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VP Sales – The #1 Mis-Hire + 5 Things A Great VP Sales Does

Early stage companies are painfully “misfiring by mis-hiring” the most important role on the sales team. Don’t hire one until…

In Tech, The #1 Most Common Mis-hire is the VP/Head of Sales

In fact, there’s a venture capitalist saying I hate that goes something like “You’ve Got to Get Past Your First VP of Sales’ Carcass” or “The Second VP of Sales Is When You Really Start Selling” or variants thereof.

It especially bugs me because I’m a firm believer in hiring & training fewer, more committed people rather than taking a ‘churn and burn’ approach.

But…but…those VCs are right. Because in start-ups – especially Software-As-A-Service (SaaS)/ tech, it seems like the majority of first VP Sales fail. They don’t even make it 12 months (we’ve heard that the average tenure for VP Sales of early companies in the valley averages 18 months – and that includes the winners – ouch!).

Let’s look at what those Sales VPs should do since most founder/ CEOs are looking for the wrong things – especially first time founders, or founders who haven’t spent much time in or with sales.

Top 5 Things a Great VP of Sales Does At An Early, Growing Company (In Order Of Priority)

#1) Recruiting

You hire a VP Sales not to sell, but to recruit, train and coach other people to sell. So recruiting is 20% + of their time, because you’re going to need a team to sell. And recruiting great reps and making them successful is the #1 most important thing your VP Sales will do. And great VPs of Sales know this.

Peak Insight:

Depending on the industry, between 20 and 33 percent of salespeople aren’t capable of hitting their targets.

#2) Backfilling and Helping His/ Her Sales Team

Helping coach reps to close deals (not doing it for them). Getting hands-on when needed, or in big deals. Spotting issues before they blow up. Seeing opportunities ahead of the horizon.

Peak Insight:

Great Sales VPs boost a team’s confidence during sales slumps and rally them to work together.

#3) Sales Tactics

Training, onboarding. Territories (you need them). Quotas, comp. How to compete. Pitch scripts. Coordinating FUD and anti-FUD. Segmenting customers. Reports. Ensuring they and the team can get what they need from the sales / CRM system. Etc.

Peak Insight:

Create systems – simplify the sales process so reps can develop strong sales habits and tactics.

#4) Sales Strategy

What markets should we expand into? What’s our main bottleneck? Where should our time & money go? What few key metrics tell us the most about the health of our team & growth?

Peak Insight:

Monitor Activity Volumes – are calls, meetings, proposals, etc. in line with typical ratios required to hit targets?

#5) Creating and Selling Deals Him/Herself

This is last of the Top 5. Important, yes for select deals. But last on the list because if your VP Sales (or CEO, for that matter) is doing the closing rather than their team – you’re bottlenecked. No scaling for you, sir.

Peak Insight:

A founder has to accept that a salesperson in a start-up is sometimes like a boxer fighting with one arm.

SO: don’t hire a VP Sales until you are ready to scale and build and fund a small, growing sales team.

And any VP of Sales that doesn’t see this themselves — probably isn’t a great long-term Sales VP for you. Instead, he/she is either just a great individual contributor, a great builder … or a simply a flawed or desperate candidate. One challenge in hiring salespeople is that they’re often extra good at “selling” themselves too…whether or not they’re actually a good fit!


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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.