We’ve talked a lot about hiring a VP of Sales at SaaStr, and if you hire a stretch VP of Sales (as most of you will) … how much you can stretch.

A related question is — just how quickly can you gain the requisite experience to be a true first time VP of Sales?  I think best case — it’s 5-6 years until you are ready.

Let’s walk through the career path of one of the best folks on my team:

  • Month 0:  Joined as entry-level, most junior SDR.  Screening the lowest quality in-bound leads.  Had about 8 mos. of prior SDR experience at another SaaS company.
  • Month 6: promoted to first SMB rep.
  • Month 9: makes SMB most profitable segment, becomes #2 rep
  • Month 16: promoted to enterprise rep
  • Month 24: closes 50% of top enterprise accounts
  • Month 36: promoted to manager, manages team of 8
  • Month 40: promoted, manages team of 24 at F500 company
  • Month 50: manages even more, #2 manager to VPS at F500 company
  • Month 60: leaves to be VPS at super-hot venture-backed start-up

So that’s 5 years plus about a year of prior SDR experience, or about 6 years total.  He did this all by age 27 or so.  So I think if you are a total rock-star, and you don’t skip steps and really want to become a manager first … you can do it in 60-72 months.  Acquire all the requisite skills to be a true VP of Sales.  And that’s best case.

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And in enterprise sales, it probably takes at least 2 years longer.   If for no other reason than the longer sales cycles.

If an aspirational VP of Sales tries to do it faster … which they may be able to do if they join a very early stage start-up or one that isn’t super hot … because someone will give them the title … I really wonder if they can acquire all the skills you really need.

The VPs of Sales I know that skipped steps almost all end up stumbling later.  Most importantly, they don’t really know how to recruit.  Or, they don’t really understand competitive sales.  Or, they don’t really understand how demand gen really works (a common problem).  Etc.

So by all means, stretch.  You can skimp a bit on the # of direct hires she’s made before.  You can skimp a bit on how long she’s lead a real team.

But if they haven’t been selling and then managing a team for at least 5-6 years … it’s gonna be a stretch too far.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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