I've been fortunate to be a VP of Sales at three companies. They ranged from pre-product market fit to divisions of very large organizations. I can tell you firsthand that what it takes to succeed at each company stage is vastly different.
In today's issue, I'm going to show you the characteristics of a great first VP of Sales at an early-stage company.
These are the characteristics to focus on in your search and interview process.
Founders often hire an expensive VP of Sales from a big company and feel devastated when it doesn't work out.
A company doing $1,000,000 in revenue is very different from a company doing $100,000,000 in revenue.
When the VP of Sales that took Workday from 100 million to 1 billion shows interest in your company, it's hard to say no. But it often ends in disaster.
That person has a large team and resources at their disposal. They are experts at managing managers and are exactly what's needed to scale a very large company. You want someone with early-stage experience that knows exactly what they're getting into.
"No matter how great a sales leader has been at another company, he or she may not be the right candidate for you."
- Doug Landis
If there's one constant in a startup, things will change. Every six months, your company will look completely different.
You want someone that can interpret market signals and pivot the strategy on the fly. They are experts at iterating on messaging and passing feedback to the product team.
At times, they will need to pivot the entire sales process based on gut. In the early days, there isn't enough data to support every change.
"Having the willpower to discard lessons that were true and valuable before, but now have to change, is one of the keys to successful reinvention." - Reid Hoffman
Nothing is more important than having great sales reps on the initial sales team.
The VP of Sales will have 1000+ competing priorities in the early days. The reps won't always get the coaching they need and deserve, so the team needs to be rock solid. The initial sales reps need to be comfortable operating in an imperfect environment. Many of them will be future founders.
To get this team, the VP of Sales has to be an excellent recruiter. If you have a rock-solid team, things don't need to be perfect to be successful.
Look for someone who loves to recruit and has people coming with them.
The team needs to trust the VP of Sales. Startups are chaos—no two ways around it. When a rep calls, they need to know someone will be there.
Sometimes a VP of Sales will need to drop what they're doing and hop on a prospect call with a rep. Other times a rep may quit on the spot, and a VP of Sales has to cover their territory until they fill the position.
They are a Swiss Army Knife. Until there are more resources, they aren't afraid to get in the trenches.
Knowing what to look for is half the battle when hiring the first VP of Sales. Remember these attributes as you start the recruiting process and build interview questions. The right VP of Sales is often the missing piece to unlocking your company's true potential.