Let’s say you’ve got your MVP on lock and you’re just starting to generate revenue. Congrats, you’ve made some sales and that feels good. You feel good. This vision that you’ve had locked inside your head is finally starting to manifest. But because it’s your vision, as the founder, or co-founder, your natural inclination might be to take a step back and reevaluate the tone of your brand, or something. Which is cool if you have someone managing sales and keeping the ship moving forward. But if you don’t have that person in place, your runway’s going to tank harder than The Emoji Movie on Rotten Tomatoes.
If you’re not the one who is going to bring in the revenue in these early days, you need to hire on a strong VP of Sales asap who has experience working with startups.
That first part is more important than the last. You’re a startup, so you really shouldn’t be hiring the top dollar talent at this stage. At the very least what you’re looking for is a hungry, outgoing sales manager who can moonlight as a brand evangelist for you. So while you’re off casting vision, this person is going to be in the trenches, bringing in all the money. If you’ve tried doing this for even one day you know it’s a lot of smart, hard work that deserves to be compensated way above market share.
And If you really want your future hire to not only buy-in, but also perform above board and stick around for the long-haul, then you should definitely pay them more than you pay yourself. Unless, of course, you’re one of those founders that believes that they should collect the largest paycheck at the start of the company. If so, then you should probably stop reading this, because good luck.
It’s basic logic, like 1+1=2, or don’t wear socks and sandals. If you treat people well, then they’ll perform above and beyond. Here’s another one: the sustainability of your company is directly correlated to your path to profitability. In other words, the the more you can increase your revenue month-over-month, the more runway you’re going to have and the more money you’re going to make as the founder in a long play. For a lot of entrepreneurs this is “Traction 101” but then there’s Martin Shkreli, so… side eye.
Your VP of Sales is charged with one, singular, over-arching task: revenue building (which is different from active selling, but that’s for later). If your revenue is consistently growing over a long enough period of time, it’s going to create actual, for real, tangible, makin’ it rain equity. You’re gonna get paid, son. But before you can make a profitable exit, there’s a whole laundry list of boxes to check off your to-do list and it has absolutely nothing to do with casting vision.
Jason Lemkin, VC and former CEO of EchoSign, lists out a startup’s VP of Sales five primary responsibilities, from most important to least. It can also be super helpful to think of it in time allocation, or even how their time might be spent each day of the week:
- Monday: Recruiting
- Tuesday: Advising reps on their current deals
- Wednesday: Optimizing the sales process and tactics
- Thursday: Defining strategy
- Friday: Closing business
A good, strong VP of Sales is going to come in and be the brand evangelizing backbone you need during this early revenue stage. When it comes recruiting, your VP of Sales is going to pull together and hire a rag-tag-team of sales people, a la “Little Giants,” to pull you through each quarter. When it comes to advising reps on their current deals, they’ll be directing and holding reps accountable for their Qualified Lead Velocity Rate, in place of traditional “I’m working my pipeline” excuses. If we’re going by days of the week, we’re not even to hump day yet and I’m exhausted thinking about trying to do all of this work.
Next up, your VP of Sales handles the optimization of the sales process and tactics. According to HubSpot, what this means is that they’re actively: creating sales scripts, email templates, and reusable demo agendas; perfecting the stages of the sales process; understanding which features speak to which prospects; writing the product roadmap with Engineering, and more. When it comes to defining strategy, it’s all about where you can make those most money and the biggest impact. We’re talking “Beautiful Mind” levels of thinking. Which reminds me, in addition to paying them more than you on a monthly basis, it’s not be a bad idea to give up 1%-3% of your equity to them. Because come Friday, they’re going to be the ones working to close new business for you, and you can only buy so much coffee before it gets old.
Case and point: you should pay your VP of Sales more than you pay yourself. They’re hiring and training your sales team. They’re harpooning whales. They’re making you money. But at the end of the day, what they’re really doing is also freeing you up so that you can still be the visionary and do the work you really love. It’s priceless.