by mike smerklo
“Good salespeople…. I have no idea how to find them. To me, they are like cats – strange, independent, and very hard to understand.”
I was on a call with a prominent venture capitalist recently, and we were discussing a super executive who used to work for me. He was looking to hire her for a sales leadership role at a red-hot startup, and he was using vague terms to describe what exactly the company was looking for to lead its sales function.
As we were discussing the position and the executive in question, the VC blurted out the observation above in a combination of frustration and bewilderment. It was clear that his experience – despite backing some very successful companies – had been hit or miss when it came to hiring sales leaders and individual sales reps.
I actually laughed out loud when he said it. It struck me as funny on a couple levels. First, I had just never thought of a head of sales (or any sales person for that matter) as a cat. But somehow the comparison resonated with me immediately – despite the fact that I have a great affinity for sales and selling. And I happen to HATE cats.
And I couldn’t help but wonder what animal most sales professionals might associate with venture capitalists. My guess is that this “species” might be described as a far less delightful animal than a cat…but that is a different story altogether…
So, the comment made me curious (ironically the only attribute of cats that I do appreciate).
Why there is such an odd but common lack of understanding about what makes a “great salesperson”? Even more important, why is there such a disconnect between backers of high-growth companies and Sales Leadership?
Sales excellence (and hiring great sales leadership) is the most important determinant of success for a high-growth company looking to scale. How many truly successful growth companies have you seen that haven’t mastered selling their solution in the marketplace?
Outside of the *true* network-oriented business models (i.e., Uber, Ebay,etc.), there just aren’t many companies that scale without getting the sales function to scale.
As a CEO who embraced sales and selling wholeheartedly, here is my take on it:
The best sales people I know are finicky, particular, and social (but only when they feel like it or it suits them). And almost all are more independent than not. In short, good sales reps and leaders are, indeed, like cats.
But, as with cats, it’s a mistake to assume that they are all very similar and that you either get a “good or bad” one.
Rather, you need to know what type of cat you’re looking for and build a model to consistently find the “right” cat. And it’s just as important to know what you are NOT looking for in your sales team. There is no such thing, in my opinion, as a “natural-born salesperson” when it comes to scaling a business.
I have seen incredibly talented B2B enterprise software sales reps fail miserably in SMB SaaS sales. And likewise, the “social animal” salesperson who does well in transaction sales models will not perform in data-oriented, analytical c-level sales situations.
So to “get sales right,” it isn’t just about getting the right leader in and letting him run the function – we have all seen this movie go very wrong and cause irreversible damage to what was once a promising growth company.
As a CEO of a high-growth company, you have to be both holistic and formulaic as it relates to sales and sales leadership.
I have the battle scars to prove it and have made more mistakes than most when it comes to what to do (and not do) when hiring sales reps and sales leadership. But as a result of these mistakes, I was able to develop a FIVE STEP process to help any CEO, VC or leader trying to figure this out to get it right. I call it “Know thy Cat” – or KTC – and it will help you build out a killer sales function.
But first it’s helpful to understand just how this formula came about. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll get to why herding cats is better than chasing unicorns – at least for now…