Keeping your stride after a key leadership loss

Keeping your stride after a key leadership loss

This is a topic I don’t read a lot about and frankly one I don’t think many business owners are keen to discuss, so I thought it would be an interesting topic to write about.

How do you move forward as a small business when you lose a key player?

Change and turnover are inevitable in business.

If you’re not the business owner, there isn’t always the same incentive to stay and keeping your top performers isn’t always possible. Whether it’s the allure of more money elsewhere, growing their expertise at another company or just a change — perhaps it’s a lifestyle decision or new city.

2017 has been a year of change. I sold HomeStars to US-based HomeAdvisor, an IAC company, which transitioned me from owner to employee. I also lost a long-term employee, who played an integral role at the company.

This employee was my national head of sales.

Aside from the sizeable financial implications of losing a senior employee, as any business can attest, your sales team is what keeps you afloat. It’s what drives the business and is arguably one of the most important departments — apart from having a great product, of course.

I immediately began interviewing for the role, but six months later it remained unfilled. It was such a key hire, it needed to be the best fit to take us to the next stage of our growth.

While I had participated in sales and spoken to customers regularly — particularly in the early years when we were just starting out — it was a small part of my role now. I didn’t have the capacity to step in and devote to the role full-time, though I found myself getting more involved on a daily basis with this leadership gap.

Many would have found this situation I was in to be stressful and scary — and it was — but it turned out to be a worthwhile learning experience that elevated my sales managers and the entire twenty plus team as a whole.

How did the team react?

As it turns out, without a leader, our sales team wasn’t lost at all. Quite the opposite, having a flat department encouraged many people to rise to the challenge. New ideas were brought to the forefront, collaboration was at an all-time high and ultimately through some people taking the lead, we completely reengineered our sales processes. This included nailing down policies to be consistent, and daily work flows changing significantly in how the team used Sales Force (our CRM platform). Marketing re-launched our product and positioning, and a new pricing plan that supported faster growth in smaller categories and regions. As a leader, I used this time to observe, listen and learn, and I could not have been prouder of my team and what they accomplished during that period.

Learn best practices

As I was interviewing for a head of sales replacement, one Sales leader recommended a book to me called “The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million” by Mark Roberge, the founding head of Sales at Hubspot. Once I got half way through the book, I could tell there were others in the organization that would benefit from the approach Mark took to build a world class selling organization. Our leadership team met every Friday each week to read a chapter or two for a couple months, to discuss learnings from this book. We used many of the insights in it to identify the qualities we wanted in hiring new sales talent, and start a process to measure these attributes as we recruited people.

We now have a new head of sales, however I learned that when faced with adversity, my team became stronger, more motivated and ultimately more successful. It also helped me better identify the skills we needed to lead our next phase of growth. Our new head of sales has since read the book, and is excited to approach their new role by applying some of the concepts in it too.

Challenges force learning

This isn’t the first roadblock I’ve faced as a founder; in fact I’ve faced more than I can count. But I attribute much of my growth and learning to how I’ve handled them. I truly believe that if you only experience smooth sailing, you’ll never know how to navigate troubled waters. And they are bound to come — it’s part of any organizational journey on the path to higher growth.

Every business has it challenges, it’s how you handle them that count.