VP Title Problematic as the Organization Grows

A reader asks, "Several years ago, I hired our company's first and only salesperson. Early on, I involved him in decisions affecting sales, causing him to request a title change to Vice President of Sales.  He thought it would more accurately describe his role and increase his stature with clients. Having struggled to find a good salesperson, I reluctantly agreed.  I didn't want him to resign.

"Recently, I hired 2 additional salespeople, one of whom outperforms the 'VP' by a big margin.  The 'VP' has no managerial authority over the two new reps but sometimes acts as though he does.  This strains the relationship between the three of them. This individual really does not have the experience or presence to hold this title. What should I do about this situation?"

Companies, especially small ones, grow and change.  Your dilemma speaks to the importance of assigning titles that accurately reflect an employee's experience and role within your organization. 

The VP of Sales Role

Individuals with this title have typically had a successful career in sales and sales management before taking on the VP of Sales role.

Responsibilities usually include working with the CEO, setting company-wide objectives and strategy, determining department budgets, coordinating objectives with other departments, managing sales managers and directors of sales, overseeing customer account management, managing the sales forecast, designing and developing sales training, understanding industry trends, and making high-level presentations to customers.

Those without this broad and deep experience aren't likely to have credibility or succeed in the position.

Inflated Title Causes a Credibility Problem

When someone's title doesn't match their experience, employees may be skeptical.  Managers in other departments might think, "C'mon, this guy VP of Sales? Seriously?"

If your VP of Sales calls on customers in a day-to-day sales capacity, they may question his role.  People have a certain image of a VP of Sales.  If the rep doesn't live up to that ideal, customers will take your company less seriously.

Have a Conversation

Discuss the situation with the rep. Count on it being awkward. Begin the conversation by reminding the salesperson of the size of the company when he first started. Review the many changes that have taken place since.  Acknowledge your appreciation of his contributions in the early days of the company.

Let him know that as the make-up of the entire organization has changed, you feel his title no longer matches his job.  Remind him that he is part of a sales team now, instead of the sole sales contributor.  Listen to what he has to say.

Sales Rep's Likely Response

"Is this a demotion?  How will this look?," he'll likely ask.  Assure him that this is not a demotion but a realignment in response to company growth.  His territory and salary will remain unchanged. No company-wide announcement will be made.  Other than ordering business cards with his new title, no other changes are planned.  Strategize with him about what to say if customers comment on his change of title; most will not even notice.

Undoubtedly, he'll ask for a new title like Senior Director of Sales or Major Account Sales Rep. This negotiation is a test of your leadership.  Don't get talked into another title that may not be appropriate down the line.  If you want him to use the same title as the other sales representatives, say so.

Right the Wrong

This situation began innocently enough. Because this salesperson had more contact than anyone in the company with prospects, decision makers, and end-users, you asked their opinion on everything from strategic sales decisions to content for brochures. Who better to ask?
No doubt, they enjoyed the involvement in critical sales matters and wanted their contributions acknowledged.

In reality, your VP of Sales has solid but not superstar sales skills and shows little managerial potential. By allowing him to retain this title you'll lose credibility with your employees.  Outstanding salespeople may leave, thinking there's no potential for advancement.  Customers may question the sophistication of your company. 

You need to make a move. Take care of this problem. It won't improve over time.  Going forward, resist the urge to bestow lofty titles on individuals, no matter how hard working, who don't have the experience to live up to them.