A lot of classic SaaStr advice has been how to spot the best potential VPs.  When to hire them.  How to interview them and qualify them.  What they really do.  Etc. etc.  Some classics here:

Because to scale, you are going to need to add a true management team, and then a second one, and then layers of management.  Otherwise, your growth will hit a wall.

And you’re are going to hire some VPs that … just don’t work out. And it likely will be more your fault than theirs.  After all, you know the most about your company.  So it’s your job to make 100% sure it’s a good match — not the prospective VP’s job to figure this out.  At least, not 100%.

When you do make a mis-hire, you just can’t fix it at the VP level.  The VP is the owner of their department.  You have to move on.  And the faster you do it, the better.  The fewer weak hires they continue to make.  The less of your scarce capital they spend.  The less they slow down feature development.  The fewer customers that end up just … unhappy.

Let’s take a look at what happens when you make a mis-hire … so you can spot the signs and move on fast.

And let’s also slow it down.  Because when times are tougher, like right now, it can be tempting to “blame the VP”.

Signs of a mis-hire at VP of Sales:

  • Revenue Per Lead, or at least Net New Bookings, Do Not Go Up in 1 Sales Cycle.  If their bag of tricks doesn’t work at least a little ASAP, they can’t do it.  Revenue per lead should improve.  If times are tougher, in fact, it’s almost easier here because the base metrics are often so low.
  • No one great joins them in first 60 days.  The best VPs of Sales quickly hire great reps under them.  Everyone else?  They hire weak, too-junior folks.  SDRs for AE roles that have never sold before.  SMB reps doing enterprise deals.  Etc. etc.
  • Deals slow down.  You’ll hear lots of excuses, but non-great VP of Sales will struggle to learn how to sell your specific product.  Discounting and sales cycles go up.  Close rates go down.  And deals … they just slow down.  Now in tougher times, deals may have already slowed down.  But a great VP of Sales will at least create some re-acceleration of velocity here.  Even if it’s not epic.

Signs of a mis-hire at VP of Marketing / Demand Gen:

  • Qualified Leads Don’t Increase.  This is the job.  Now maybe in tougher times, the leads conversion rate doesn’t increase.  But potential buyers are still out there.  Even if sales are harder than before.  If a new VPM doesn’t get you more looks … what’s the point of the hire?
  • No alignment with sales.  If your head of marketing and head of sales aren’t close … something is off.  This doesn’t mean they are BFFs.  But they should be partners.  And marketing’s job is to help sales.  If sales doesn’t think they are getting help — you don’t have a real VP of Marketing.
  • Marketing costs just too high.  You have to be careful here to make sure you know what’s going on, but marketing costs should, of course, go up once you hire a head of marketing.  You have to spend more to get more leads.  But a weak VP of Marketing often spends with too much abandon, and not enough rigor.  If your cost to acquire a lead go from low to way too friggin’ high — that’s a sign.  A sign they don’t know how to do demand gen, especially.

Signs of a mis-hire at VP of Customer Success:

  • NPS / CSAT don’t improve.  This is the job.  Good times or tougher times, you can always make customers happier.
  • Net retention doesn’t go up.  This is the job.  Even in tougher times, no one wants to cut their most beloved apps.  And there is always a little more budget for the ones that really, really matter.
  • Churn stays elevated and doesn’t go down, at least a bit.  That is the job.
  • Activation rates don’t go up.  This is also the job.  Those hard-earned customers have to go live.  And a great VP of CS will make sure more of them do.  This is very easy to quickly impact.
  • If you see a lot of motion, but no KPI improvements in CS … you didn’t hire a VP.  You hired an IC that talks the talk, but can’t do the walk.

Signs of a mis-hire at VP of Engineering:

  • Story points and velocity don’t go up pretty quickly.  VPEs know this is critical to increasing output and productivity.
  • Too many complaints about too many customer segments, technical debt, infrastructure, etc.  Look, this is all true. 99.9% of all VPEs join and take over a mess of Rube Goldberg-esque code and a hack that just won’t scale.  And there are too many customer demands, and a weak infrastructure.  But you know what?  Cry me a river.  The job is to figure out how to get past this, and still ship more great code, and stay up and scale.
  • Sales gets “less”.  Fewer features, less attention.  Just “less” from engineering.  Watch for this.  There should be a healthy tension between Product + Eng in most orgs and Sales.  Sales pushes for more features to close more deals.  Eng complains and asks for more proof points.  But no matter how big of a deal this tension is, it always gets better and improves with a great VP of Eng.  They know their customer is often, in part, the sales team.  They enjoy that dynamic, at least in part.  And they use some of those extra story points to make those deals close more easily.  If tensions with sales go up after a VP Eng joins — that’s a flag it isn’t going to work out.  Ever.  At least, not at your company.  Sometimes, these folks can move on to a more self-service environment and still thrive.

When you see these flags, sure, you can wait a little while to see if it gets better.  But when it doesn’t — you’ll know.  You’ll know you should have made a change months ago.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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