The Revenue Compass Blog

Selecting the right sales leader for your small business is a critical decision in your journey to build, grow and scale. Yet, all too often, executive leaders get this wrong and it’s a costly mistake. Shockingly, the average tenure of a VP of Sales barely extends beyond 19 months, highlighting the frequency of the challenge.

For years, I’ve shared the Harvard Business Review article: "4 Mistakes Companies Make When Hiring Sales Leaders” with my clients to help shed some light on this situation. My goal is to help them build a clear, focused and detailed Success Profile to aid in the selection of the ideal candidate to lead their business development team.

Among the four mistakes outlined in the article, one generates considerable debate and dialogue: Mistake #1: Emphasizing “height” over “slope” when profiling and selecting candidates. Put simply, the article suggests that “slope” (the potential to learn, grow, and adapt to new situations) outweighs “height” (a sales leader’s experience and current skill level).

Over the past decade, I’ve observed many business owners leaning towards candidates who have “been there, done that”. Executive leaders, overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, often seek to outsource business development (a risky decision considering acquiring & retaining customers is lifeblood of any organization). They gravitate towards experienced sales leaders, even if the primary needs/priorities for the role would require that individual to "take a step back". For instance, hiring a leader who is currently leading/managing an established sales team rather than building one from the ground up (ex. hiring new BDRs/AE, and leading/shadowing sales stages and closing deals).

Opting for slope over height may require additional preparation (such as refining strategy & processes) and more leadership & coaching from the executive leader, but it yields positive outcomes through a more connected approach.

At the end of the day, you want somebody who is capable, competent, eager, and excited to tackle the primary mission for their role. Jonathan Reynolds, CEO of Titus Talent Strategies, and author of Right Seats, Right People, suggests that “A-players want to step into something bigger than what they have done before.” He further emphasizes that they “want a stretch that’s perhaps 10-20% bigger than what they’re currently doing—not 100% bigger and not a completely different role in which they have no experience, but a stretch.”

Regardless of slope vs. height, here are the key competencies that I look for in a Sales Leader of a small technical or professional services firm:

Selecting the right sales leader is a pivotal decision for the success of your small business. By prioritizing "slope" over "height"— emphasizing their growth trajectory, ability to learn & grow —you can ensure that your sales team is led by an individual who is not only capable and competent but also eager and excited to tackle the challenges ahead. Remember, it's not just about where candidates are now, but where they're headed and how they can contribute to the future success of your business.

Nexts Steps

For Founder Rainmakers eager to take action, here is my "live" 6-week cohort-based course: "Beyond the Founder Rainmaker - Building Your Outbound Sales Strategy" kicking off on April 9th. Limited to just 8 participants, this course provides the direction and guidance you need to design and customize your outbound sales strategy.

Go Deeper

Carver Peterson helps growth-minded leaders of B2B technical services firms build high-performing sales teams so that they can confidently grow & scale.