I had been warned this would come, it happens on almost every consulting project we are on. After a week of working with a new Client the CEO asked: “John, what do you think of Vick; is he the right person to run my sales team?” Vick oversaw growing a $400M business and the results were not good recently. Whatever came out of my mouth next I had better be able to back it up. I will tell you what I said after I frame-up why I said it.
Time is Precious:
A CSO/CRO is hired to make changes. Dramatic changes! The role is not to hold steady to a well-oiled machine. If you are accountable for making the company revenue number and find yourself with “mid-tenure blues” this post is for you. Perhaps your early wins are now a fading memory. Deals were lost and maybe you saw turnover of some of your heavy-hitters; the team’s performance has created too many sleepless nights for you as well as many others.
The average tenure for a Head of Sales is short. Some estimates state 19 months. Some say slightly longer. SBI’s own research indicates 18 months. If you are staring down the barrel of another fiscal planning meeting and Q2 was a disappointment, it is probable that your CEO is looking at other options.
At the 1-Year to 2-Year Mark, You Need to Ask Yourself These Questions:
How is my foundation?
- Did I recruit A-Player new talent able to achieve hyper-growth?
- Have I held my underperforming resources accountable?
How is my progress?
- Are the strategic initiatives outlined in previous planning cycles on track?
- Are metrics such as close rates, deal sizes, forecast accuracy and open territory rates improving?
How are my relationships?
- Am I aligned with the other functional leaders?
- Do I know my largest customers and best performers internally?
It’s Not Too Late to Be BOLD
Your success is 50% Talent related and 50% Performance conditions.
Let’s put a plan into place:
- Find Superstars – there is no better leading indicator than the quality of people being brought into an organization. If you cannot attract great talent, your time will be short. Think creatively and target your next hires. (Do NOT wait for HR to source your candidates)
- Remove Underperformers – Nothing angers a CFO more than tenured reps or sales managers that are not carrying their weight. Turn around sidebar conversations at the ELT meetings by demonstrating decisiveness.
- Get out of the office: As a sales leader you need to be in the field 2 to 3 days a week. If you are getting pulled into meetings that are wasting your time, send in a surrogate or just say no. Your customers, your sales reps and your candidates are the breakfast of champions in this role.
- Collaborate: If you are not in the habit of seeking advice from your peers in Finance, Marketing, Product Management, Human Resources, Operations and other departments you could be building a silo. The silo you build will become the same one these leaders launch you out of (and into another company) when their patience wears out. Ask for advice.
Learning the Hard Way:
In my first role as a Regional VP of Sales, I inherited a team of five to cover the Northwest Region. Of the five, I knew that one would make it and one had a slight chance. The other three I held on to for way too long. My job was a daily grind of problems to solve and fires to put out.
As soon as I took action the results showed. I held my team accountable to their numbers. I hired good talent, revised our processes and expanded my region to cover the entire Western US. With a newly hired team of fourteen, large new customers began to sign-up. The environment was electric and my reps were excited and passionate about achieving success. Within eighteen months our bookings grew 5-fold and when I moved on to another role, I left behind a team and a region that I was incredibly proud of. The 5-points above were exactly how I dug myself out. I hope it does the same for you.
Warning Signs You About to Be Thrown Under the Bus at the Next Board Meeting
- Your CEO has never sold but always assumes poor sales results were merely a sign of a lack of discipline. (and you have below-average results)
- You’re A-player talent is labeled “overpaid” at an ELT meeting.
- Requests come for data to do “more analysis” that you are not a part of.
- You suddenly notice your own management style has gone from collaborative to dictatorial.
If you have made it to this point in my blog post, chances are you are facing questions of fight-or-flight. “Can I make the changes fast enough to succeed in this role?” The answer is deeply rooted in the answers to the three questions above: Did you make the tough decision? Can you demonstrate meaningful progress? Did you make friends through this process?
So, back to where we started. What did I tell the CEO? “No, it’s time to change your Sales leader.” Vick had not made decisive moves, I saw little evidence that he was able to attract A-player talent and he had built walls around himself with other functional leaders. Worse, he stopped leading and began dictating.
Utilize our Sales Force Assessment Framework pictured below for a four step plan to optimizing your sales force.
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