The Clash of Cultures - How Tech Founders Successfully Hire Awesome Sales VPs

The Clash of Cultures – How Tech Founders Successfully Hire Awesome Sales VPs

Salesmen are portrayed in movies as pushy or ruthless. Their moral compass is depicted as spinning arbitrarily, or worse. A quick path to an amusing conversation is sharing a favorite sales person horror story. Yet they are your front line, the human embodiment of your company. They are the face that defines your public perception. Get it right and soar. Err and getting back in the door might never happen. You traded half your company to VCs to get rolling, worked around the clock for months to deliver the dream, your marketing team brilliantly grounded your brand. And now it all comes down to your VP of Sales. How do you assess a candidate’s ability to ‘fit’ with your killer team?

  • History is just the start: Many CEOs focus on the track record, past company success, ability to manage metrics and exceed expectations. Unfortunately, the personality of the candidate is often overlooked. Searching for work history on Google and LinkedIn is barely table-stakes. Executing competence-based searches proficiently gets you in the gate but the starter pistol hasn’t fired yet.
  • Fit is everything: Hire on sales performance along and suddenly your fun, fast paced, energetic organization has a new sales leader who delivers “the numbers” but causes your engineers to roll their eyes with every over-the-top claim. Is 120% of forecast worth one engineer updating their profile on LinkedIn? No. You need a hiring approach that matches capability with cultural fit.
  • ‘School’ Matters: Not their educational pedigree but their professional approach. Does it match yours? Huge companies (EMC) were built by being sales team driven. Others (Microsoft) succeeded even though sales people were kept in the dark until late in the product ship cycle. Both can work. Failure happens when the cultures clash. Your role, and SHP’s expertise, is to crush the clash by hiring for credentials and cultural fit!

How do you hire and ensure the right cultural fit?

Search for credentials but interview for fit. Since this post is focused on sales leadership, I recommend asking the questions beyond performance and metrics. Ask questions that cause modest, but appropriate, discomfort. Get them off their game. These are examples of the pre-screening SHP provides and one of the key reasons the teams we build stay together, pull together and succeed together. Notice how many of these questions are designed to see how self-aware the candidate is, how effectively and transparently they can discuss challenges. Any recruiter or interviewer can pattern-match qualifications in search criteria and cause candidates to wax prophetic about how they “killed it”. The questions we ask detect the true ‘self’ and assess how each person will fit with the team you deserve to have.

Sales Capacity, Social/Emotional IQ (“EQ”)

  1. 1. Describe your best sales year? Who helped and how? What roadblocks did you overcome?
  2. 2. What inhibitors have you experienced and how did you overcome them?
  3. 3. What happened when you realized you were missing quota?
  4. 4. What do you like most/least about your current job?
  5. 5. Describe both your favorite and most challenging boss?

Cultural Breadth

  1. 1. What have you read that fundamentally changed your opinion or perspective?
  2. 2. What’s your favorite non-work activity? Why should I take it up? Does it require specialized equipment? Pitch it to me.
  3. 3. What is the ideal relationship between Sales and Bus. Dev.? Sales and Marketing?
  4. 4. What’s the toughest message you ever had to deliver to your manager or the Board? How did you prepare? What was the outcome? How will you improve next time?
  5. 5. Same questions but with a customer focus?
  6. 6. Describe partnering with Sales Ops? Channel partners?
  7. 7. What your biggest deal? What was your toughest loss? How have you learned from both?
  8. 8. What does ‘lead from the front’ mean to you?
  9. 9. What was the toughest personnel challenge you overcame?
  10. 10. Same question but let’s talk about one that went south. What did you learn?
  11. 11. What causes a new sales rep to hit quota rapidly? How do you manage underperformance?
  12. 12. What are your expectations in terms of expenses? What’s the longest you’ve waited to submit expenses? What are your favorite techniques for managing to a budget?
  13. 13. We need to hire 10 sales people in the next 3 months, do you mind stepping to the whiteboard and sketching a plan?
  14. 14. How many people can you hire from your network? Do you have an example of someone from your network who will try to pursue you who we should avoid? Why?
  15. 15. What is the best hire you ever made outside your network?

Hiring and Management

These are a few examples sharing the core of our expertise. We have a history of ferreting out awesome candidates when they are not even looking for a new role: 95% of our successes emerge from passive sources, killer prospects not even looking for work! Would you like to interview a small coterie of candidates already assessed for competence, emotional IQ and cultural fit? StellarHire Partners is ready to be your partner and advocate.

It’s true, you’ll know quickly is you’re sales VP isn’t working out, 30 days according to this article. At SHP we believe this assessment can and should happen before they join your team. If you’re striking out on your own, here’s a great example of a situational interview.

I’ve helped many companies with grounded cultures only to see that sense of self suffer with scale.  Your company is your culture, your values. How your team expresses those values at every point of contact determines your odds of success. Hiring stellar candidates assures that expression is an asset.