Want to Be The Next VP of Sales? Here’s How to Get on the Succession Plan


The Senior VP of Sales plays a critical role in the enterprise. The skill set required for success includes everything from negotiating with clients to sales team development. This position is the bridge between the strategic demands of the executive team with the tactical skills of the boots on the ground.


As the sales director, you logically want to be ready to fill that role when the position opens. Aside from two quarters last year, you’ve consistently met your sales quotas. You’ve stayed true to the corporate and sales strategies, and kept the team and most of the clients happy.


Other than sales skills, what else is required for the position? What can you do now to demonstrate readiness for the role? Will those two bad quarters kill your chances? Have you had any other performance issues that might hold you back?


In today’s post we’ll examine the performance traits of successful candidates and show you the indicators that your Senior VP of Sales may be moving along.


We’ll also show you how you can best prepare to successfully assume that role.


Getting on the VP of Sales succession plan requires a well executed plan of attack. Is the VP of Sales Moving On?


You’ve spent considerable time preparing yourself to be the best candidate for the VP role. How can you tell when the current VP may be leaving the position? There are some clues that may help you identify that decision before the formal announcement.


  • Has the VP had an attitude change recently? Are negative comments a regular occurrence, even in front of staff?
  • Is the VP disengaged from day-to-day operations? Is he frequently absent or rarely making trips into the field?
  • Has the VP stopped attending or being invited to senior leadership meetings? Is the executive team bypassing his input on key decisions?
  • Is the VP regularly and obviously screwing up? Are due dates slipping and is work quality poor?


All of these scenarios are indicative of departure. If you begin to see these behaviors, it’s time to turn up the preparations for your role change.


Executive Team Weighs In On Position Requirements

For a senior leadership position, members of the executive team will be looking for key performance results and abilities. Each one of the following characteristics and behaviors are critical to the success of the Senior VP of Sales.


Successful candidates regularly achieve each of the following:


  1. Hits their numbers. The candidate must have consistently made their quotas.
  2. Thinks strategically. Moving into a sales leadership role requires the ability to think tactically along with the ability to think strategically. The candidate must be able to develop strategic direction. And they must be able to interpret that into tactical execution for the sales team.
  3. Builds a bench for candidates to replace their role. The candidate included succession planning as part of the team’s performance evaluations. Have they identified at least one teammate as a candidate for their role?
  4. Demonstrates political savvy and clout. The candidate should be considered a “go-to” guy that is part of the inner circle.
  5. Collaborates with peers on joint projects. He works with peers to make projects successful. Teams enjoy and welcome the candidate’s participation.
  6. Handles adversity and rebounds positively. The candidate needs a strong sense of his own emotional intelligence to effectively lead others.
  7. Regularly meets with clients. The candidate should be out in the field meeting clients and is willing to get dirty hands.
  8. Follows established policies and processes. The candidate lives by the rules. They know they are expected to uphold policy decisions and they have no problem walking the talk.


One more thing:

We often help executive teams assess the talent of VP of Sales candidates.  Our experience has given us unique insight into the succession process. Download our “VP of Sales Must Haves” guide to get a close look at the process.  


Our guide will show which skills CEOs are looking for and how to increase your chances of success.


Download VP of Sales Must Haves here.


Demonstrating Your Readiness

Now that you know what the executive team is looking for, does your past performance measure up? 


Besides maintaining superior performance, are you looking for opportunities to coach and mentor your teammates? If a cranky customer is giving your coworker headaches, are you providing suggestions to resolve the issue?


If you want to move up, have you identified someone to move into your role? Have you provided mentoring and leadership so that person will be ready? Nothing stops a promotion faster than the inability to backfill your key position.


Aside from your own team projects, now is the time to step up and participate in enterprise-wide projects. It’s important that your name is recognized in places other than marketing and sales.


When you have a performance misstep, are you able to bounce back? Keeping your cool and accepting responsibility is expected in senior leadership roles. Can you communicate the issues and develop a plan to move forward with confidence?


Do you stay up to date with industry news and events? Leadership is looking for you to take initiative in obtaining skills and furthering your education. Have you completed your MBA or are you working towards it? 


Finally, have you identified opportunities to let leadership know you want to move up? Communicating career goals during performance reviews is smart. Have you reached out to leaders for coaching and mentoring? These are ways to set yourself apart in the candidate pool.


Eleventh Hour Missteps: What Will Keep You From the Promotion?

From all that you know, your odds of filling the VP role are looking good. What could possibly go wrong during the search process? 


There are a few ways to kill your chances. All of them are careless missteps that no serious candidate would let happen. Nonetheless, here are four examples of ways we’ve witnessed leading candidates lose their chances:


  • Underperforming. You’re only as good as your last contribution. Don’t let your performance slide during this critical time.
  • Naked Ambition. Yes, you’re looking good for the role. But don’t forget who helped you along the way. Be humble. And thankful.
  • Political Missteps. Now is not the time to be over served at a team dinner, or make stupid comments to a client. Stay on your a-game.
  • Neglecting Your Replacement. If your replacement is not ready to assume your job, you will be stuck. Don’t get sidetracked by the excitement. Continue to train and mentor so all the transitions are smooth ones.


If you are seriously interested in advancing your career to the VP of Sales role, you need to prepare now. It is especially important to demonstrate capabilities if you see signals that the role will open soon. That time may be  a year down the road or right around the corner. Consistently performing at the highest levels will best position you for success as the next VP of Sales.


Josh Horstmann

Brings a deep level of experience and insight in helping organizations develop and execute their corporate, sales and marketing strategies.
Learn more about Josh Horstmann >

Josh specializes in helping clients solve demanding sales and marketing challenges through aligning functional strategies within an organization. He has worked with clients in manufacturing, ecommerce, software, financial services and technology sectors.


Recently he helped transform an international services company ‘go to market’ strategy, which included assessing talent, re-organizing the sales force, increasing team productivity, reducing the cost of sale and aligning the marketing and sales strategies.


Josh continues to provide thought leadership to his clients advising them on how to build inside sales teams, develop compensation programs, share best practices on social selling, transform sales organizations, drive demand generation programs and acquire and cultivate talent. Along with this he helps organizations align functional strategies.


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