The VP of Sales position is one of the toughest positions in an organization. The main challenge I see is that by the time you’re a VP of Sales, you’re managing 50+ people who all have high activity roles. You’re responsible for the revenue of your team or your entire organization, resulting in a great deal of moving parts.
As a CEO, the onus is on you to create a path of leadership that your VPs can follow. This is how you can guide them toward being great leaders, too.
1. Make it OK for them to ask for help
When you look at a CMO or VP of Marketing, it’s common practice that they can go out and ask for assistance. If the Head of Marketing needs help with content strategy, it’s acceptable for the CEO to allow them to seek outside help. With the Head of Sales, however, that expectation does not exist. It’s not common practice for them to outsource work or bring in experts. They’re typically one of the highest paid people in the organization, so there’s this internal sentiment that maybe they don’t deserve help.
The world of sales is evolving at light speed. The best practices around sales processes, the technology that is available, the roles that exist—they’re all changing on what feels like a weekly basis. Every month, I’m seeing a new role emerge in the sales organization, and every year, the sales acceleration technology landscape grows by 30-40%. It’s unrealistic for CEOs to expect a VP of Sales to grow revenue, manage a large team and control a function that’s evolving at an increasing pace – without help.
2. Give them the budget and open-mindedness to build something better
Surely, your sales leader has a budget, but does that budget extend outside of the hiring scope? Does your VP of Sales have a budget they can apply toward developing a modern technology stack that will allow them to accelerate their growth and equipped their sales team with technology that will allows them to do more, faster – and enable them to build a sales machine that aligns with the modern buyer behavior and journey. Your VP of Sales may feel like his or her hands are tied, and as a result trying to build the team and tech stack that worked five years ago but is no longer resonating. As an alternative, you would be leaving yourself vulnerable to your competitors who may be ahead of the curve and using technology to their advantage.
Budgets don’t work the same way in the sales function as they do in the marketing function. Companies tend to approach sales budgets with the idea of, “How many salespeople are you going to need? The average salary is ‘X’ amount. Here’s your budget.” It’s rarely, “What are the high-impact areas of opportunity for us to improve the performance of our sales organization, or how do we make this a more efficient and faster system versus our top competitors.”
You need to ensure that your sales leader has the budget to invest in their people. I’m not talking about reinforcing sales best practices with the traditional annual Sales Kickoff training that everyone immediately forgets either. I’m talking about developing future sales leaders, and making sure they are staying ahead of the ever-evolving world of Sales and then have support to go and build it – even if it means doing things differently than we have over decades past.
3. Reconsider the qualities that make a “good” sales leader
When many CEOs envision a good sales leader, they tend to think of the traditional extroverted leader. They think of the man or woman who can rally the troops; who is comfortable always being the loudest person in a room. While those traits are good for presence and keeping your team ahead of your agenda, it’s not the key ingredient that makes a great sales leader in this day and age. With the direction the sales function is headed, extrovertedness doesn’t carry the same weight as it did 5 or 10 years ago.
To some extent, it’s because the Head of Sales needs to be analytical in a world where so much data is available on our target audience. These are some of the traits that tend to get overlooked when hiring a great VP of Sales. They need to be goal-based, and invested in ensuring that everyone has real, actionable goals. This person must have a strong understanding of people and their capabilities. Their mind works like this: “I have a clear idea of the type of person who runs enterprise accounts vs. SMB, so I can put people in roles that most closely align with those strengths.”
4. Grow the company from within.
Companies spend more than $20 billion per year on sales training. Much of that training involves having people come in for one or two days, and talking to the sales reps about different tactics. That’s not effective. Within 90 days, 84% of what was learned by employees is lost, per research from Training Industry.
As a CEO who has become layers removed from the sales team, you lose the levels of transparency into the team that you may have once had. As you continue to grow, those people will need to fill management positions themselves and potentially follow your path. Many organizations start to feel those growing pains as people start to fill new shoes that don’t quite fit yet as they haven’t been thoroughly trained for the role ahead. Again, many sales leaders turn to the specialized yet infrequent outside training support mentioned earlier that has no lasting impact. They do this instead of investing in longer-term training that prepares your people well for future management roles (which will no longer rely on the skills that got them there). That doesn’t happen enough. A great organization can retain top talent and develop future executives from within because they’ve spent the time and money investing in their people.
Start leading by example
What you can do to create an ideal culture for your sales leaders is to lead by example. It starts with helping them understand why you’re doing certain things. Simon Sinek talks about the “why.” Focus on that. Help the leaders in your organization understand what you’re really trying to achieve.
Do not ask your leaders to be something that you personally are not. For some CEOs, that entails stepping it up. This might mean you need to be more trusting, or work on forming stronger bonds with your employees. If the people working with you don’t see that you’re the epitome of what you’re asking them to be, they won’t follow you and they won’t believe in any of it. It will ultimately be difficult to keep them motivated.
Want to learn what else you can do to cultivate strong leadership in your company? Let’s talk! Matt.firstname.lastname@example.org