I remember a time when we used to say “he’s a good sales person” or “she’s a great marketing leader.” However, it’s no longer so simple. Technological advances over the past decade have transformed sales, marketing, and HR organizations. Entirely new titles and functions have sprung up in the process. Founders need to understand what they are looking for in order to find the right person (or people).
When marketing was offline, things were a lot less complex. Running a marketing campaign was primarily driven by instincts, not data, and it wasn’t easy to nail down results. If you were involved in marketing during this time, you can understand the saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
The emergence of trackable online marketing changed everything, putting the emphasis on metrics and ROI. Marketing suddenly became all about A/B testing, data-driven decisions, CAC analysis, and running thousands of different ad campaigns simultaneously.
The perfect marketing leader now needs to master both: the “soft” (brand, communications, storytelling, and offline advertising) and the “hard” (online, data, etc.).
Traditionally, sales meant “boots on the ground.” Convincing customers to buy your product required strong personal relationships. The art of the deal was central to a good salesperson.
SaaS completely changed how software was bought and sold. It became profitable to sell lower priced products using an inside sales force that focused on volume and highly scalable processes. Instead of client lunches and on-site presentations, the sales function evolved into scripts, process, and quantitative assessment.
Today, the best sales leaders typically need to excel in both highly scalable volume sales as well as pushing key enterprise deals over the finish line.
Last, but not least, technology has changed the HR function. In the past, HR was mostly about providing a good working environment for employees. However, the tech world’s talent wars have turned recruiting into a sales-like battleground, stressing aggressive outreach, number-driven compensation and optimizing the funnel from top to bottom.
Running any of these functions has become infinitely more complex today and requires very different capabilities than a decade ago.
So, what does this mean for founders and CEOs?
First, you need to recognize that most key functions today require a mix of soft and hard skills. Ideally, you want to hire a Sales (or Marketing or HR) leader who can cover both the hard and soft equally well. But in reality, these people aren’t easy to find. Few CMOs get both brand and online marketing. In this case, you may need to hire for a VP Brand & Communication and a VP of Online Marketing and have both people report to you.
Most importantly, you need to consider what function(s) your start-up needs. It’s not the same for everyone. I see too many start-ups hiring a VP of Sales without really thinking about the exact type of sales leader they need.