CEO's Response to 'A Letter of Resignation'
I recently read a fictionalized letter of resignation from a SVP, Sales (to a CEO) over on the Sales Benchmark Index blog. It is worth a full read, but here is a quick excerpt:
The reasons for my departure are as follows:
The revenue goal you have set for me is not based in reality. It is unfair to set my goals based some high level Gartner numbers. For three years, I have submitted a proposal to set the number correctly and it has been rejected. Give the new guy a chance.
You have 16 items on my priority list. No one can do 16 things well. Each of these has been labeled mission critical. As a result, I have become a bad husband and father. Don’t ruin another man’s life. Not all opportunities are created equal. Pick a few things.
While entertaining, and in many instances probably quite true, it got me thinking. This head of sales had his point of view. But there are two sides to every coin, are there not?
What would a CEO response look like?
So here goes a (tongue-in-cheek) attempt at a reply:
I accept your letter of resignation as VP, WW Sales and appreciate the time you took to detail your reasons for departure. In the same vein, I thought I’d share some feedback on your performance.
I understand the revenue goal we set was a stretch. We decided to base it on historical performance, market potential and corporate goals. The numbers you proposed always seemed to ensure the goal of achieving your bonus – rather than our Board’s satisfaction with overall company performance. Also, I’ll make sure to let Gartner know that they should reach out to you for insights on properly sizing our market.
I apologize for your 16-item priority list. To my mind, 12 of those are basics that any head of sales should have brought to the table. In hiring your replacement, we’ll make sure to not repeat this error. As not only the CEO, but also the company’s founder, please tell me more about the demands of your role and your need for work-life balance. Would you suggest we offer marriage counseling and parenting classes as part of the incentive package?
You state that our products are commodities. I remember how hard you fought to maintain a face-to-face (read: high cost) field sales force. It appears that your hiring profile was out of alignment with the requirements of our market. And your repeated refrain was to request more headcount for road-warrior enterprise reps. No wonder I had the CFO monitor your hiring plans.
I know that you struggled to form a relationship with our CMO. Let me offer some coaching. Sales is about attunement. Perhaps a little more perspective taking and a little less storming and screaming “these leads aren’t ready to buy” would have improved matters. FYI, since your departure we’ve built an inside sales team and are observing an unfamiliar phenomenon: new pipeline from inbound leads.
Finally, I am sorry you found our culture too rigid. Having “military-like commands” that are demoralizing is not my aim. The lesson from the military I wish you had absorbed is “the sergeants run the army.” During your tenure, we had 80% attrition in front-line sales managers. I should have been more supportive of their needs and their success. I mistakenly thought that was your job. I’ve often heard the maxim, “People join companies, they leave bosses.” I now see the truth in it.
Bob, I wish you every success in your new venture. We have learned much from you and will work hard to build a better organization. And we will no longer tolerate a bad sales leader.
So this was a fun exercise.
What would you have added to either letter? C’mon get snarky with me!
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"FYI, since your departure we’ve built an inside sales team and are observing an unfamiliar phenomenon: new pipeline from inbound leads."
In response to your comment "Don't ruin another man's life," I thank you. We've decided to hire a woman instead who can handle both the responsibility of a job and a family. (couldn't resist :)
LOL…well, as long as we're entertaining a fictional scenario, how the heck did the CEO survive such a lousy performance by a key operational executive ?
Why did it take a voluntary resignation to motivate addressing the shortcomings ?
This fiction requires some editing for realism !
@Steve - thank you!
@heather - Lean In baby!
@chuck - good point but sometimes we just let things linger cuz change is too hard. crazy but true!
Other than cringing to see my name associated with such a whine-filled resignation, I'd add:
BTW, the CFO (at the party he threw to celebrate this event) asked that I pass along that 10 sales reps hitting 10% of their respective targets does not equal 100% of overall quota, and recommended you get back in touch with your kids by borrowing your 3rd graders math book....
Okay, there are some issues on both sides of the fence here, and I completely realize (and completely enjoyed!) that this post was tongue-in-cheek for full snark value. (@Heather, you made me LOL, literally).
But having said that, I also believe the point SBI makes is incredibly valid. And, I think it's going to become more pronounced as the iPhone/text generation continues to enter the workforce and rise through the ranks.
I'd suggest reading this post from Fast Company (which, yes, I realize only touches on a piece of the issue between the CEO/Sales VP), and then re-reading Greg's post. We have work to do, and it doesn't involve pointing fingers.
When I entered this crazy profession 20+ years ago, I never thought I'd see the day when the average tenure of a senior sales leader was shorter than the lifespan of a fruit fly. Again, work to do.
On the 16 "mission critical" issues, I'd suggest reading the 4 Disciplines of Execution. When everything is a top priority, nothing is a top priority.
Perhaps, rather than firing shots across the bow, we should start analyzing root cause issues, resolving them, figuring out how to align our organization leaders, engage our employees, and blow the doors off the place. Change starts at the top.
The not so funny part about both of these leaders is that these problems exist in most organizations. Clueless CEOs that don't know how to create an environment of teamwork or settle differences between their departmental leaders, clueless VP sales who take little ownership over internal communication, clueless sales marketers who don't know how to align and quantify their goals with sales goals and on...
How can we fix more companies faster, Trish?
@Peter The only way we can fix things faster is to keep fighting the good fight and getting this issue out in the open. It is getting better but we still have a long way to go.
I used to work for such an ceo and the moment I confronted him about his management methods he just asked me what I think I should do to increase sales.
Sometimes it's amazing what a face-to-face conversation can do.
IMHO this SVP is a whiner. That being said, this SVP resignation scenario is far too common especially for startups where the board/investors have been sold a hockey stick sales projection graph by the founders. Sales goals based overly optimistic market sizing projections from Gartner, Forrester and XYZ Research firm are no substitute for empirical data, real world market research and opportunity forecasts (pipeline reports) from the sales team. I would also bet that this company did not have a good CRM system like Salesforce.com set up with a comprehensive set of reports like these http://www.dmzinteractive.com/blog/10-must-have-sales-management-reports-your-salesforcecom-dashboard to manage the team. SVP’s in this scenario should also team up with the Marketing Director to get a marketing automation solution (Marketo, Loopfuse, Pardot etc) in place to score leads and nurture leads. This would help address the ugly "not ready for sales" lead issue.