Leadership positions are tasked with specific functions that contribute to growth and profit, but depending on a business’s size, management may be too lean to move the needle. Startups may have an acting VP of Sales in the CEO or Founder, but the responsibility of bringing in sales along with keeping an eye on all of the other critical components of getting a new business off the ground, is not sustainable. An established business may be staffed with sales professionals that work diligently to bring in strong sales, but without a leader that will provide direction and focus, their full potential is never realized. In both cases, introducing a VP of Sales will benefit the company, but this type of undertaking can be daunting for a company of any size.

5 Indicators That You Need a VP of Sales

Knowing when to initiate an executive search to bring on a VP of Sales can be tricky for both startups and proven companies. But when your business meets these five criteria, it is time to begin the process of adding to your leadership team.

  1. A sales team is in place and some metrics of success have been established. Whether your sales team consists of a handful of go-getters, or your business supports a larger group of sales professionals that lack leadership, a company with repeatable sales success is likely ready for the dedicated leadership of a VP of Sales. 
  2. You have a well-defined market and value proposition. Startups may not be settled into their niche market, but businesses that have a clearly delineated value proposition in their market will benefit from the strategy that a VP of Sales can provide. 
  3. Your company is in a growth phase and seeking a leader who is dynamic and has a playbook of success around hiring top sales talent and growing revenue.
  4. The financial resources are available to sustain a VP position. To attract and retain a talented VP of Sales, businesses should be able to support the financial commitment for this level of leadership position. 
  5. The framework is in place, but your team lacks strategy, focus and new ideas. A VP of Sales will implement processes, coaching and training to take sales to the next level. Your business is ready to scale up quickly but held back by only leveraging the expertise of your current sales team.

Before Beginning the Search

Once your leadership team is ready to grow, a period of honest self-assessment paired with a clear picture of what you want out of a VP of Sales position are key elements to the successful integration of the right candidate into your management team.

You will also want to define who the VP of Sales will report to. While the VP of Sales will work cross functionally with the CEO and other leadership executives to develop and execute sales strategies, it is important that they roll up to one specific C-Level executive for reporting, accountability and direction.  In a startup, the VP of Sales typically reports to the CEO or another senior executive, but if there are several co-founders at the CEO, COO or President level, it’s necessary to define which one person will take responsibility for the VP of Sales.

Assess Your Sales Model

Before bringing on a new sales leader, evaluate your sales environment for functional accountability and responsibility flow. Determine how your sales model is working, where deficits occur and how the new position will fill those gaps and move your sales team toward sustainable growth. Understanding how your sales machine works – or doesn’t – will help you determine what hard skills are necessary for the VP of Sales role.

Define Your Company’s Ideal VP of Sales

Describing the perfect candidate for the role includes defining the preferred or necessary hard and soft skills you are looking for. A quality candidate should possess both defined hard skills that prepare them to fulfill the activities of a VP of Sales within your industry and the soft skills that will help them do their job well and motivate the team.

Hard Skills are industry-specific certifications, practical experience and a proven track record in sales and scaling are all typical hard skills required of a VP of Sales candidate.

Soft Skills are the abilities and knowledge that make a candidate good at their job. Many of these capabilities are intrinsic to someone in their professional or personal life, but soft skills can often be sharpened professionally through concerted efforts like training courses or mentorship. Soft skills are often the qualities that candidates will use to describe themselves on their resumes and during personal interviews, but these are self-reported and may not always be an accurate description of how the candidate functions as a leader. Equally important as self-described abilities, the obvious traits and skills that others use to describe a candidate as a peer, leader or in a management position can be the best way to judge whether a candidate possesses those soft skills and is effectively using them to leverage a healthy work environment. Some of the soft skills that are often requested for those seeking a VP of Sales position are:

  • Coaching/Coachable – a candidate should be able to effectively coach others as well as have a personal growth mindset that is open to coaching from other leadership team members.
  • Communication – both written and verbal communication skills should be noteworthy as well as the ability to have difficult conversations fearlessly with those who are being managed and with other leadership team members.
  • Decisive – the ability to make informed decisions rapidly is critical to those on leadership teams.
  • Leadership – leading teams and making high-level decisions are often required at this level.
  • Problem-Solver: Being agile and knowledgeable can define a candidate’s ability to see all sides of a problem, and the ability to problem-solve to encourage healthy growth of sales is critical for a VP of Sales role.


Attracting the Right Candidates

In order to work with an effective sales recruiter to locate potential candidates for your company’s VP of Sales position, you want to make sure that your job description attracts the right candidates. 

Create a job description that sets up clear expectations of the hard and soft skills the candidate should have to succeed in this position. Develop a detailed job description to accurately portray the position to potential candidates so that those who are interested in and have the experience to step into this role will want to apply. Be honest about what your business needs with this role. Don’t over- or under-promise or sugarcoat the position as this will attract applicants that don’t fit your true needs. Present the goals and expectations for this role. This will allow candidates to reflect on their honest ability to meet these challenges prior to the interview stage, saving you both time and energy in this process. 

Tell your startup’s story or a brief overview of an established business’s history. Engage the potential candidates in the why behind your move to add a VP of Sales to the organization right now so they can decide if they are a good fit at this stage of growth. Detail the expectation to expand the sales team or add other supporting roles once the new VP is in place so potential candidates can bring ideas to the table early in the interview process.

Make the Interview Effective

Utilize executive sales search professionals to identify talented candidates that meet your criteria before transitioning to the interview phase of hiring. When planning these in-person or virtual meetings with candidates, make every moment count by planning ahead and side-stepping common mistakes that companies often make in interviews.

Interview for hard and soft skills, not based on a candidate’s professional contacts or references alone. If a candidate doesn’t demonstrate their ability to meet your minimum requirements, don’t waste either of your time with an interview. 

Create an interview scorecard so candidates are considered objectively by different interviewers. This tool helps standardize the interviewers’ expectations while providing valuable feedback from each meeting that will help make the interview process go more smoothly.

Avoid common pitfalls in the interview process so your company can hire the right person at the right time.

  • Hiring too soon – make sure your company is ready to hire a VP of Sales. Don’t create urgency based on external influences and never try to fill a role that is not currently needed.
  • Hiring a known candidate – the comfort of knowing a person does not mean that you will make a good hire. Don’t let fear of the unknown cloud your judgment or lead your decision making process. Each candidate needs to go through a rigorous non biased interview process to make sure they are perfectly aligned with the company’s needs and the job expectations.
  • Overlooking missing skills – always refer to the job description that includes the hard and soft skills necessary to be an effective VP of Sales before offering the position to an under qualified candidate. While filling the slot may solve some of the challenges your company has faced without a VP of Sales, hiring someone who doesn’t have the skill set or is not ready to complete the tasks in this role will only cause problems down the road.
  • Startups vs Established businesses – be sure to approach the hiring process based on your business’s short and long-term goals. Startups may only have one or two sales professionals to manage while more established companies might need a VP who can manage a large sales team. Finding the right candidate who has proven skills in personnel management, as well as the drive to motivate and ensure the growth of your specific size of sales team, will ensure that the professional relationship will be a long-standing one for both the new VP and the other leadership team members.

Hiring the Right Candidate at the Right Time

Deciding to add to your leadership team is a big decision and finding the right candidate to help your business grow takes time. Partnering with an executive sales search firm can expedite the process. They can be a good resource to help you develop a pool of qualified, potential candidates outside of your own network and circle of influence so you can interview and ultimately build your sales division with a candidate who will take your business to the next level. 

Published On: June 15th, 2023Categories: Best Hiring Practices, Sales Recruiting

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