VP Sales May Not Be a Title You Want

Posted by Todd Hockenberry on Oct 22, 2010

Disappearing VP SalesSelling Power magazine recently published an article titled "The (Strange) Case of the Vanishing Sales VP".

The two key points outlined were:

  1. VP Sales tenure is shrinking and some averages put it at 19 months

  2. Hiring practices are shoddy for VP Sales often falling back on the 'gut feeling' of the hiring manger as to the qualifications of the candidate.

The article never gets to the reasons behind this trend but having been an EVP Sales I know what I've seen and why these trends are exactly my experience.

To me the core reason VP Sales heads are on the block is that C Level executives lack fundamental understanding of how sales happen and why.  There is a still a lot of personality driven thinking - hire a good old back slapper buy-me-a-beer kinda person and they'll grow sales.  This is where the 'gut feeling' comes into the hiring process.

Unrealistic expectations driven by lack of understanding leads to the second trend - shrinking tenures for VP Sales.  If the results do not suddenly appear then it must be the VP Sales fault.

So the model for many executives managing VP Sales seems to be:

  1. Hire someone who may or not be qualified or know how to build a sales process for growth

  2. Put the VP Sales on an island and task them with making sales happen.

  3. Wait 18 months and then start over.

This is a convenient plan if the executive/business owner wants a scapegoat but not one destined to build the foundation for long term growth.

As a young salesperson I always aspired to move up the corporate ladder and be a senior executive.  After 10 years in the field I was able to move into a VP Sales role at a small manufacturing company.   This was a turnaround and I was young and energetic and relatively cheap (probably my main qualification in hindsight).  We spent a year or so just getting a team together and stopping the bleeding.  After 3 years we had a profitable, growing business with new products and new sales channels.

When I felt there was no more room for me to grow I took an EVP Sales job at a larger competitor.  I got this job largely on a recommendation from a manager internal to the parent company (gut feeling) and off I went.

Expectations were high but resources were not.  I showed up and there was no sales backlog, a shallow pipeline, and a dispirited sales team.  Long story short, I left before the CEO could fire me.  The expectations were unrealistic, the resources were not allocated, the commitment to grow was not across the board, there was no culture or respect for the marketing and sales process and yet the expectations for me to magically conjure sales persisted.

Based on my experience and the recent trends with Sales VP's I would like to offer these ideas to anyone looking to grow by adding a new VP Sales or help their existing VP Sales survive.

  1. Make sure you understand the changes in customer buying cycles - the Internet is changing how everyone buys, does your company understand the impact on your customers or are you still just going to the same old trade shows, running the same old ads and expecting better results?

  2. Is your company engaged across the board in marketing and selling your company or do you say that selling is not my job?  If engineers/designers/production/service people are not joined at the hip with marketing and sales, respecting one another's role and contributions, and operating as a team then do not expect a VP Sales to make this happen alone.  You need to commit to drive this integration from the top before tasking a VP Sales to integrate anything.

  3. Is the company committed to a sales model/sales channel/sales strategy for the long term?  If 'yes' then hire someone who has the experience and specific background (backed up with results) that matches your scenario.  If 'no' hire someone to build the strategy but give them the time and resources to get it done.  Summary:  Make less personality driven and much more results/expertise/specific plan driven.

  4. Time is the key resource - yes everyone wants results, us VP's Sales know that and think sales 24/7.  In my EVP Sales example above the CEO wanted sales results in the 1st quarter I worked.  Never mind that the sales cycle for the product was 6-12 months and there was no pipeline.  Somehow I was expected to bend the laws of business and conjure sales.  Realistically I should have been given a year just to build the pipeline and lay the process groundwork for long term growth.  Instead every call I had with CEO was about this week, this month, or this quarter.  Nutshell: Be realistic about the time needed to grow revenue.

  5. Hire the VP Sales slowly and for the long term just like you do with the CFO, VP Ops, VP Manufacturing etc.  How do you expect to build anything with turnover every 18 months in this key role?

  6. Ask the right questions and expand your focus from end of the sales funnel only (closed business) to the beginning of the funnel and the funnel after a sale. 

  • How many leads do you generate from your Inbound Marketing efforts? 
  • Does your marketing team/system nurture leads and prospects consistently and over the entire sales cycle until they are ready to buy?
  • How many referrals do you earn?
  • How many customers are you up selling?
  • Are you giving your sales team the products and solutions the market wants or is it the same old stuff you've been pushing for years?

Isn't it time to invest in the right people, build the right processes, set expectations at the right level, and then manage accordingly?

Topics: What is manufacturing marketing?, Is my selling strategy working?, How do we grow sales?, What is the best go to market strategy for us?

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