Why the VP of Sales is the Hardest SaaS Job

Robert McLaws
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Every SaaS company is different. But when targets are missed, finger-pointing, blame-placing, and a general spirit of disappointment, stress, and fear often ensues, even in a healthy work culture.

The CEO and CFO present poor results to the Board, but they sure as hell aren’t going to say, “We blew it. We will all resign now.”

The CMO is often an easy target. After all, aren’t they responsible for the programs that drive leads and create big ideas? The tenure of today’s CMO is on the decline. Sometimes they know when to fold ‘em before the proverbial shit REALLY hits the fan.

The HR professional will often hide-out during those rocky times. Even though they played a role in hiring, onboarding, and perhaps even training talent, they may take the view that all they did was put butts in seats and fingers on keyboards. They may think “Isn’t the person who manages them ultimately responsible for their performance?”

So, sadly, the person with the target on their back is, quite often, the VP or Director of Sales.

Few organizations will all band together and say, as a team, “We all failed.  We’re all responsible.”

Here’s Why The VP of Sales Has a Dilemma

The VP of Sales in SaaS organizations may not be intimately involved in planning. Yet, they are expected to make magic.

A plan is driven by the Board and the CEO (with involvement from the CMO and CFO. Then, it’s handed to you (the Sales VP) to execute.

What if it’s garbage?

You have a few options:

  • You can go to war with the CMO and accuse them of giving you junk leads
  • You can pack the garbage plan in a garbage bag, update your resume and LinkedIn profile, and look for another job
  • You can wait to get demoted or fired
  • You can propose a solution that will help with capacity planning and hiring (but more on that later).

Learning to Be a Great Salesperson and Sales Leader Takes Time

Virtually no one studies sales in school. Today’s BDRs and SDRs may not even know how to spell SaaS. Or, if they came from another industry, learning how to sell a tech product that may involve several levels of decision-making might as well be an all-new job.

Sales leaders need to be able to:

  • Work closely with HR to find, train, and retain the best talent
  • Bond and build trust with Marketing to create programs that speak to prospects’ needs and timing
  • Understand deal flow and goals
  • Motivate individuals and the team; provide coaching for newbies and celebrate successes (big and small)
  • Reward and motivate high performers
  • Manage schedules and needs, which has become even more complex during our remote work era
  • Read the environment around them and know when they are slipping on a banana peel or about to be run over by a management bus.

Learning how to do all those things takes time. The typical sports team takes six years on average to reach peak performance. But Sales VPs and their teams are expected to deliver in 12 months, tops!

And many companies will simply replace their VP after 15 months. But will that next hire do a better job? Maybe, but maybe not.

So, How Can a SaaS Sales VP Be Successful?

Know and embrace the challenges of the role and work tirelessly to understand the core problems when goals are missed. Are you setting your team up to succeed?

Get to know every member of your team and understand their needs and goals and what’s holding them back from success.

  • Conversational intelligence tools (or revenue intelligence as they are sometimes called) use AI to dissect sales conversations and coach team members to improve conversations and increase close rates.
  • Make sure members of your team are supporting each other and that the newbies are learning from seasoned pros. A little competition is great, but if team members are hating on each other, you will never be able to build a fine-tuned sales culture.
  • Strive for success, but don’t stress people out so much that they fall prey to inertia or anxiety. Worse yet, a team that despises or distrust you will be the first group to celebrate if you lose your job. (And you’ll want them to give you endorsements on LinkedIn!)
  • Encourage your HR leader to support and invest in training and better hiring. For example, if someone is adept at SMB sales, ramping up to become a great Enterprise rep will take time (if, in fact, it happens). Just because someone crushed their goals at a start-up, that doesn’t mean they’ll be a superstar at a Series B or C company, where expectations are super-high.
  • Build a solid relationship with Marketing and work closely with the CMO to better understand how and when they are driving leads and whether the lead quality is what it needs to be. Give them as much information as possible about prospect objections, needs for support materials, and anything else that will grease the wheels of the sales process.

Deliver Great Data

Above all, advocate for a better system of capacity planning. The right platform and process will take into account the timing of hiring and training.

Excel spreadsheets, which most SaaS companies use for sales forecasting, don’t factor in human realities and timing nuance.

For example, you hire Becca. She’s a sales pro. But she’s never sold a complex SaaS product before (or she’s sold a lower-priced product in your industry). Her first 30 days are probably spent just figuring out the company and its systems. She’s getting organized and meeting the rest of the team.

So, her job really doesn’t start until at least a month in. Then, she’s refining her pitch and figuring out how to move that prospect through the funnel. Through trial and error (and, hopefully, proper training) she starts to find her groove. But that could be six months in and the plan assumed that just because you brought in a warm sales body that the revenue would magically appear month one.

As the team falls farther behind (perhaps because you brought in many Beccas at the same time), you start to lose credibility. Morale suffers. The whole company suffers. And you get put on notice, which means you can’t be a truly effective leader.

We’re not writing this so that every Sales VP reading it will leave their chosen field in SaaS and sell auto parts or become a DoorDash driver (where the goals may be simpler). We’re just saying that without the right tools and timing, that VP of Sales at SaaS companies may be destined to fail.

So, follow the 5 bulleted suggestions above and (of course) bring BurnRate into your organization, so that every forecast will be realistic, well-timed, and embraced by your team and organization.

Start making an effort to create realistic forecasts and succeed in your role today.

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