Corporate Cupid: Be Sure Your New VP of Sales is the Perfect Match

Executive matchmaking is no small task. With so much riding on a role like VP of Sales you need to be confident your top candidate is in fact “the one”. Sales management strategist and talent management expert Lee Salz identifies what to look for to ensure it’s a match made in heaven — not hell.

When you are a small expansion-stage company focused on rapid growth, few roles are more important than the person in charge of driving revenue — the VP of Sales. How can you guarantee when the time comes you will pick the right person for the job and avoid making an extremely costly — perhaps even fatal — mistake for your business?
In a recent podcast recorded with OpenView, award-winning author and founder of Sales Architects, Lee Salz (one of OpenView’s Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012) explained that — as with any good matchmaking effort — the first step is developing your own assessment of what it is you are looking for, want you want from the role. Enter the search process without a clear picture of what the position actually entails, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

First Things First: Is a VP of Sales Really the Role You Are After?

“When it comes to sales,” Salz says, “there are myriad of titles thrown about, but they don’t necessarily correspond to a VP’s role and responsibilities. For example, there are individual revenue contributors — salespeople — who carry Vice President of Sales titles but have very limited responsibilities. The title, itself, can be misleading and often misused.”
If you are hiring a Vice President of Sales, what you are really doing is bringing on a public-facing executive who clients will assume has the power to change pricing and service scope, Salz explains. Companies should keep that in mind if you plan on sending your new hire out on sales calls. If that is the case, you may consider hiring a Director of Sales instead. A VP should be focused on building sales organizations, not contributing revenue.
Assuming that you have the correct responsibilities in mind for your new hire, then it’s time to figure out what your company needs from its new VP. Salz provides three tips for honing in on the best candidate for you.

1) Know Your Needs

First, Salz suggests, consider which parts of the business you are going to continue to oversee directly as CEO, and clearly determine which parts will be the domain of your new VP of Sales. For example, even if you have a sales background or are a good salesman yourself, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can build a successful sales team or develop an effective sales compensation structure. If there are areas and responsibilities that aren’t your strong suit, those are the things you will want to delegate to your new hire.
Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for the needs of an expansion-stage company. Take some time to figure out where the gaps are in your executive team’s abilities, and look for a person who has the skill set to fill those gaps.

2) Target the Two Qualities that Matter Most

As Salz points out, there are two keys to a VP of Sales role: sales leadership and sales management. Sales management entails developing a successful sales strategy and the process needed to put that strategy into play and to make it sustainable. Sales leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire salespeople to follow the sales strategy and process.
Each side of the coin is equally important, as a great manager with poor leadership skills will never be able to implement strategy, and a great leader with no management skills won’t have a process in place to get consistent results from the sales team.

3) Keys to Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right

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Beyond broad management and leadership capabilities, Salz recommends looking for signals as to how well candidates will be able to keep salespeople focused on their responsibilities while still keeping them fired up. For example, ask about any contests and programs they might have put together to make sales teams happier and more engaged. Simply pushing people to sell more doesn’t inspire.
Remember that sales management experience trumps industry experience, Salz advises. Your VP will be focused on building an organization rather than pitching prospects, so any management best practices, even those from other industries, will be hugely helpful.
Sit down with your executive team and determine where you want your VP of Sales to take you. If you can’t determine that on your own, consider bringing in outside help to analyze the situation and give you advice. In the end, your VP of Sales is responsible for fueling your company growth, so take your time and get the decision right.

What do you think the most important qualities to look for in a VP of Sales are?

Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Kristin McLeod is Senior Digital Marketing Manager at OpenView where she focuses on all aspects of digital marketing. She previously served as Director of Digital Marketing at Cayan, a payments technology company, running their demand generation programs via paid, organic, social and affiliate marketing.
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