Many parts of scaling a business are about the basics, the time-honored fundamentals that CEOs have used time and time again to grow a company. These pillars of running a successful business rarely warrant exceptions, but there are some business functions that require a leader to develop their own formula for success – unique to their product and unique to their company culture.
This is especially true when it comes to picking a sales leader.
Take it from a former CEO that has lived the pain of this personally: Sales excellence and hiring great sales leadership is the most important determinant of success for a high-growth company looking to scale.
Unlike like other business initiatives – such as choosing a CRM system or designing the company’s web site – hiring a sales leader does not allow for a generic, one-size-fits-all formula. Rather, it is a unique learning process, one that each CEO must sit down and take an introspective look at to develop – and then learn to repeat. When approaching a complex business problem like this, the key is to peel back the layers to get to ‘first principles.’ From there, you can build a great business with the right leader for your specific sales process at the helm.
Along my entrepreneurial journey, I made a ton of mistakes with this challenge before finally nailing down the formula that led to a successful, scalable solution for finding my head of sales. Let me save you from making the same mistakes by sharing those growing pains.
At first, I did what most first-time CEOs do with sales hiring – I assumed that the only thing I needed to do was “hire the right Head of Sales”. I was convinced that scaling the sales function was entirely dependant on making a great leadership hire so that is what i focused all of my energy on. And because I never hired a Head of Sales before, I relegated my interview process to time honored sales attributes – chronological resume review and basic questions about historical results and quota obtainment. This formula led me to fall in love with candidates that fit into a quintessential salesperson mold. Alas, I was dumbfounded when these great-on-paper hires failed at selling our software.
A prime example of this was the very first vice president of sales I hired – let’s call him Fred. Fred was one of the best interviewees I had ever met. He had long track record of sales success, extolled wisdoms about sale processes and swore up and down that he would hire an amazing team of ‘his guys’ that would drive us to sales greatness.
Well, Fred failed to sell anything, and his sales team of Fred carbon copies failed to sell anything either. So I fired him and found that not only had my business not scaled from a year earlier, I had actually gone backwards. So what went wrong?