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Feb 6

Written by: Kathryn Ullrich
2/6/2013 2:20 PM 

When hiring a Vice President of Sales, I look for excellent sales results, experience required for the specific client need, and skills in strategic visioning, customer perspective, communication skills, team leadership, and the distinguishing skills of negotiating and driving sales.

When I do a sales search, whether vice president or account manager, the first criteria is a consistent track record of results. In the first glance of a resume, I look for sales results over time: achieved 100+% of quota year after year, sales club, top producer, etc. If the person has results, then I look for the specific situational and industry experience needed by the client.

Each client may have different situational needs: develop a sales team so that they are following an efficient, repeatable, measurable sales process; hire a sales team and grow sales; start a sales function in Silicon Valley, leveraging a strong Rolodex; provide strong leadership as regional/US sales leader to move up in the sales organization. And of course, there are specific experiences around industry, product specialization, vertical industries, customer relationships, etc. We look for evidence of the client specific scenarios and customers.

For the sales executive, strategic vision goes beyond just vision to alignment of the team to execute the vision. It starts with setting a direction for current and future customers plus establishing a repeatable process to reach sales goals.

As shared in Getting to the Top, VP Sales Chris Staskus says, "When I was in middle management, I was much more tactical. I was managing a group of sales reps. I was helping them with day to day, how do we get the deal done, how do we get past that rejection. I was helping to train the reps. I was more of a coach. In the senior role, it was much more strategic. I was much more about how do you put a repeatable process in place to steer your organization, how do you think strategically about new markets that you need to get into, how do you think about new channels that you could develop, should you put in a business development function or not?"

Sales is at the forefront of an organization in understanding the customer's perspective. I call it the commandment, "Know thy customer." A sales executive needs to be expert at listening to customers, developing strong relationships, and having the intellectual curiosity to understand the customer.

VP Sales Andy Wiedlin explains how a former sales manager taught him about this necessary sales skill. A former boss required the sales team to fill out call reports: "He would require us to know our client's wife's name, their kids' names and birthdays, what cars they drove, and their religion. And it wasn't enough to say, 'Christian'; you had to know if they were Baptist or Presbyterian. He taught me something, and I tell this to my team all the time: 'If you're going to ask people for millions of dollars, you need to know who they are and everything about them. You are going to spend tons of time with them. You need to know who they are.' The call sheets were a proxy for figuring out who they were. It didn't matter that you knew when the kid's birthday was. It's do you know them personally? Do you know what makes them tick? It is not always the best pricing or the best product. It's why is the person buying? People buy on emotion. So you need to find out where they are coming from. What's important to them is really what's important in sales."

Communication skills become exponentially more important the more senior you are in the organization. These skills include listening; communicating up, down and across the organization; influencing; becoming trusted advisor; and gaining credibility.

VP Sales Todd Laurence says, "To get to the level of being a trusted advisor, you have to be a business person who can listen and appreciate the problems that your customer or prospect has. You have to be able to thoroughly understand them so that when you position a solution, you do so from the standpoint of being a trusted advisor. It's not about a profession simply dominated by personality. You've got to be a lot smarter and you've got to be a good business person. If you are reacting rather than creating the deal, chances are you'll lose it."

Team performance starts with hiring the best people then developing the team, motivating, and quickly firing the non-performers. One part of developing a team is playing to the strengths of individual team members.

Andy Wiedlin recalls, "I was once told that a great sales manager is someone who can play chess. I thought, 'You mean that you need to think three steps ahead?' No, every piece on the board does different things. You may have one account that requires someone to be great at analytics, another account that needs a touchy-feely person, and another account that just needs someone who brings great visionary ideas. As a sales manager, you need to put your best people against the most appropriate accounts."

In looking at skills across functions, I learned that the distinguishing skills of sales executives were driving sales and negotiating. These are must have skills that cannot be delegated. A sales executive will get called in to the difficult accounts or negotiations to close the deal, therefore these skills are imperative.

Andy Wiedlin shares, "There are a zillion reasons why deals do not close and I have heard them all, like no budget, the guy was not available to sign, and the dog ate my homework. It is the attention to detail and perseverance and the ability to close a deal that makes a salesperson great."

These skills can apply to the vice president of sales as well as to account executives, sales consultants and inside sales reps. The key when hiring a senior executive is to make sure they have the requisite results and experience, plus these fundamental skills that they can model and develop in a high performing sales team.

For further information on these sales skills, watch these YouTube videos at

"Sales Tips, Getting to Know Your Customer" with Andy Wiedlin

"Sales Tips, Getting to Know Your Client " with Larry Westphal

"How to Get the Most Out of Your Team"

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