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Don’t Make This Common Hiring Mistake

Don’t Make This Common Hiring Mistake

Beware: The Entrepreneurial Spirited Candidate is the Lone Wolf to Look Out For!

You’re looking for a new Vice President of Sales, and think you’re going about it the right way. You’re putting a lot of thought into the kind of candidate your organization needs at this time. Especially if you’re a startup, you may have added “entrepreneurial” at the top of your list of must-have traits. 

Drop ‘entrepreneur’ from your vocabulary if you’re looking for this type of candidate:

“We run into this constantly,” says Ryan Moore, Practice Lead for Executive Search at Peak Sales Recruiting. “Especially among our North American clients, they’ll ask for an entrepreneur, but that’s not actually the skill set they’re looking for. Entrepreneurial can mean two different things depending on whether you’re the employer or the employee. That slight difference is causing the majority of them to make the wrong hire.”

What Clients expect when they say “entrepreneur”:

To clients, “entrepreneur” means someone willing to wear multiple hats, get their hands dirty and make things happen: Chasing payments, helping with operations, writing contracts, spending a lot of time making calls with junior sales staff. Entrepreneurs are people who take ownership of their work. 

“When we talk to job candidates who really are entrepreneurs, we get a completely different take on that word,” Moore says. “The candidate tells us that they started a business but it didn’t go well. Now they’re going back to corporate life, but it’s not their first choice. They really want their own business, so they’re planning to work full time but also chase two other opportunities on the side.”

Companies can certainly appreciate this entrepreneurial spirit, but not when it turns into moonlighting for the employees’ side business. You need to look for this trait in someone who will tackle your business as their own.

“When a client tells me they’re looking for someone who’s entrepreneurial, I immediately ask, ‘What do you mean by that?’ Once we clarify that they aren’t actually looking for an entrepreneur, I encourage them to take that out of the job description and the interview script.” Moore explains. 

Focus on the “entrepreneur’s” tenacity and grit;

  • Can they roll up their sleeves?
  • Do they have an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality?
  • Can they work in a sales organization that’s short on resources?
  • Can they avoid moonlighting?
  • Do they naturally want to be part of the team and seek growth within the organization?

A fear of commitment:

Using that entrepreneurial criteria will get you some skilled candidates, but they may not be a committed manager who’s going to lock in and stay focused for two to three years. Moore says he finds a lot of entrepreneurial sales consultants who will parachute in, set up a sales process and department infrastructure — and then leave. While that may be helpful, it’s a short term relationship.

“The other thing we see is that some real entrepreneurs want to control everything,” Moore notes. “They’re used to making all of the decisions. Start-ups tend to be very cross-functional, and other leaders may feel steamrolled. In the opposite case, sales becomes very insular and the leader doesn’t care about how sales affects or integrates with the rest of the organization.” 

Verifying the entrepreneur’s track record:

The worst outcome may be getting someone who’s a bad fit who also doesn’t have the sales chops. It’s hard to verify a true entrepreneur’s track record. If an owner/operator says they sold $1 million in a year, who do you call to confirm that? 

“With a sales person who’s been employed by a company, income is highly correlated to sales quota; if your income is high, you’re most likely hitting your quotas,” Moore explains. 

Once the recruiter gets to the verification stage, they go back to former supervisors and confirm the numbers the candidate provided, and they look for any misrepresentation. “As a quick check, I will ask a salesperson to tell me what their number was last year and then have them walk me through how they met it. If their number was $1 million, and they can lay out that they sold five deals over six months, and they have the numbers for each deal, that level of detail gives me confidence that they’re telling the truth.”

Betting On A Lone Wolf

Another drawback is that some entrepreneurs are more about “me” than “we”. They’re the proverbial lone wolf. They are laser-focused on personal achievements for themselves, but your sales leader needs to build — and care about — a team.

There are circumstances where that can work; “The lone wolf has a very distinct character,” Moore says. “They will drive revenue, but they want to be left alone. If the organization has urgent revenue needs — you have investors and there’s a narrow window to haul in some sales for example — they can do that. They’ll keep their heads down, won’t be distracted by any chaos going on around them and just sell. It often works where there’s no sales team. They’re the first sales person and you’re not even thinking about adding a team until 18 months out.”

The mistake companies make is thinking that the lone wolf is going to change its nature and become a shepherd. As soon as you start to grow a team and wrap the process around sales, the lone wolf will begin disconnecting and eventually, they’ll feel constrained and look to leave.

Short term growth with the entrepreneur: 

The entrepreneurial VP of Sales can be useful at some stages of your company’s growth, but in the end, you’re going to need someone who values being part of a team. Moore advises thinking very carefully about making a hire based on short-term needs. It can work, but if your goal is to grow revenues to a high level and build a solid and productive sales team, drop “entrepreneur” from your vocabulary.

Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.