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Here’s How to Hire a VP of Sales That Will Last Longer than 19 Months

Amy Volas

April 12th, 2018

How to hire a VP of Sales

Bad sales hires are painfully expensive. It’s a helluva lot more expensive when you’re in the dark about how to hire your VP of Sales. Take this founder of a startup that I just spoke to—they churned their VP of Sales after he crashed and burned in less than 14 months.

It’s cost their business four quarters of performance, employee morale, and a BDR team that’s hanging by a thread led by a shining star of a director of sales who is stepping up to the plate but stretched way too thin trying to hold it together.

And the worst part is, this is a common story for me to hear these days.

While it would be easy to say this is because I’m deep in the world of sales recruiting, I know for a fact it’s not. If you haven’t seen Gong.io’s latest research on how the average VP of Sales tenure has plummeted in the last 7 years, take a hard look at the data below.

It’s sobering, to say the least:

How to hire a VP of Sales: VP of Sales' Job Tenure

If you’re like me, the logical question is how do we fix this?

Because not only is your VP of Sales responsible for driving your revenue bus, they’re also incredibly expensive when they churn out—$300k-$400k+ on the low end. And that doesn’t even include the repercussions on the organization as a whole.

My take? It’s been said that hiring is the most important skill a founder will ever need and I’m going to suggest we start there.

While Gong has some great ideas on how to address this problem (all of which I agree with given that salespeople are also getting worsemore on that in a sec), none of them matter if you don’t have a VP of Sales that has what it takes to implement those things in the first place.

That said, here’s how we vet all-stars for our clients at Avenue Talent Partners.

1) Know Who You Need to Hire and Why (Heads Up, Many Struggle with This)

As crazy as it sounds, the single biggest problem I see when startups hire sales leaders these days is not actually knowing who they need or why they need them.

I saw this happen recently for the umpteenth time when a startup hired a CRO for a glorified senior director of sales role (less than 50 person company). They paid well over $800K+ in total comp when all was said and done. But this person didn’t hit their targets once in the entire time they were there before they bailed.

It was an incredible amount of money for a skillset that was completely mismatched. And they paid a hefty price for it.

Related: How to Become a Best-in-Class VP of Sales by 25

How do you end up hiring the wrong VP of Sales?

Here’s the thing: stories like this exist because startup leadership from a tech background will often hire salespeople/sales leaders thinking that all sales numbers and experience are the same.

But they’re not. 150% growth doesn’t mean jack unless it’s in the same context that you’ll need them to perform in when they join YOU.

For example, there is a BIG difference between someone who can step in and scale an existing sales process vs. someone who has experience building them from scratch. There’s an even bigger difference when someone comes from a well-established sexy brand where they inherited a team and just had to maintain it.

Simply put, this is all about connecting the dots to see if there is common ground or not. You have to make sure that what they are capable of maps back to what you need.

And that’s why it’s critical to make sure you truly understand the needs of your business before you pull the trigger on a sales leader (which is where a lot of startups trip up)

5 Questions to ask yourself before you make that new hire

Here are some of the things you need to be asking yourself about your business so you can hire the right VP of Sales:

  1. How much selling has been done so far and what have you learned?
  2. Have you mapped out your total addressable market yet or will the said hire be doing this heavy lifting for you?
  3. Is your go-to market strategy strong?
  4. Do you have a solid lead-gen pipeline established?
  5. What stage of growth is your business in? Each stage isn’t created equal and as mega growth occurs leadership has to follow suit.

The goal here is to hammer these details out so expectations and skill sets are aligned with your needs. And both of those are critical. A proven track record is one thing, but the VP you hire must also know what they’re really getting into as well.

Otherwise, the chances of making it beyond year two are slim to none.

A hiring scorecard template will help you assess your business and will ensure you evaluate your candidates consistently every time.

However, if you’re reading this (or that article) and feeling even a little lost, keep in mind it’s okay to ask for help. There’s no shame in seeking guidance if you’re not sure what you’re doing.

But there is when you tank $500k+ on a mistake that could have been avoided.

2) Make Sure They Have a Proven Track Record as a Coach

Let’s talk about Gong’s findings for a second.

The data shows that much of the reason VP’s are kicking the can so quickly is due to the fact that salespeople are failing to meet quotas at a higher rate these days.

