What CEOs Want in a VP of Sales

Marines Partner with Afghan Forces During Operation in Helmand Province

Hiring a vice president of sales is one of the most important decisions a CEO ever makes.

A wise choice puts the company in position for the kind of explosive growth we have experienced at XANT. The wrong person may create a cancerous culture that consistently underperforms.

We have been fortunate to have a world-class VP of sales, Michael Critchfield, who makes my job as CEO easier. Michael has quickly helped us become one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, as evidenced by our inclusion in the Inc. 5000.

I want to share with you some of the qualities that I value in a sales leader, in hopes that these insights will help you advance your own career.

I have identified four key criteria I use to evaluate a VP of sales:

  • Leadership

  • Playbook

  • Cultural Alignment

  • Personality Fit

Some of these elements outrank others, so let’s examine each one in a little more depth.

Leadership: The most crucial quality

I have found that military strategy works well in business. A VP of sales must instinctively know how to rally the troops around a common mission and create intense team unity, similar to the solidarity within the Marines. You have to inspire your reps to charge that hill month after month.

Show that you’re a leader with vision. The ideal candidate has undeniable drive, motivation and loyalty — and can ignite those attributes in others.

A VP of sales must be keenly aware of reps’ energy levels as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Establish yourself as a field general with the foresight to resolve pesky problems before they escalate into full-blown disasters. The occasional tough month may be inevitable, but no CEO wants to suffer through sales slumps that can be avoided with proactive leadership.

Playbook: You can’t win without smart plays

True leadership is the most important attribute for a VP of sales. It’s tough to build a team around somebody who can’t inspire others. It’s also vital to hire somebody with a winning playbook. The VP of sales has to know how to build systems, not just run them.

The best candidates bring a robust playbook. You can’t lead effectively unless you have done battle in the trenches using proven tactics.

Though not a complete list, here are a few of the things a VP of sales must know how to do:

  • Manage a sales pipeline

  • Create compensation plans that motivate reps

  • Use data intelligently and predictively

  • Teach time management skills

  • Demo products

  • Handle objections

  • Close out a quarter strong

You can build a sales playbook in one of two ways. You can either assemble it yourself through trial and error or you can learn your plays from a qualified mentor. Mentorship is the most common method by far.

Your professional pedigree matters, but only to a certain extent. What you have accomplished and who you have worked with trump where you have worked.

One of the biggest mistakes a CEO can make is to fall in love with a candidate based on the companies on that candidate’s resume.

I am not hiring you for your resume. I am hiring you for your playbook. There is a big difference.

Count on answering questions like these:

  • Who was your mentor?

  • How long did you work with this person?

  • How closely did you work with this person?

  • Who originally mentored your mentor?

There is a reason that Mr. Miyagi made the Karate Kid “wax on” and “wax off.” We all need mentors to help us reach the next level. If you can demonstrate that you have been groomed by the best, you will move up to the top of the list.

Cultural Alignment: Will you fit into the organization?

You might be a visionary leader with a proven playbook, but if you don’t match the company culture, you will not be happy or successful there.

XANT is guided by a clear vision of our value to the world and what we are trying to accomplish. We have well-defined philosophies that govern everything from whom we hire, to how we motivate them, to how we build our products and serve our clients.

We share strong traditions, values and a common purpose. Anybody who is not aligned with our culture will probably be more productive somewhere else.

Personality Fit: Are you fun to work with?

Personality is one of those intangibles that a CEO simply can’t overlook. As I get to know a candidate, I intuitively ask myself, “Will I enjoy working with this person?”

Life is too short and business hours are too long to gamble on a rock star VP of sales who reminds everybody of Hannibal Lecter.

When you’re building a SaaS software company that is disrupting the sales industry, as we are, disagreements are just part of the deal. At the end of the day, though, we should all respect one another. Otherwise, things fall apart rather quickly.

I love working with my VP of sales. He drives me crazy sometimes, and I drive him crazy sometimes — as friends are known to do. But we work well together, and we’re both committed to improving the world with innovative technology.

Key Takeaways

CEOs don’t expect perfection from their sales leaders. That would not be realistic or fair.

There are certain characteristics that are pretty good indicators of success, though. The winning combination is a visionary leader with a robust playbook who is aligned with company culture and is fun to work with.

Finding the right VP of sales is just the start. Then, it’s the CEO’s job to build a team to support this person. That’s where the real magic happens.

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Photo credit: isafmedia

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