Hiring & Retention

If You Don’t Think You Need a VP of Product, VP of Marketing, Etc. — Then You Haven’t Worked With a Great One

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Jason Lemkin

I’ve read quite a few blog posts over the years.  One of the very best though is this one from Joe Kraus, founder and CEO of Excite — “If You Don’t Think You Need It — You Haven’t Seen Greatness.”

I want to expand upon it here for SaaS.

Joe’s point is that until he’d worked with a great head of product marketing, and a great general counsel … he didn’t even know he needed one.

vice_president_of_awesome_mugI learned the same.  Basically, in SaaS, everyone “gets” that they need a VP of Sales.  Even if they’ve never sold anything before.  Either, they don’t have enough customers, enough velocity, so they magically think a VPS can solve that.  She can’t — as we’ve discussed here.  Or, as founders, we cross $1-$1.5m in ARR, get to Initial Traction, and then realize, we have to scale.  Hire not just 1-2 reps, but 10.  Get to $10m.  And that it’s time to bring in someone that knows.

Either way, we come to this conclusion on our own.  I Need a VP of Sales.

But I’ve found many great SaaS founders take longer, too long, to decide to hire the other VPs.

  • Why do I need a VP of Product?  My CTO and dev team is building all the features we need.  Maybe just a product manager is enough.”  Fair enough.  But trust me.  That can’t last in the enterprise.  Maybe you can handle the 100 customers and 100 core features you have today.  But at 1,000 customers and 10,000 features?  You just can’t hack it.  You need a true VP of Product to manage it all.   Meet with the customers.  Synthesize it all.  Make you Truly Enterprise.  If you haven’t worked with a great one, you probably won’t get it.  But if you have, you’ll see that magic just happens after Initial Traction.  It seems so hard today just to keep up.  But with a great VP of Product — you’re magically able to somehow serve the needs (often by hook or crook, but somehow) of 100s and 1000s of enterprise customers.
  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Marketing?  I Have Enough Leads.  Sounds Too Expensive for Now.”  Another one I see a lot is, let’s start with a Director of Marketing.  Let’s not go with the Full VP yet.  That would be too expensive.  Can’t I just hire someone to help the sales team?  Manage a trade show?  Of course you can.  It’s not a terrible idea.  But here’s the problem.  95/100, only a VP can really own the whole thing in marketing.  Own a lead or opportunity commit.  Own the number for this year, along with the VP of Sales.  Own getting you from $1.5m to $10m.  If you hire anyone more junior than this, all you get is help at the end of the day.  Help is terrific, and appreciated, of course.  But a great VP of Marketing does so much more.  She gets you to $10m and beyond faster.  And not only more than pays for herself, but carries a huge amount of the load.  With a great VP of Marketing, your business almost automatically grows faster.  With less drama.  And a happier sales team.
  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Customer Success?  Why do I need a real VP now?”  Look.  The bottom line is having anyone good in customer success with even a smidge of experience is about 11,000x better than no one.  The whole key to Second Order Revenue is having the talented, committed bodies in place to work with the customers.  But without a VP … it’s just reactive.  A VP of Customer Success can do just so much more.  A VP of Customer Success can carry a number.  I.e., own growing revenue from the installed base 10% or 20% Year-over-Year.  A true VP of Success can also aggressively attack churn.  And importantly — Almost Churn (more on that here).  And a VP of Customer Success can put real processes in place.  This is just so hard to do without a true VP.  Individual contributors just can’t implement systems and accountability the same way.  And a real VP of Customer Success will be a true partner with your VP of Sales.  Not just a support function.  And perhaps most importantly, a true VP of Customer Success will recruit an amazing team under her.

Here’s my uber-point:

As soon as you hit Initial Traction ($1.5m in ARR), as soon as it goes from Repeatable to Repeating … you are ready for a VP of Everything.  Of Engineering.  Of Product.  Of Marketing.  Of Customer Success.  Etc.  And of course, VP of Sales.

All of them.

And as long as they are great, they’ll all be accretive.  More on that here.

Even having said that, I get cash may be a limiter.  Other factors may as well.

But it’s not that you’re not ready.  Or more importantly, that you don’t need a true VP yet.

You do.  As soon as you hit Initial Traction.

>> And if you don’t think you need any of the VPs — it’s only because you’ve never worked with a great one.

Once you have … you’ll know.

Published on October 30, 2014
  • Reblogged this on Beckmania.

  • Say you have the VP of Sales, and the budget to get one more VP – who do you go for first?

    • You really almost need the VP of Marketing before the VP of Sales. Because as soon as the VP of Sales gets any material number of reps scaled, she is going to need a ton of air support from marketing. I hired individual reps first, then VP of Marketing, then VP of Sales. In an ideal world, I think this is the right sequence.

      • Thank you for your response. Your previous posts on when to hire a VP of Sales had a dramatic impact on our hiring and business plan. I look forward to your future writing.

  • Focus is the one of the subtexts in this article. As soon as you hire a VP, you get someone that focuses on one area. The real reason why a CEO can never be the best VP of anything is that she can’t focus on one thing. She will close a large deal here, throw in a good product idea there, but will not be able to design the process and then execute, therefore leaving most of the surface untouched.

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