If you make enough hiring decisions, then eventually you get a few wrong. It’s painful and expensive. Trust me, I’ve made a few hiring mistakes too. Unfortunately, I see too many sales organizations repeatedly make this hiring mistake: Vice President of Sales.
The Vice President of Sales is a huge role within a company and in my experience the title “Vice President of Sales” has been used in such a broad context that we have diluted the actual role of what the Vice President of Sales does. The VP of Sales is responsible for the executive function of a company’s revenue generation. They are responsible for recruiting, hiring, training and leading the sales team; creating and communicating sales goals; and leading the unit that generates most (or all) of the business for the company. They have to be able to clearly map the customer’s journey from first contact to post purchase, create specialization within the roles of a sales force and define territories and strategy for new markets. But very few VPs are actually VPs.
Companies in the early stages of launching are notorious for making this big mistake. If you are a new company or startup and you don’t have sales reps or managers onboard before hiring your VP of Sales, the you’ve made a huge mistake. One of the most important pieces of advice I have for company leaders is to hold off on hiring a VP of Sales until you are ready to start, scale and build a sales team, not just start your company’s selling efforts.
Before you hire your next VP of Sales, take a moment to decide if your company needs this role, and if so, how it should be filled.
The First Hire Should Be ...
If you are an early stage company, your first sales hire should never be a Vice President; it should always be a sales rep … a very good sales rep. While a Vice President may make you look good to the board, what an early stage company really needs is a Super Rep. A Super Rep is the person who can be the No. 1 advocate for your company, who begins bringing in revenue, and who goes out and simply sells, sells, and sells some more. In contrast, a good Vice President of Sales should only spend about 10 percent of their time selling; the other 90 percent is spent strategizing, coaching and managing.
Should You Promote From Within?
On the other end of the spectrum, I see well-established companies miss badly on their VP of Sales hires too. Once you’ve established your company and are ready to hire (or change) a VP of Sales, the mistake comes from promoting one of your top reps or managers into the role. This ends up being a mistake because often the VP spends too much of their time directly selling and working with customers and not enough time building out training programs, strategizing new product offerings, coaching reps on maximizing sales, pondering joint ventures, managing board and executive team expectations, and leading their sales force.
Without the VP of Sales performing VP of Sales work, a company’s sales system breaks down. The VP may think they’re doing the right thing, but what has actually happened is the company has put the wrong person in the wrong role by promoting a rep or manager. It is worth going outside of the company and hiring the right person for the VP of Sales in order to ensure the role is filled correctly and the company’s needs in that role are accomplished.
The Vice President of Sales is a role that can make or break a company, which is why it’s crucial to find the right person to fill the position. It’s not the first hire in the sales organization, and they probably don’t work for your company today.