Founders Shouldn’t Hire a VP of Sales—Here’s Why

December 8, 2020

According to First Round’s 2019 State of Startups report, sales leadership is the most difficult hire to make.

Hiring chart

Image: State of Startups

And with sales being a top priority for founders…

Image: State of Startups

…along with it getting harder to recruit top-quality talent…

Image: State of Startups

…hiring a qualified sales leader is getting harder by the day.

And yet despite the facts, so many founders think they’ll save money and streamline the hiring process by taking care of it by themselves.

But this is not a hire that you want to cut corners on. Unless you’re extremely well-versed in executive sales recruiting, trying to hire a VP of Sales on your own is a recipe for wasted time, money, and a whole lot of risk for a painful, seven-figure mis-hire.

Ask yourself: What is your time worth to you? Are you really interested in potentially spinning your wheels for months on end as you try to:

  • Navigate a complex market
  • Understand the role
  • Scour your network and stay on top of it to talk to the right people
  • Know how to construct a hiring process that works well
  • Spend the proper time it takes to find the right person
  • Find a truly qualified person for the job at your company, all while running your business?

If you’re truly focused on “hyper growth,” what’s the likelihood of being able to do that well? Especially if you’re unclear about what the right VP of Sales looks like for your company or if the language of sales isn’t one you speak fluently?

That’s the opposite of scaling efficiently.

Hiring a VP of Sales—or any leadership position for that matter—is critical to your long-term success, and it’s a difficult task to boot. If you’re keen on trying to make this crucial hire on your own, keep reading.

First things first: Know what you’re getting into

I recently spoke to a first-time founder without much experience and no sales knowledge who’s spent the last nine months spinning his wheels trying to hire a VP of Sales.

After interviewing a slew of people, nobody has passed muster or proven themselves as a worthy candidate. To make matters worse, he doesn’t understand the reality of the market and what’s out there, so he’s stuck with a serious case of FOMO.

The conversation illuminated something many founders seem to miss. How will you know what a great VP of Sales looks like without having:

  1. Deep knowledge of your market
  2. A clear picture of what makes a candidate a great fit for the role at your company?

If you’re not armed with that knowledge upfront, you’re destined to be in over your head when it comes to hiring—especially for a VP of Sales.

For example, one of my clients posted a job on LinkedIn and got 1000+ responses.

Think about that plus everything else that needs to be managed.

Wrangling a response like that while leading a growing startup is a huge task. And it’s not just about sifting through all those responses to find high-quality candidates. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind while managing how you respond in a way that treats people with respect and doesn’t damage your brand’s reputation.

Let’s not forget about the ongoing leadership and attention that’s needed for all the other aspects of your business throughout the hiring process.

See, hiring and sales aren’t dissimilar. It’s key to treat the hiring process with the same care and attention as you do within the sales process.If you want to get it right for the long haul, you can’t expect to cast a wide net into a pool of thousands of candidates and just effortlessly pull out a top-notch hire.

Hiring isn’t something you just “do” if you want to get it right. It’s a complicated process that requires intentionality, planning, investment and time for it to be successful.

Trying to save a few bucks on the front end can cost you big on the backend if you don’t get it right. It’s a seven-figure dilemma if you take a wrong turn, setting your company back in a monumental way:

Cost of a bad hire

Instead, think of sales hiring like a sophisticated, outbound enterprise sales strategy—one where the approach is strategic, deliberate, focused and thoughtful with a well-architected hiring process.

If someone doesn’t immediately respond, you must nurture your top targets, just like in sales. And in doing so, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of extracting those hidden gems.

This is the heart of passive recruiting (i.e., identifying and nurturing A+ candidates who aren’t actively looking for a job).

That old adage of reaping what you sow rings true.

The cherry on top? These are often the best candidates for the role.

If you’re going to hire a VP of Sales on your own, do it right

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Intentionality is key. Nothing happens by osmosis in the game of recruiting sales leaders.

The more systematic, prepared and people-centric you can be with your approach to finding a VP of Sales, the more likely you are to succeed.

One of my secret weapons that helps my clients nail the process to hire remarkable leaders is embracing the power of a hiring scorecard. It’s a proven tool that drastically reduces the chance of making a bad hire, while holding you accountable to a consistent hiring process for each candidate.

My methodology on how to create and use a hiring scorecard can be found here along with a free downloadable template.

It’s important to remember this is not a “butt in a seat” kind of scenario if you want to get it right. Forcing the process because you’re in a pickle will absolutely work against you just like FOMO does on the opposite end of the spectrum. Sadly, I hear horror stories daily about the remorse of pushing through the wrong person.

Think about it this way: Would you spend the time it takes to hire the right person if you knew it’d guarantee that you hit your target for the year? Or even triple it? A quality hire pays dividends.

Simply put: Go slow to go fast later.

Get real and right with yourself

The stories we tell ourselves aren’t always rooted in reality.

I get it—the pressure is on, you’re in a tight spot, the business isn’t where it should be and it’s time to hire a VP of Sales who will move the needle.

Make no mistake, hiring the right VP of Sales for your business requires a deep understanding of the market, your stage, the work required and your trajectory going forward.

Getting real and right with yourself means not getting distracted by all of the shiny objects. Before you start any hiring process, you need to be crystal clear on where your business is today versus where you think or hope it will be in the future.

Jumping into the hiring process without this knowledge is the perfect way to make a mis-hire who will hold your business back versus propelling it forward.

In case you’re wondering, there are 48 different types of VP of Sales leaders, so be sure that you’re on the hunt for the right one for your stage and business.

And while we’re on the topic of being honest with ourselves, do you know how to really vet someone once you find them?

It’s one thing to hear all about the growth numbers, but it’s a whole other ball of wax to dig in deep to understand the hows and whys.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Many sales leaders know how to tell a compelling story that leaves you wanting more. But that doesn’t mean they actually have the skill or will to make sales leadership magic happen for your startup.

Ask yourself if you know how to dig into the root of the conversation, if you’re getting specifics, or are you stuck skimming the surface? This is where taking an honest account of what’s really happening will serve you well.

The truth is that most founders simply don’t have the expertise or time investment necessary to do this hiring process right. And that’s okay.

Wouldn’t you rather lean into that realization upfront than down the line when it’s too late? There’s no shame when it comes to asking for help.

Related resource: Amy’s best tips for vetting a sales recruiting firm

The VP of Sales is one of the most important and influential hires you’ll make. And it also has the potential to be one of the most disastrous if you botch it (think: seven-figure lasting effects).

It all boils down to this: Be intentional, be purposeful and don’t cut corners.

More leadership advice

Founder and CEO of Avenue Talent Partners

With more than $100MM in revenue sold, a LinkedIn Insider and Top Sales Voice, Founder, Strategic Advisor, and LP at Stage 2 Capital, Amy Volas is a sales fanatic turned entrepreneur. She was bitten by the startup bug many moons ago and couldn't imagine spending her time anywhere else. She created Avenue Talent Partners to help grow early-stage startups through some of their most valuable assets - executive revenue leaders.