The VP of Sales job is tenuous

If you are a CEO who is wondering whether your current VP of Sales is the best person for the job, this blog post is for you.


At SBI we see great turnover in the VP of Sales role, often driven by CEOs who are not satisfied with their current sales executive. And yet, in the majority of cases, the new sales leader hired by the CEO falls out of favor in a relatively short period of time. Thus, it is no surprise that the average tenure of an American VP of Sales is less than two years. This is true even in the mid-market segment where many companies are growing quickly. Even revenue growth does not inoculate a VP of Sales from CEO displeasure with their performance.


The CEO’s dilemma – do I have the right sales leader?

For CEOs who ask, “should I even think about a replacement for my current sales leader?”, here are some quick tips to help:


  • Is your sales leader getting better at predicting the future? Do their predictions reach farther into the future? If not, poor forecasting may be a fatal weakness for them.
  • Have they produced a documented sales strategy aligned to your corporate strategy?  If not, they may be a tactics-only sales leader, a liability if your business is growing and getting into new markets.
  • Is turnover in the ranks, especially in the field salesforce, increasing? When a sales leader initially comes aboard, often turnover spikes. However, over time turnover should decrease as the sales leader gets ‘A’ players onboard and coaches up the rest.
  • Is the pace of new logo customer acquisition declining?  Sometimes sales leaders pull in their horns and focus on the top accounts. For a while that strategy will yield results; revenue can stay healthy. Eventually that approach runs out of gas if they can’t bring new customers into the company
  • Are the direct reports to your sales leader strong and capable sales managers or are they mediocre? The sign of a superior sales leader is one who can recruit and further develop strong sales managers.   


Setting the best performance conditions for a new sales leader

Let’s assume that the answers to the questions above were not good.


So you have decided to make a change.


Before calling an executive recruiter, you would be well to note that the instability in the relationship between the CEO and the VP of Sales usually begins in the candidate evaluation process. Therefore, SBI recommends you establish the best initial start conditions for a new VP of sales as follows:


  1. Onboarding matters.  So often we think onboarding as a function only for entry-level sales reps or managers. On the contrary, a great onboarding program, oriented to a sales leader will help them get up to speed quickly.
    • Call-to-action: Set up a custom onboarding program specific to the sales leader role.


  2. Bring them onto the team before they’re on the team.  Invite the candidate to participate in an interactive meeting with the other functional leaders. Let them see each other in action and determine if there is room for a fit to the culture. The formal interview process is artificial and sterile. This approach allows you to see them less guarded.
    • Call-to-action: if your sales leader position is gapped, bring some of the candidates into a live fire meeting and see how they relate


  3. “Interview” the family.  The travel, intensity, and pressure of the VP of Sales role are a tremendous burden on any one person. That burden extends to the spouse/family. Yet they are often left out of the evaluation process.  Interacting with the family of a candidate can help set long term expectations and ensure that, when the going gets rough in the job, the family does not push back.
    • Call-to-action: spend time with the spouses and families of candidates. Gain their view. if possible, gain their endorsement.


  4. Set aside budget.  One of the biggest mistakes see CEOs make if they think that this new sales leader can fix everything on their own with no budget for services tools and 3rd parties. Yet these resources are almost certainly needed to close the performance gaps.
    • Call-to-action: Put aside 10-15% of the sales budget for “improvement assistance”. This will give the leader what they need to fix key areas.


  5. Conduct formal Job Trials.  Run your top candidates through a process that puts them in the role in a fictive scenario. The job trial should be customized to the sales leader role. One approach is to ask the candidate to develop and defend a sales strategy in a way that is most compelling to you.  A customized job trial is the single greatest predictor of future success.
    • Call-to-action: create your own custom Job Trial for the sales leader candidates


If you are a CEO contemplating a change in your senior sales leadership, consider these other SBI-provided insights:



For CEOs who think these suggestions have merit, give us a ring.  Here is how to contact us:


Mike Drapeau

Makes data and analysis come alive so clients can understand the “what” and “why” and design solutions that fit the environment.
Mike has led every function at SBI – Delivery, Sales, Talent, and Technology. Now he is a leader for Account Management, Private Equity Partnership, and long-term business development at SBI.


He has personally led over 100 projects for SBI over his decade+ time since its founding in 2006.


This starts by earning trust – of clients, of PE firms, of prospects. Mike obtains this by leveraging deep domain expertise, with more than 25 years in sales, competitive intelligence, sales management, marketing enablement, product management, pre-sales and sales operations. Mike relishes the idea of living in the field. So he does.


As a founding partner, Mike built out SBI’s library of emerging best practices for sales and marketing, which leads to evidence-based solutions, custom-fit to each client. Mike built himself many of the solutions now part of the Revenue Growth Methodology. And whatever he touches gets adopted. This is part of his commitment to making it happen in the field.
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