The VP of sales role is one of the most exciting and critical roles in any organization, especially in startups.
The role demands excellence — getting the best results is a given, but also ensuring that the sales strategy of the organization is top-notch, as well as making sure you have the right people, processes, and technology.
I have struggled to find people in this role throughout my business career and it’s mainly because I was too entrenched in the thick of the business and entrepreneurial action, to give the process the right attention.
It is, however, a luxury I have right now and I am going to share with you my own ideas as to how to be the best VP of sales you can be.
From a CEO’s point of view, hiring a vice president of sales is one of the most important decisions they can make — the right hire can set the foundation for rapid growth, and the wrong one can stall the company very quickly and even worse, send it into a tailspin.
But many aspiring and existing VP’s of sales don’t give the right attention to the right detail and seem to immerse themselves in all things “not sales” and performing more of a management role, than a leadership one.
And one that leads from the front.
VP of Sales: Job Role
Perhaps the most important aspect of the job role is to make sure you are aligned with the CEO and the executive leadership team — no VP wants to work “out in the cold” and I have made the mistake of hiring people in the past, for this job role without really thinking about the fact that we were not truly aligned.
I was too busy getting excited about the resume, to really understand if we were on the same page when it comes down to our overall beliefs on business, the market, and having the right vision.
Equally, when I took on the role myself in my early career, I cared more about the compensation package than anything else, which was way too short-sighted and cost me a lot of lost opportunities.
Make sure you are totally aligned!
If you take a look at the responsibilities of the job role, then you will find something along the lines of the following and this is from an article in HubSpot:
- Advising reps on their current deals
- Optimizing the sales process and tactics
- Defining strategy
- Closing business
Take a look at the full article here.
Now, I have no issues with the general spirit of each point, because of course, they are essential to the overall process, with the exception of “closing business,” which is a term I hate, because in my opinion, if you have to close a sale then you have done something wrong.
I believe that you should have a “no brainer” value proposition that compels your customers to buy from you, rather than having to handle and overcome objections in order to “close,” or what I term to complete the deal.
But that’s another story and I talk more about this in the related article at the end of this section.
It’s the “defining strategy” part that I feel is where most VP’s of sales get it wrong.
For me, once you have a clearly defined strategy, the rest will fall into place naturally and if you really want to be the best VP of sales, then here is where you really focus your energies and if you do it correctly, then you will generate a huge amount of customer traction, revenues and you will have the added bonus of future-proofing your business as far as possible.
It’s one thing to build a fantastic sales pipeline and another to turn that pipeline into bankable revenue, but you also must look to the future and make sure you are ahead of the curve and agile enough to be able to react to any change in dynamics.
The best VP’s of sales will be visionaries — they will be able to deal with the “here and now,” but will have a keen eye on the future.
Develop The Right Mindset
For me, everything starts with having the right mindset and it’s all about excellence.
The best people in any aspect of life, sports, entertainment, business, art…you name it, have a personal commitment to be the very best they can be and to excelling in what they do.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always about natural ability — there is a huge amount of sacrifice, hard work, resilience, and sheer determination that accompanies success in any field and selling is no exception.
Take yourself out of your comfort zone and in any manner you choose — test yourself and you will realize that you have a lot of untapped potential and huge reserves in the “tank.”
When I hire anyone, I will take a strong character, with the right mindset and the ability to continue the journey, no matter what, over technical qualifications and ability any day.
There is too much to cover in this article regarding developing the right mindset and I cover it in the related article below.
When I first started my technology staffing company, I made sure to identify all of the top companies in the sector I operated in, then I researched every aspect I could about them and created a target list of senior executives starting with the C-Suite.
My goal was to go in at the highest level, to create an awareness of my company (I knew my competitors would not do this), and then gain sponsorship to work down through the operational layers of the organization.
My approach was to use my research to make sure that I not only understood their business, their objectives, and the deliverables they had to honor to their own customers but to use that research to form my own opinions.
Having opinions is vital — as a VP of sales, you need to be an authority in your market and that means not being afraid to voice your opinions and get into meaningful discussions.
Start at the Top
When you are dealing with the executive leadership of any organization, you are not only dealing with the ultimate decision-makers but the people who have a serious and vested interest in the success of their companies.
And they will engage with anyone who can help them.
But be warned, you must be aligned with their thinking and it’s no good believing you can walk into their offices and go through a pitch, handle a few objections and go for the “close.”
