The Head of Sales vs. The Hot Shot

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By John Morrow – Partner, San Francisco –

Regardless of the size of your company, hiring a sales leader is a big deal. The individual and the near-term and long-term impacts of their actions can help put your company on the map, re-establish its footing, or accelerate its fade into irrelevance. One of the main challenges we see with our clients is whether to target a Head of Sales or just a really good salesperson.

Do I need a Head of Sales or a Hot Shot?

Answer this…

What will be the primary responsibility of this sales executive?
A) Generate Revenue
B) Build Process/Infrastructure.

There is certainly an argument for having both in the same package as a “player-coach”, but picking which skill set to start with is imperative.

It sounds remedial, but many companies misinterpret the need to drive top line growth with the need to hire a new Head of Sales. Growth is measured by sales and revenue, and if you are confident in your existing platform and infrastructure, perhaps the only real issue is how to build the right team to execute. It sounds exciting to say you are looking for a new “Head of Sales”, but if what you really only want is revenue, then you may be better off building from the ground up.

Staying focused on the answer to the fundamental question above will dramatically improve your hiring outcome. A true Head of Sales will likely be underutilized if there aren’t enough strategic or operational issues to address, which usually leads to the sales executive taking calls from people like me. Conversely, if you need to strengthen the sales function and the leadership that drives it, simply hiring a Hot Shot who has blown away their quota for a flavor-of-the-month company is likely going to backfire. We’ve all seen it before, the top-performing salesperson is hired from one company to take over and run all of sales for a competitor, and once this Hot Shot takes on the management role, the company’s growth decelerates faster than you can say “I shoulda had a V8”.

The answer?
There is no magic bullet, but try figuring out which side of the ledger you need to start with, and recruit to that skill set first. Here are a few of the core responsibilities of each profile to help tackle the decision:

The Head of Sales will generally have 15+ years of experience and typically be tasked with:
– Building process and infrastructure
– Recruiting and managing a team
– Helping guide the direction of the company
– Acting as the lead in major deal/customer acquisition

The Hot Shot will generally have 5-10 years of experience and typically be tasked with:
– Driving revenue and closing as many deals as possible
– Acquiring new clients
– Cold calling, prospecting, and building a pipeline
– Spending 90%+ of their time in front of customers

Also worth considering is where your company is on the maturity timeline. If you are an early stage company just getting your revenue off the ground, a Head of Sales might be overkill and you are likely better off hiring the Hot Shot to reinforce your sales pipeline and accelerate momentum.

The responsibilities for these two positions in their most basic form are often embodied by very different people. Sure, we all want the best of both worlds, but by taking extra care when interviewing candidates and reviewing CVs against your first priority, these parameters can really help you hire the right candidate and avoid a failed hire.