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How To Fill Your Next Generation of Sales C Suite Roles

The sales profession is getting more specialized than ever before. Large organizations have chief revenue officers, vice presidents, directors, and individual contributors. That’s not all. Customer success, sales operations, and sales engineering are growing rapidly to help sell more complex products.

What If Half Of Your Sales Department Left?

Many employees are planning to leave their jobs today. A recent Gallup survey found that nearly half (48%) of the working population are actively searching for a new job. For exceptional employers, the number of people searching for new roles might be a bit lower. If this trend hasn’t impacted your organization already, it is only a matter of time.

There are a few proactive steps you can take to keep your sales organization leadership strong.

1. Refresh Your Succession Plan

Every specialist sales leadership like chief revenue officer, head of customer success, and VP of sales should be covered in your succession plan. Unfortunately, many organizations limit their succession planning efforts to a handful of executive roles like CEO or CFO. That’s a mistake. Losing a sales leader can have a significant impact on your organization’s ability to meet revenue goals.

Creating or refreshing your sales leadership succession plan is simple. For each key sales leadership role, identify two possible successors. The first successor for the position is your immediate short-term replacement. The short-term successor has most of the skills and experience needed to step into the role. In addition, identify a long-term successor. This person could take over the sales leadership role in 1-2 years with the right development plan and support.

For your sales succession plan to be valid, it should be refreshed annually at a minimum. In addition, the document should be refreshed whenever a key person leaves. Once the document is in place, use it as an input to performance management. A succession plan is a living document that helps you to plan career development so that the organization can thrive.

2. Review Your Promotion Track Record

Your organization’s track record of promotion needs to be evaluated from a few perspectives.

  • How Many Sales Leadership Roles Were Filled Through Promotions?

Start by recognizing that many ambitious sales professionals will leave your organization if they see no path forward for promotion. 

As a rule of thumb, aim to fill at least 50% of your sales leadership roles through promotions. If internal promotions are 100% of leadership roles, your company may lack the new ideas and energy to innovate. The reverse situation is also a problem. Exclusively relying on external hiring to fill openings may demoralize the sales team cause them to look elsewhere for career growth.

  •  Review Your Diversity & Inclusion Record.

Next, review your diversity and inclusion track record of hiring people for sales leadership roles. If there are no women or people of color in sales leadership roles, that is a warning sign that your promotion system has problems. Continuing to neglect diversity in sales leadership could harm the company’s reputation.

  •  How Have Promoted Sales Leaders Performed?

Making the transition from a star sales performer to a sales leader is difficult. Ask yourself if the last few promotions have gone smoothly. Perhaps the newly promoted sales director lacked support and mentorship from other directors? Maybe the new person struggled to change their focus from individual deals to managing the organization’s overall sales strategy.

By reflecting on your organization’s promotion practices over time, it is easier to spot patterns and weaknesses. For example, you may see that the expectations of your succession plan are out of sync with promotions. In that case, your understanding of your employee’s career goals may be out of date.

3. Invest in Upskilling and Reskilling  

59% of learning and development professions see upskilling and reskilling the workforce as their top area of focus in 2021. – 2021 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn

The economic uncertainties of the past few years may have caused your company to suspend training efforts. That’s a mistake. Research from IBM reports that the average half-life of skills  is five years, while technical skills have a half-life of just 2.5 years. As time passes, older skills become less relevant. When sales employees lack the relevant skills to engage with customers, success will become harder.

Investing in upskilling efforts is a critical way to grow your next generation of sales specialist leaders. For example, you might identify a few account managers with exceptional leadership skills to lead your customer success function.

In addition, a quarter of Gen Z (born 1997-2012) and Millennials (born 1997 to 1995) professionals identify learning as the aspect of work that makes them most happy, according to CNBC. Failing to offer exciting learning opportunities may cost you a significant share of your younger talent

Relieve The Pressure On Your Sales Leaders

“Over 60% of leaders reported feeling “used up at the end of the workday” – a significant indicator of burnout.” – DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2021

The above strategies are primarily defensive measures to build your sales leadership pipeline. Those methods take time to pay off. Mentoring high performers to get ready for a leadership role could take months or longer. What if you cannot wait that long? Sure, you can make short-term progress on your sales goals without a sales leader. Those temporary measures will only be sustainable for a short period.

Right now, there is a good chance that your sales leaders and executives are feeling burned out. Taking more vacation days will help in some cases. That said, time off from work is not going to solve structural problems like excessive workloads.

Go On The Offense To Find Your Next Sales Leader

So far, we’ve focused on ways to boost retention and grow your sales talent. All of these efforts are worthwhile. Yet, these strategies are somewhat reactive and long-term in nature.

What happens when an essential sales leader leaves unexpectedly? Find out how Peak recently helped equipment company John Deere find a new sales leader to manage three offices.

Whether you need a sales VP, a chief revenue officer, or a manager to lead a team of high-performing account executives, contact PeakSales today to find your next sales leader. 

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.