How to Hire the
Right Vice President of Sales
By Lee B. Salz
Your Vice President
of Sales is the key to your company growing revenue, but focusing
your selection process on their salesmanship will lead to hiring the
Years ago, I was interviewing for a Vice President of Sales
position with a mid-sized services firm. Everything was going well
with my interview with the CEO of the company and then the question
came. It is the favorite question of CEOs everywhere. Yet, it is
also the most ridiculous question to ask a Vice President of Sales
candidate in an interview.
“So, how much
revenue can you drive for us this year?”
I thought it was a joke, but he wasn’t joking. Maybe it was a
trick question, it wasn’t. So, I said, “Before I answer, may I ask
you a few questions?” He acquiesced.
How many sales people can I hire?
What is the marketing budget?
What is the travel budget?
What is the budget for cost of sales?
To all of these fundamental business questions, the answer
was, “I haven’t decided yet.” Very quickly what I initially thought
was a joke became an interview nightmare. Red flags were waving in
front of my face telling me to run from this opportunity as fast as
After hearing his responses to my questions, I responded,
“Revenue is a function of the investment made in both sales and
marketing. How can someone give you a number that you can believe in
without having answers to those questions?”
He leaned back in his chair and said, “Well, the other
candidate gave me a number.” I told him that I could certainly
provide him with a revenue number, but not to come looking for it. I
attempted to explain further, but the CEO’s thought process was
one-dimensional. He was interviewing a Vice President of Sales
candidate as if the role was sales representative. (Mind you, I
don’t recommend that question for that role either.) Following
my instincts, I told him that it was best that he proceed with
hiring the other candidate and I wrapped up the interview. He was
dumbfounded to say the least.
If you are hiring a Vice President of Sales, there are five
critical areas to explore of your candidate, but a revenue growth
commitment is not one of them.
If you have decided
to hire a Vice President of Sales, you are expecting them to build a
sales team. Hiring sales people is both risky and costly. The ideal
candidate for this role should have a methodology that mitigates the
risk and quickly gets the new hire up to speed. Bad hires kill the
bottom-line, but so do unproductive sales people. Every day that a
new sales person is on the bench, not yet ready to generate sales,
they sit on your books as a liability. Thus, a key skill that the
ideal candidate will possess is development of a process to screen
and “on-board” new sales team members.
One of the goals of
having a sales organization is to establish consistent performance.
This can only happen if a defined process has been established for
the sales people to follow. Many companies hang their hat on the
performance of a single rainmaker. One person generating 75% of the
revenue means that you have one highly profitable team member and a
bunch of unprofitable sales people on the team. What happens if the
rain maker leaves for greener pastures? Having a well-defined sales
process in place reduces the amount of time for new hires to get up
to speed as well as provides continued direction and focus for the
tenured sales people. This translates into another key benefit which
is scalability. Your company’s ability to experience significant
growth resides on this leader’s acumen at building a process that
leads the entire team to perform.
In many companies, one of the responsibilities of the Vice President
of Sales is the formulation of a sales compensation plan. Sales
compensation plans should be designed to reinforce the sales process
that has been developed. One thing about sales people is that they
do not need a job description to tell them their job. The
compensation plan tells them where to focus their time. The wrong
plan can tank the company…the right plan can lead to explosive
results. Thus, this becomes a critical skill that your ideal
candidate must possess. To learn more about developing the right
compensation plan, read my article titled, “The Equilateral Triangle
Model for Developing Sales Compensation Plans.”
In many sales environments, today’s sale is not necessarily an
indication of a sales person doing the right things now. Thus, you
are paying commissions for what they did right a month, three
months, or maybe a year ago. This makes it critical that other
metrics are measured beyond revenue achievement. There is an old
expression…what gets measured, gets done. In essence, the process
that they create has multiple measurement points that allows for the
creation for a dashboard. The metrics on this dashboard show the
performance of the sales team and allow for intervention when
performance is not meeting expectations. Thus the key is to
understand how the candidate uses metrics to develop, manage, and
grow their sales team.
The world would be a wonderful place if every sales person hired
performs like a rock star, but that doesn’t happen. You will have
both over-achievers and subpar performers…and each requires a
different management approach. Top performers need nurturing,
appreciation, and growth opportunities while subpar performers need
support, guidance, and intervention. Handle the top performers wrong
and they leave. Handle the subpar performers incorrectly and they
can suck the profits from the company. Thus, in the interview
process, it is important to understand the candidate’s management
approach for different situations.
Not sure what questions to ask of your Vice President of
Sales candidate? Send me an
email and I’ll send you my favorite 24 questions when
interviewing these candidates.
The Vice President of Sales is a key member at the Executive
table. As a business owner, when screening these candidates, focus
on the skills that lead to the creation of your sales architecture®
which means you are selecting a candidate that creates a sales
organization based that delivers consistency, stability, and
Going back to
the earlier story, that company did hire the other candidate…and
fired him six months later after he did not deliver on the
expectation he set in the interview for growing the business.
Read other articles and learn more about
Lee B. Salz.
[Contact the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]