It is far more sophisticated — you need to talk strategy, have a compelling value proposition and you have to be future-thinking and align yourself with the dynamics of your market and industry, plus the future dynamics of your customers.
You must be proactive and deliver solutions based on a clear, concise, and compelling value proposition.
When you engage at the right level, you will start to create what I term “company to company” relationships that are not dependent on individual relationships — even though you will be engaging with senior individuals, you will be introduced to other operational leaders as well as the various business functions — finance, marketing, procurement, human resources, etc.
Part of your success as a VP of sales is to make sure you cover your clients from end to end, and in this way, you get to engage with not only other people who can purchase your products and services but other stakeholders, such as the finance team, who will be responsible for paying you!
Building and Evaluating Your Team
Now that you have your strategy in place, it’s time to make sure you execute it and grow the business.
I see many VP’s that focus too much on hiring experienced salespeople in the belief that experience allows the person to hit the ground running and bring in revenue fast.
And I have also seen many VP’s who seem to not want to conduct an in-depth evaluation of their existing salespeople.
You must constantly evaluate the performance of your sales team and to do this, you must have clearly defined performance metrics.
People need to know where they stand and especially salespeople — it is never difficult to fire a salesperson because usually it is down to a lack of performance…but it is difficult to fire someone who is really trying to work hard, but for some reason, cannot get the results and this is where experience comes into play and you have to use your instinct.
Over the years, I have found that the best success that I have ever enjoyed came from hiring hungry, determined, and personable people that had very little or no sales experience — in fact, I built a team of people on this basis that generated $65m of sales…and at profitable margins.
I loved the idea of training people from scratch, simply because they come with no baggage and they have a “rawness” that is sometimes infectious.
Another good recruiting ground for salespeople is customer services — good customer service people are halfway there and if you add commercial awareness to the mix, you will build the foundation for a solid salesperson.
The important thing to remember when you employ the strategic element in the way I have described is that you will actually need fewer salespeople.
As a VP, you will be responsible for owning the key customer relationships, and because there are a limited number of executive leaders, your contact list will be easily manageable…plus you will be feeding a lot of information back to your team to help them get involved in more deals.
What you absolutely don’t want is a team of mavericks who have the potential to create havoc with your customers.
I’ve had this experience as well — revenues were great, but not sustainable and we certainly didn’t build any long-lasting relationships!
Building and evaluating your team is a constant process — you want to be aiming to retain the top twenty percent of your salesforce and unfortunately, that means addressing the eight percent.
Now, you also have to address the bottom twenty percent and unfortunately, they are the ones who you have to churn.
It is never an easy task to release anyone from a job role, but if you take away the people who are simply not performing and show no prospect of doing so, it is relatively easy, because in effect and providing you have given the right training and support, they will fire themselves.
When you have people who show promise but are not hitting the numbers, you have to use your instinct and there is no other way around that because it is not a binary decision.
But when you have people who are not performing and are showing no hope of doing so, you are wasting both their time and yours.
They may simply not be suited to, or not motivated enough to have a career in sales.
Now that you have the most important factors understood and in place, there are other things to think about such as technology, building the right culture…and making the whole experience exciting and fun!
The entire sales landscape has changed and now we are in an era of automation and machine intelligence, which some people find intimidating and ultimately, feel that the job of a salesperson will disappear.
The main reason why the VP of sales role is so critical, when performed correctly, is that you are maintaining the “human touch” with your customers at the highest level and no automated processes or systems will replace that…for now at least.
I’ve been involved in technology pretty much all of my working life and I see it as an “enabler” rather than a “replacer.”
But there is a condition to this — some salespeople are unfortunately nothing more than “walking brochures” and do far too much “telling” rather than real selling…and this extends to the VP role as well.
Technology should simply free up more time for real selling and any technology you can find to do this you should embrace.
Culture and Excitement
There’s nothing better than looking at a high-performance sales team and the revenues that go with it.
I am a firm believer in letting performance dictate the culture — I am not one for setting a great, relaxed working environment if the results are not there and simply because we are in a performance industry.
I cannot say this enough — get aligned with the CEO, make sure the strategy is right, build the team on a solid foundation and everything else will take care of itself.
When you have a high-performance team, you have a level of excitement that goes with it…I know I did and when our team was performing at its best, the atmosphere, excitement, and performance were infectious!
If you want me to help you in your desire to be the best VP of sales, or if you are looking for help in hiring your VP, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
Last modified: June 11, 2021