9 characteristics of a successful VP of Sales in 2015


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Every leadership role is changing and evolving in today’s successful organization, but perhaps the VP of Sales more than any other role has changed dramatically in the past 5 years and will continue to evolve significantly. So what does a successful VP of Sales look like three years from now?

Here are nine characteristics I think are particularly important.

Technology competence
This goes beyond understanding how to navigate through Salesforce.com. A good VP of Sales moving forward doesn’t need to understand the ins and outs of their operations integration, but they need to understand that a world-class technology and operations infrastructure is table stakes to success moving forward. Tomorrow’s VP of Sales needs to understand technology well enough to help guide the technology decisions and needs that will help their reps be more efficient and successful, plus provide greater access to the key metrics that will help them make better decisions.

Sales motivation, incentives, floor promotions – these have been around for a long, long time. But the promise of gamified sales floors – where tasks and incentives are integrated with CRM, where leaderboards are dynamic and on big screens throughout the sales floor – is growing. It’s an enormous opportunity to drive more organic, consistent performance of the tactical and revenue-producing activities on a daily basis. It’s also a great way to drive behavior across a deployed, field sales team.

Diagnostic selling
Prospects today still react to having their sales reps ask consultative questions. But as Jeff Thull pointed out in Mastering the Complex Sale, the new salesperson is asking questions that help the prospect understand and quantify a problem they may or may not have known that they had. Tomorrow’s VP of Sales needs to understand the customer so well that they can teach their team to ask those probing, investigative questions that, inherently, teach the prospect something about their own business along the way.

Business leader
The VP of Sales in 2015 can’t just be a former sales star who’s risen up the ranks. Even if their career heritage is in sales, they will increasingly be expected to serve as a business leader. To help lead the company forward, not just by hitting quotas, but by reading the market and focusing the entire organization on solving customer problems. The VP of Sales can partner with marketing to represent the voice of the market, but also know enough about the rest of the business to contribute cross-functionally. This is expected today, and will be more so in the future.

Training focus
Training is not a one-time thing. It can’t be only for new hires. It can’t be just once a year at the kick-off meeting. Training for tomorrow’s VP of Sales will be a daily thing. Product training, sales skills training, peer-to-peer mentoring. Call observations and reports sent back out to the entire floor praising those who reinforced good skills and anonymously calling out where there’s room for improvement. Training is a top priority for the VP of Sales in 2015.

Metrics orientation
Every VP of Sales is comfortable with their sales targets, and generally what the pipeline needs to be to get there. But tomorrow’s VP of Sales will be far more metrics-oriented across the entire pipeline, including the marketing metrics that contribute to their pipelines. Effective pipeline reviews go well beyond a review of the short-term opportunities and discussion of next steps. To help reps increase their success, the VP of Sales needs to dig into the data, peel back the onion, and use those metrics to get down to exactly where the focus needs to be (by sales, by marketing, by somebody) to open up the funnel.

Hiring & firing
World-class VPs of Sales already today understand that some of their best new sales reps might not have any sales experience at all. They’re recruiting and hiring for personality attributes, discipline, customer orientation. Great VPs of Sales understand (and can quantify) the cost of making a bad sales hiring decision, and therefore hire slow and fire fast. That doesn’t mean they give up on a good rep after a bad month or quarter, but their focus on training and competence with metrics make it clearer, faster, which reps will succeed and which need to go.

Most start-ups don’t starve, they drown. And in the race to hit quotas, I’ve seen far too many VPs of Sales do basically the same thing. They chase after every opportunity, redirect their teams wherever there’s a sparkle of opportunity, tell the marketing team on a regular basis about a new shiny object that, singularly, will change the direction and trajectory of their sales. Taking advantage of a new opportunity, being scrappy and nimble, will always be smart. But the successful VP of Sales in 2015 will start with a smart strategy, make adjustments where necessary, and keep their team focused.

Sales is hard. It means getting rejected every day. Sales is a highly emotional job. So after all the metrics, all the focus, all the training, a successful VP of Sales moving forward also needs to be compassionate. Because if they have a heart, if they are flexible when needed, if they show that they understand everybody makes mistakes, that everybody has a bad month sometimes, they can also have the hard, focused conversations when necessary to get people back on track.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a start. I’m curious now, what would you add to this? What are the attributes you see in world-class, innovative, forward-thinking VPs of Sales today that should be part of the profile of the majority of successful VPs of Sales in the near future?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


  1. Matt: Your post is dead on. And, if I had to rank the most critical will be fully leveraging of technology not only to manage and lead your own team but also to use technology to gain insight into their clients business — as well as, the business of their clients – clients. Being able to have that kind of strategic view on a consistent basis will be a significant competitive advantage.


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