See for yourself:

How to hire VP Sales: Percentage of reps attaining quota

The reasons for this decline can easily be traced to things that are within a VP’s control too: subpar win rates and a high cost of revenue which results in a high rep turnover.

Does your VP have a sales coaching mindset?

Or in other words, things that can be solved by coaching. And specifically, coaching for “middle of the pack” salespeople.

So that said, one of the most important skills you need to look for in the VP you hire is someone with right sales coaching mindset. A VP with a track record of coaching salespeople that are close to their targets but never quite hit them.

As Chris Orlob lays out in his article, this will help in many ways: higher win rates mean more deals closed, more reps hitting quota and getting paid, and lower turnover.

And if reps are doing that, your VP is going to look pretty good.

(One other point that I hope you picked up in here—setting truly attainable sales goals is CRITICAL to making sure your sales organization performs at a high level and to helping your VP succeed)

3) Hire a VP Who Believes What You Believe

How is your leader going to lead your team to help you grow the business if they’re not intrinsically motivated to help you achieve your mission?

Answer: they’re not. At least, not very well.

The truth is, people don’t buy what you sell, they buy your mission. And a lot of businesses forget this applies to their sales hires of the future too. But it’s especially important for leaders because they’re the ones setting the tone and culture of an organization.

Watch this TED Talk from Simon Sinek where he explains how this works:

I’m guessing you’ve worked on your mission or “why” for your customers already on some level. But if you want to get an all-star sales leader on board that will help you grow quickly (and stick around), you need to market your “why” to the talent pool too.

Take it from me—the best salespeople and sales leaders want to believe in what they are selling. Even more so, they want to believe in the business they are building by selling it.

So if they find out it’s not what they signed up for or not what they’re after, they’re out the door.

4) Make Sure Your Candidate Experience and the Way You Onboard Is on Point

Talented people are rarely lacking opportunities. In fact, they’re rarely unemployed! So if you want to get an all-star VP on board to help you grow, you need to make sure they feel like you value them and the impact they have the potential to make for you.

That said, it’s critical that you think about your candidate experience like it’s the lobby of a 5-star hotel if you want to win them over to your team. Roll out the red carpet. Show them just how much you respect their abilities.

4 Ways to improve your candidate experience

1) Ensure there’s complete transparency

Make sure the good, bad, and challenges that will be faced are clearly explained pre-hire so they have a chance to truly consider the role. If you don’t, it’s going to cost you a lot later when they feel baited and switched.

2) Over-communicate the process and what to expect

Make sure your candidates know what to expect and what happens next at all times. Tell them how your interviews work and what to expect at each step. And for the love of god, do not send a form rejection letter. EVER.

3) Give your top contenders time with your team and customers

Get your top contenders out with their potential colleagues and the team they’d be leading (if there is a team in place) to see how they interact. And not just a cursory 30 min tour of the office! Get them in on a brainstorming meeting and let them collaborate or have them work on a project to illustrate their approach to your business in earnest.

4) Have a well-planned, smooth onboarding process

Have everything ready for them to send it the first day they walk in the door. Don’t make them wait on a computer or a workstation to be set up. Get that done ahead of time and make sure you or one of the other members of the SLT is there for coffee in the morning to map out the days and weeks ahead together.

What You MUST Takeaway from This

The key takeaway here is that not all sales leaders’ numbers and experiences are created equal.

You need to understand the story behind these things when you’re vetting candidates and see how that lines up with your organization’s trajectory.

Yes, there are certain foundational abilities your VP of Sales needs to have in order to truly succeed in this day and age (like coaching). But there are also some you’ll need from your VP that will be VERY specific to your business as well.

Don’t underestimate the importance of that. It’s how you ensure you won’t be looking to go through this process all over again in 19 months.

What questions do you have about hiring and retaining all-star sales leaders? Drop it in the comments below and I’ll get you answers!

About the author

Amy Volas

Amy Volas has been a sales fanatic, recruiter, and entrepreneur for 20 years, working both for and with household brands like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Yahoo! and Jacobson. Currently the Head of Avenue Talent Partners, she spends her working hours growing startups through one of her clients’ most valuable assets—salespeople. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her cat, dog, and husband—in that order (jokes).

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