article | November 4, 2011
The Obsolete VP of Sales
Q: How can a VP of Sales prevent himself from becoming obsolete?
Alex: Ouch! Obsolete? I am sure you used that word on purpose but it stings to think of being no longer in general use, outmoded or out of date. There are two general types of skills obsolescence. First is job-specific skills obsolescence, which happens when job requirements change due to developments in society. Second is when skills lose their value due to the demand for a particular occupation or a sector of industry shrinking. So let’s assume that there will always remain a need for Sales VP’s … then what we are really talking about is the reaction or lack of reaction by a sales executive to what is occurring around him or her.
Sales VP’s have to juggle three things: the customers they serve, the people they lead and the business plan the company is trying to execute. So to keep from being obsolete a sales VP needs to be on top of the societal changes that are occurring in each of these areas. For example, customers are increasingly gaining control of the buying cycle. Prospects are no longer content to ‘be educated’ by sales people and are dictating the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of their interactions with their vendors. We have to change our sales approach to match the way the customer is changing their buying approach.
Think about the folks we lead. More and more members of the millennial generation are joining the work force. This group is technically literate like no one else. They are more team-oriented, banding together to date and socialize rather than pairing off. They work well in groups, preferring this to individual endeavors. I could go on. There are dozens of great studies on this generation but my point is that if you are not adjusting your leadership style to this generation you will not be effective.
Finally a sales VP has to be sensitive to business model changes. For example in the technology space the pace of price compression is relentless. This requires more and more use of lower cost sales resources and investments to improve sales velocity.
The sales VP that ignores changes in the customer, team and business model will become obsolete. They probably still have a cell phone installed in their car.
Q: Why is the average tenure of the head of sales only 6 quarters?
Alex: I don’t think this one is very complicated. We are paid to ‘make the number.’ It is the reality of the job and when we have a continued string of misses we are the first change that occurs. But a bit deeper, I think it is because it is so difficult to put a plan in place that provides you a great chance of consistent success. Maybe a few of us get lucky and work in an industry or with a product that is “hot,” like marketing automation. If that is you, ride it and enjoy it. For the majority of us we have to create a plan and then execute it through people. Sales people no less. That is harder than algebra.
Q: After 12 years in the ‘top spot” as VP of Sales with BMC, Teletech, Vignette, and now Eloqua, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Alex: I have never fired someone too quickly or hired them too slowly. I have been overconfident about my ability to ‘coach-up’ someone’s performance. What I know now, I knew then, but I just did not always execute with enough speed. People really do matter and having the right talent in the right jobs makes all the difference in the world. Also, I think I have learned that less is more and more is less. Think about it: if you have the right people on your team, prepared and motivated for their moments of truth in front of the customer and you have the right pipeline in place to insure long term success you cover up most of the rest of the sins of a sales force. Skills and pipeline save lives.
Q: If you were getting promoted to head of sales for the first time, what would be the very first thing you would do?
Alex: I would have a structured plan for how I evaluate the current state of the sales team and develop the right actions to take. For example, I think there are five levers to field performance; 1) structure, 2) people, 3) process, 4) compensation plan, and 5) tools. So I would have a ninety-day plan to evaluate each of these areas. And I would make a bunch of customer calls. After all – I am a sales VP
Thank You Alex Shootman for a great Q&A blog post.
Alex was able to defy the odds and stand out. In the next few weeks, SBI is releasing a book focused on what some of the most capable VPs of Sales did in their first 6 quarters to make the number.
Blog subscribers will receive a courtesy PDF copy of the new book, “Promoted to VP of Sales: The Year One Toolkit”. You can subscribe to the Sales Force Effectiveness blog here.
**Update: This eBook is now available to all**