Firing the Whole Revenue Team Doesn’t Usually Work

So I remember the first time I saw a CEO fire their entire revenue team.

I’d invested in a PLG-first company that was transitioning at millions in revenue to being more sales-led.  And the VPs of Sales and Marketing were … well … pretty good.  But not great.  What do I mean?  Well, the VP of Sales struggled a bit at their ACV; it wasn’t his strength.  And the VP of Marketing was getting pipeline and opportunities created, but was only running part of the playbook.  Just the parts she wanted to run.  They were doing the job, but it was no Slowflake.

And one of the VCs got frustrated.  He constantly complained again and again that the VP of Sales and Marketing weren’t good enough.  I tried to defend them.  I pointed out that the sales-driven side of the business was growing faster than before they started — the ultimate test.  Things were quantiatively better than before either of them joined.  So let’s be careful about any root cause analysis, I said.

But the VC on the board was convinced they could do even better.  And after these endless criticisms and complaints, the CEO fired both the VP of Sales and Marketing — at the same time.

And the go-to-market motions … well, they just stopped.  The company hit a wall on revenue growth.

And now I’ve seen this multiple times, with the same results.

Here’s what generally happens:

  • Fire an underperforming VP of Sales, and usually, someone in sales usually steps up.  The director of Sales steps up.  The top rep steps up.  The CEO becomes the interim VP of Sales.
  • Fire an underperforming VP of Marketing, and sales usually steps up a bit here, too, and often the CEO.  Not forever, but, sometimes the outbound team dials it up.  The VP of Sales reaches out to more prospects in the funnel.  The CEO takes over the webinars for a while.
  • Fire them both though — and it’s too much.  You can’t step up everywhere.  And it all becomes a mess.

I’m not saying keep terrible VPs in place.  We all know that moving on from a big mishire as early as practical is the right thing to do.  If you are better off without a VP, then don’t wait long to make a change.

No, the more subtle question is being careful about the blame game, and making sure out of frustration in missing a quarter or two, you don’t do serious damage.

  • If you’ve decided to move on from a VP of Sales, make sure your VP of Marketing isn’t adding value if you move on there, too.  Even an OK-but-Not-Great VP of Marketing with a good attitude can help bridge the gap.  Are leads, opportunities, MQLs, etc. still increasing?  Or at least, staying consistent?  If so, be wary of fast change.
  • If you’re decided to move on from your VP of Marketing, make sure you backfill and help your VP of Sales. Not usually fire them, too!  Are you sure sales won’t go down if you also move on from your VP of Sales?  Who will replace them?  No one?  Hmmm.  If sales isn’t growing like you’d like, but overall is better with them there than without … because you’ve already moved on from your marketing lead.
  • And remember bad hires are mostly your fault, not theirs.  Did you really make 2 terrible VP hires?  I hope not.  That’s on you if you did.  See if you can make the stronger one last.  At some point, you do have to go to war with the generals you have.

Fire ’em both, and the ship often starts to just take on too much water.

Look, if you really have to move on from your entire revenue team, do it.  Sometimes, everything really is broken, and the burn rate is too high, and you sort of have to.  Sometimes.  Maybe.

But just make sure there’s no emotion involved.  And that now is really the time to move on from both leaders.  And that — you have a real plan.

If you’re going to fire your whole revenue team, you better have a real plan.  Not just hopes and dreams.

A related post here.

Published on September 8, 2022

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