Few things are more 1 + 1 = 3 that when a VPS and a VPM are truly a great team
— Jason ✨BeKind✨ Lemkin ⚫️ (@jasonlk) June 22, 2021
The other day I saw a VP of Sales flame out and resign with no notice from a SaaS company doing $10m ARR growing quickly. There were a lot of flags in this hire, but I remember one vividly. At his first board meeting, he kept talking over the VP of Marketing. Not only were they not remotely aligned on anything, clearly they weren’t even communicating.
It was just such a missed opportunity. The VPM giving their all to create leads, opportunities, and more. And a VPS convinced he had to do it his way. I’d like to say this was the only time I’ve seen this misalignment. But it’s more common than you’d think.
So I thought it might be helpful to brush off the topic of alignment between Sales and Marketing by updating a classic post on the topic.
While I hate the term “alignment” from my days as a F500 VP, if the term ever were to be used in a useful way in a SaaS start-up, it’s the way your VP Sales and VP Marketing should be joined at the hip. They should be the Mom and Dad of marketing (no gender or other specific attribution intended). If they don’t work together like a well-oiled machine — and surprisingly, often they don’t — you’ll have a real problem on your hands trying to scale.
What 3 factors/skills must every VP of sales possess? Why?
Jason: There are different types of VP of Sales for different phases of B2B companies. But if we’re talking, say, broadly from $1m-$50 in ARR, there are three top skills. And directly selling his or herself isn’t one of the top 3, interestingly.
- Ability to Recruit a Large and Successful Team. Because you’re going to need a team to sell. And recruiting great reps and making them successful is the #1 most important thing your VP Sales will do. And the great VP of Sales all know this. They all either have in their back pocket, and/or are constantly on the prowl for, the next 2-3 great reps because sales is a lead-driven but headcount-closed business. To hit their number, they know they need the heads. It becomes mathematically impossible without them.
- Hands-On Enough to Backfill Her/His Sales Team. Until you are relatively big, while the VP Sales won’t be able to take most deals personally, he or she will have to spend a ton of time helping his/her sales team close deals. Working and closing key deals with them. Spotting issues before they blow up and seeing opportunities ahead of the horizon. In general, the VP of Sales should be making sure his/her 3 reports, then 10 reports, then 30 direct and indirect reports — work as effectively and efficiently as they can.
- Sales Tactics. The VP Sales has to be the author and chief strategist on the sales tactics that will work for your space and product. How to compete. How to put together the best pitch scripts. Coordinating FUD and anti-FUD. Segmenting customers. Optimizing how best to work with Demand Gen and marketing. Getting feature gaps filled with Product and Engineering. In sum -> Learning and understanding how to maximize the revenue per lead.
A: You’ve stated that the VP of sales is one of the most common mis-hires SaaS companies can make. What are some red flags to look out for?
J: A few key flags:
- Only Ever Worked at a Start-Up. This is just as big of a flag as a VP of Sales that has only ever worked at a huge tech company. These VPs of Sales maybe managed 3, then 5 or 8 folks. They may have ever done really well. But their bio is full of Start-Up to Start-Up to Start-Up that Never Quite Scaled. These sales execs are often very smart. The problem is, they don’t scale. For a variety of potential reasons (lack of skills, lack of interest, shiny penny syndrome). It doesn’t matter why. They don’t scale.
- His or Her Claimed Metrics Don’t Make Sense. “I grew sales 400%”. But the company only increased ARR 80% over that period. Huh? This is pretty common, in fact. These guys aren’t connected with success at their past company. You need a VP Sales you can trust. Even more than that, you need a VP Sales you can go into battle with every day. If the metrics make no sense, pass. You can’t rely on him or her.
- Has No One Great to Bring With Them. Since 50% of the job of being a VP of Sales is recruiting, if they don’t already have a few good folks to bring with them — that’s a flag.
- Too Much Name Dropping. A little name dropping is good. But when they talk about “Marc” and “Larry”, or too much about being on a first-name basis with too many CXOs and VPs … then this person is way too focused on position and selling up. You don’t need or want this. Telling you about the great customers he closed — wonderful. Telling you a non-amusing story about “Marc”? Pass.
A: How should a sales leader break down his or her time?
J: Roughly, in the order noted above in Top 3 priories. Those Top 3 should be at least 50 percent of his or her time. Probably 15-20 percent on recruiting. 15-20 percent on backfilling the team. And 15-20 percent on putting together the tactics and strategies to enable his or her team to excel and drive up Revenue Per Lead.
40-50 percent for everything else … sales ops; cross-functional work; board meetings; plane trips to Big Customers; etc. etc.
A: What is your top advice to VPs of sales looking to shorten their teams’ ramp to productivity?
J: Actually I can’t help the great ones. They know better than me.
But what I can do is give some advice to CEOs and founders so they know what to look for. The #1 best piece of advice is to make sure you have 1 or 2 reps that are completely killing it. They just know how to close. And make sure they are sitting dead center in the sales pit. That way, everyone can learn by example. And by osmosis. If no one is killing it … it’s highly demoralizing. No one will believe. If no one believes, if they can’t see and talk to at least one or two guys with big W-2s driving M6 convertibles … they won’t try hard enough. Because they won’t be sure it’s worth it.
Beyond that, in general on productivity in the early and middle days … make sure your VP Marketing and/or whoever is heading demand gen sits right in the middle of the sales pit. I.e., he or she is connected at the hip to sales. That will dramatically increase the lead qualification effectiveness and maximize lead quality. If Marketing doesn’t sit with sales, each can blame the other … sales says marketing gives them cr*p leads … marketing says sales is lazy and doesn’t follow up with their leads …
A: What can a VP of sales do to help foster sales and marketing alignment?
J: The great ones do this already. First, if they’re in the office, they sit near each other. See above. And they meet at least twice a week, and at least once formally. Even if you don’t think there’s anything to talk about. If your VP of Sales and VP of Marketing aren’t meeting at least once or twice a week, get involved. Make them. You can start off making it a 3-way meeting, and hopefully, they’ll run with it and do their own 1-on-1s.
Second, and this is controversial… but be careful about creating 2 types of leads. At least as your core funnel KPI. Many companies have Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads, or other variants across the funnel. They are times when this is a good idea, especially with solution sales and larger ACV deals. You need these stages, but you have to pick 1 that Sales and Marketing align on as their core KPI. You want consensus here between sales and marketing what a qualified lead is period. Otherwise, Sales and Marketing are working at two related, but different goals. They should ultimately have the same goal — MRR growth. Sales and Marketing can prioritize Sales Qualified Opportunities. Or it can make MQLs. Or something in the middle. But pick one key goal before Closed Won that your VPS and VPM both agree is the #1 goal for marketing.
Third, your VP Sales should never, ever blame Marketing. At least not in public. If the VP Sales thinks the leads aren’t high quality, or aren’t there — talk about it behind closed doors. Almost every VP of Sales feels like the quality of leads goes down over time, at least sometimes. They may even be right. But in the end, you’re a team. Your VP of Sales and VP of Marketing need to agree on that core KPI and support each other. Even if each quietly vent to the CEO at times.
>> The VP of Sales and VP of Marketing need to be the Mom and Dad of Revenue. Don’t let anyone see Mom and Dad fight.