I met recently with two young entrepreneurs armed with a hot company and a fresh round of financing. With reference customers in place, a budding sales team and a legitimate pipeline of opportunities, the time seemed ripe to hire a professional to lead the sales function. Here are a few thoughts that were tossed about:
- If this is a first-time venture, resist the lure of hiring a remote VP of Sales. The reason is simple: managing such a resource from a distance requires a certain maturity of process, reporting and overall management by which to enhance the likelihood of success. Such rigor is especially important for the sales function which is prone to market optimism and a lag between behaviors, activities and results. Early-stage companies are typically more organizationally free-flowing and experimental in nature with processes that tend to be on the ‘lite’ side. By the time such organizations determine whether their remotely-based sales executive is truly making progress it can be too late to make a correction. In the end, the stakes are too high and such companies are better off hiring someone close to home.
- The firm should hire an executive with stage/context specific experience. The business may be gaining momentum and the CEO may well have visions of an immediate future that is big and successful. He may be seduced into thinking that hiring an executive from that ‘big’ future is the way to go. This is usually a mistake as many such individuals adjust poorly when dropped into a much smaller present-day. It is experience with the journey that matters not the future that may or may never come. Hire someone who understands today’s reality (cash-strapped, few resources, founders, no-name brand etc etc) who has experienced growing a business one or two steps ahead and yet who is not so big that they cannot come back to today.
- Hire someone who has worked for a founder, understands that experience, was successful at it (and can explain why), and is open to do it again. Founders are ‘special’ in many ways. They are very ‘hands-on’, controlling, detailed-oriented and they don’t trust easily. They can be strong willed, stubborn perhaps and their peccadillos can range from mild to wild. Don’t hire anyone who cannot speak about how they worked successfully with a founder in the past.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.