I had my first mentor a couple of yrs ago when I was SVP. Really helped me work through things and see all the things I was missing. I extended the coaching to two of my VP’s then two Sr Dir. who were looking to move to VP. Can totally recommend it. Way better than nerd certs!
— Ben Haines (@bhaines0) September 10, 2020
One thing all of us that have been doing SaaS for a while have learned is that, back in the day, we didn’t do a good enough job of specialization, especially in sales. And we didn’t do a good enough job of training new hires.
We’ve learned to build up a specialized sales team from BDRs to SDRs to segmented AEs, so openers are opening, qualifiers are qualifying, and closers are closing. We’ve also learned you can’t expect sales reps (or anyone) to get quickly up to speed on their own. At least it’s not super effective. You can’t scale by training by osmosis. It’s still early innings, but we’re getting better. Most of us don’t throw the yellow pages (conceptually speaking) at a new rep anymore and tell them just to start selling. We get them help.
What’s lagged is training, helping, and mentoring your VPs.
I see again and again CEOs hiring VPs and just expecting them to magically own and solve their functional area. Which they should. That’s their job.
But what we all still need is trusted help and advice — even the very best VPs do. As a VP, your boss is the CEO, so a lot of the help you get from your boss will be very strategic. That’s great.
But CEOs out there — your VPs need more. They need another VP, another CRO or CMO or CCO or whatever function, to bounce things off. To get advice on building their team. To think through how quickly to scale. To think about how quickly to go upmarket. To work through how much budget to argue for.
I do this myself for a handful of VPs of Sales and Marketing at companies I work with. I’m the informal mentor, and I think it helps them. But what would be even better would be to also have an experienced peer that is a true VPS or VPM or VPCS.
So here’s my simple suggestion: When you hire a VP, add an extra line item. Budget an extra 5% of your VP’s equity grant and/or 10% of her base salary in cash. And save this for their top mentor.
Let your VPs pay this mentor in options (vesting over 4 years), or cash, or a mix, something to incent someone to be their Chief Advisor and to truly be engaged. A lot of folks do this for their Technical Advisory Boards, but I rarely see it in other functions.
The best mentors and advisors aren’t in it for the money. But if you don’t pay them something fair — they just aren’t as committed. And what ends up happening in almost every SaaS company I work with, is that the VPs are too alone. They don’t get enough mentor help. They still do fine. But even the best ones will make better decisions, faster, with one. Which will make your company grow more efficiently, with less risk. And destress your VP, along the way, at least a little bit.
The good news: You can fix this today. It’s easy. Just give them budget. Tell all your VPs they have, say, 10,000 options, or, say, $20k a year, to budget for mentors. Let them figure out how to spend it. Nine times out of 10, the ROI will be huge here.
And while it’s early, there are new platforms that can help. For new engineering managers, for example, you can use platforms like PlatoHQ that have 100s of world-class VPs of Engineering and CTOs to act as mentors — in real-time.
However you do it — give your VPs a mentor budget and let them figure it out. A great VP always knows how to most effectively deploy her budget.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)