are they to success? What are their goals? Are they written down? Do they have a plan to achieve them? Are they a self starter? Do they think everyone is? Can they work independently? Do they look for challenges? Do they prefer to play it safe? How strong is their self esteem? How are they motivated? Do they have a positive or negative outlook?
What is their method, approach, and style for coaching? How often will they debrief managers? What are their strategies for handling large vulnerable accounts? How will they get their sales force to ask the enough of the right questions? How much of what their sales teams tell them do they believe? What are their mindsets about money? Are they comfortable discussing it? How do they expect their team to sell? How much do they think the team should watch them? Are they more likely to ask questions, or tell the team what to do?
How do they run sales meetings and design compensation plans? Do they use motivation or threats as the primary means to accelerate growth? What expectations do they set and how do they communicate them? How will they continuously raise the bar? How do they recognize their managers?
How do they handle resistance and attitude problems? Will they confront when necessary? Do they rely on lagging or leading metrics to manage performance? How patient are they when things get tough? Do they take responsibility for lack or results or find reasons elsewhere? Will they cave into discounting tactics?
How do they determine the right people are in the right seats? What does the ideal sales person profile and manager look like? How does that align to the ideal buyer? Do they work with or against HR in recruiting? How much is recruiting a part of the growth strategy?
The VP who has mastered every one of these competencies doesn’t exist. Remember that your sales organization is a reflection of your company’s culture. Does your culture allow for learning and development at every level? Is it okay not to have the answers and do you support
In addition to these competencies, a VP of Sales also needs to be the example to their team. Have they mastered the fundamentals of sales?
Are you setting your new VP of Sales up to fail?
Are you a founder or CEO wondering if your VP has these fundamentals and competencies? Are they going about this the best way possible? I hate to break it to you, but the VP who has mastered every one of these competencies and fundamentals doesn’t exist.
Your sales organization is a mirror to your company’s culture. Does your culture allow for learning and development at every level? Is it okay not to have the answers and do you support the seeking of those answers?
It’s not a question of if there are important skills that your VP haven’t developed or mastered yet- it’s a questions of which ones and if they want to master them. Are you worried that there are weaknesses preventing them from being as effective as them could be? Maybe, like the VPs we talk to, they are too but are afraid to admit they need help because it might look like they don’t know what to do and that is unacceptable.
It typically takes a new manager or VP six months to 'understand the sales force’. A lot can happen in 6 months. And it puts the analysis and plan on the shoulders of one person, which isn’t realistic, scientific, or repeatable.
What if you could use an objective evaluation of the sales force that saves months of figuring it out? What if you could give your VP of Sales instant insight into the capabilities of their sales force? How would that impact their ability to design a targeted and predictable development program?