canstockphoto23110607Are sales leaders getting the pink slip before they have time to prove their worth?

“My CEO just fired his VP of sales in Europe.” “Jim left because our company grew beyond his capabilities.” (Translation: He was fired.)

We hear these types of comments all the time, usually followed by, “It’s tough to find a sales leader with the experience we need.” No wonder the average tenure of a sales executive is 18 months!

Are CEOs hiring the wrong people? Or just setting expectations too high?

I question the likelihood that long-lasting change can happen in less than two years, and wonder how much of an immediate impact new sales leaders can actually make to the bottom line.

Don’t get me wrong. New sales executives must quickly demonstrate top-line results and sales effectiveness. That’s not negotiable. Getting qualified leads into the funnel and quickly converting them to opportunities enables sales leaders to make their mark—and an immediate contribution to company revenue. But rather than expecting a new leader to turn the company around overnight, perhaps it’s better to set clear and reasonable expectations with specific, incremental goals.

Is Your Sales Leader Up to Snuff?

So, how do you know if your sales executive is making real progress or just treading water? Mike Drapeau at Sales Benchmark Index outlines specific questions to ask in his post, “Is It Time To Change Your Sales Leader?

These include:

  • Is your sales leader getting better at predicting the future?
  • Have they produced a documented sales strategy aligned to your corporate strategy?  
  • Is turnover in the ranks, especially in the field salesforce, increasing? 
  • Is the pace of new logo customer acquisition declining?  
  • Are the direct reports to your sales leader strong and capable sales managers, or are they mediocre? 

Mike also suggests five ways to set new sales executives up for success. My favorite is #3: “Interview the family.” He writes:

The travel, intensity, and pressure of the VP of Sales role are a tremendous burden on any one person. That burden extends to the spouse/family. Yet they are often left out of the evaluation process. Interacting with the family of a candidate can help set long term expectations and ensure that, when the going gets rough in the job, the family does not push back. (Read the rest of Mike’s post.)

It’s Not Them, It’s You

My interpretation of Mike’s advice: If your company can’t seem to keep a sales executive for more than two years, perhaps it’s the process—and not the people—that needs to changes.

I’ve always believed in the old adage that we should be “slow to hire and quick to fire.” This goes double for executives—people with the power to make or break a sales organization. But when employers get the “slow to hire” part right, the “quick to fire” part isn’t usually necessary.

For more on how sales leaders can transform their organizations, get your copy of Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.

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