It may seem counterintuitive to seek out a sales leadership hire during this time of slowed hiring, but it’s the number one topic that many founders talk about and many SDRs, AEs, and sales managers ask about.
Founders may ask, “how do I find the right sales leadership hire?” While someone in sales may ask, “how do I become a CRO someday?”
In today’s episode of CRO Confidential, Sam Blond, Partner at Founders Fund, discusses these very questions with the previous CRO of Lattice, Dini Mehta.
Founders: Avoid These Pitfalls When You Hire Your Next Sales Leader
Activity surrounding hiring sales leaders is heating up despite the macro environment today. Sure, hiring is slowing, but this particular position will continue to be a hot topic because without a good sales leader, how can you experience hyper-growth — or even regular old steady growth?
To succeed, you have to learn from your mistakes. We’ve made it a tad easier for you with these common pitfalls that set founders back when hiring for sales leadership.
- Don’t hire someone based on a shiny logo on a resume.
Mehta notices a common pattern of matching logos on resumes. Founders want to hire a rockstar VP of Sales at a big company because they either aspire to become or compete with that company within the next 10 years.
Hiring from that company makes sense because they’ve been successful in the market. But the big oversight is that those big companies are often in a completely different stage of buildout.
Overweighting logos on a resume isn’t how you hire a rockstar sales leader. Being clear about your success criteria for 12 to 24 months from now is.
- Solving for domain experience will seriously limit you.
If you’re a property tech company and think you need to find a leader who fully understands this space, you’re solving for the wrong thing.
Limiting yourself to a very small domain eliminates a lot of talented people. The people you want are very smart and can pick up the specifics of the domain quickly enough while also bringing in innovative ideas.
- You want someone who knows what great looks like at an early stage.
So many companies hire the perennial VP of sales from companies you’ve never heard of. They have some startup experience. They’ve tried it a couple of times. But that’s not good enough.
You want to vet your potential hires to make sure they’ve seen great. They’ve witnessed it first-hand, from the front row or pretty close to the front row.
- Timing matters. Hiring a sales leader too early could be a mistake.
It’s easy to go on gut feeling or chase aspirational companies, and sometimes it might work out, but ultimately, stage matters—a lot. The most common — and successful — path founders take is hiring a few successful contributors and then hiring someone to scale the team.
Define What Success and Failure Look Like
When looking at success and failure, you want to look at 12 to 24 months from now. What do you expect the person in this role to accomplish during that time? Not in terms of revenue generation but from the company-building aspect.
Mehta says, “You have to think of the limited resources and bandwidth you have in front of you and make sure there’s strong alignment between the founder and sales leader.”
By starting with a clear list of must-haves that match your success criteria, you’re creating a clearer path to success. Of course, this is all dependent on the stage of your business. If it’s early on, look out 60 to 90 days because things move faster. If you’re later stage, determine what you want 6 to 12 months from now to look like.
Structure Your Success Criteria For a New Sales Leadership Hire
Defining what success and failure look like is one thing, but creating an actual strategy and structure around it is another. Founders are running hard with lots of whack-a-mole challenges. What excellence looks like in their go-to-market strategy will depend on the business and its strategy.
To create structure around what success looks like, you have to think outside the box. Is there market fit or not, and if there is, then it’s about getting every cohort of hires to be 20% incrementally better.
The first 90 days allow you to set the foundation. This is where founders need to get specific. Don’t hide from settling up these details.
Revenue targets are one aspect and probably the easier one. How you hit those targets is the hard part. How do you get more sustainable and scalable? You don’t necessarily need the answers, but the biggest problems and what you hope to see from revenue leaders regarding solving those problems.
That’s why early alignment is so important.
Sourcing Top Sales Leaders Isn’t as Hard as it Looks
When you’re looking for candidates, we’ve already told you not to go to a massive company that you’re hoping to be in 10 years. Instead, if you’re a startup founder, take a spreadsheet and plug in the top 10 performing startup companies over the last 5 to 7 years.
You might find companies like Brex or Lattice, Rippling, Gong, and Divvy on the sheet. Take 10 of these businesses and within each one, list the 3-5 sales leaders who started as sales reps and then absolutely crushed it. You can find those people by looking at how quickly and often they got promoted.
Look at the director or VP of Sales, but not the head of sales. Now you have 30-50 potential candidates for your sales leader.
Startup experience is a must-have for your candidate, and preferably someone who has seen what great looks like.
Sales Reps: Here’s How You Become A CRO Someday
So you’re an SDR, an AE, or someone in sales who wants to become the next CRO of a company like Lattice. How do you get there?
The short answer: you have to work your way up. There aren’t any shortcuts. It takes time to learn the different roles, starting as an SDR or AE. As a future sales leader, you’ll improve your probability of success by crushing it no matter your role. Act like a leader even if you don’t have the title, and people will notice.
If you want to be a CRO someday, implement some of these strategies:
- Approach every position with a learning mindset. Set a recurring time frame, say every 18 months, to see what you like about the current role, what gives you energy, and what you don’t like. Then keep moving toward the things that you excel at and enjoy.
- Spend time talking to people in the seat you’re after to get exposure, and then spend time with people at different points on the career path that will eventually lead them to CRO. Find the people who are 1-2 years ahead of you and learn from them.
- Act like a leader. 40% of Mehta’s management team at Lattice was promoted from within. Those promotion decisions were based on consistency in performance and whether the person was perceived as a leader.
If you’re a founder looking to make your next sales leadership hire:
- Get really clear on what success looks like for you over the next 60 days to a year.
- Don’t hire based on a logo on a resume or by solving for domain experience. Look for people across the board who have seen what great looks like, and then snatch them up if you can.
If you want to become a CRO someday:
- Approach each role you have with a learning mindset to glean as much information as possible. It will help you on the path toward your goals and help to define what you like and dislike about each role.
- Network, network, network. Meet people at the top and everybody else along the way.
Published on January 4, 2023