Burton Goldfield grew up in inner-city Philadelphia—very far, in more ways than one, from Silicon Valley. After two decades in sales for tech companies Rational Software and Hyperion Solutions, he became the CEO of Ketera Technologies before being recruited to lead TriNet. Under Burton, the HR outsourcing company’s revenues have grown from $100 million to $3.4 billion. He tells me what you need to know as a CEO and what to adjust in your strategy to achieve the results you want—especially when it comes to hiring your sales team.
Know your product
There are many different sales models; figure out which one will work best for your product and the market you’re selling to and hire accordingly. Tailor your sales team to your product. Don’t tailor your product to your sales team.
Know your market
Figure out the key factors that will sell your product in your addressable market. Find sales people who have a deep knowledge of those factors and your market.
Know your culture
Make sure the people you hire fit in with the culture you are trying to create. If you are coming into an existing company as the CEO, make sure its culture matches where you want the company to go. Let go of employees who don’t fit into this new culture.
Know your limits
Hire for the current reality of your company, not its far future. You need different sales people for different revenue goals. A team that gets you from $1 million to $15 million may not be the best team to get you from $100 million to $500 million.
Know what to look for
Burton hires for a candidate’s core values and motivation. Knowledge, skills, and experience are all things your employee can learn. Core values and motivation won’t change.
Know your leadership style
Burton has been called a “team guy” because his leadership style is more collaborative than command and control. But he thinks “results guy” is more accurate. Hiring teams that work well together to solve problems is how he gets the results he wants and the best style for him and for his company — it’s a means to an end.
- Figure out what the best leadership style is for you, then how to get results from it. Build your company with that in mind. Hire for your style.
Know your hires
Burton likes to get a feel for candidates by spending hours with them in office and social settings. There are no shortcuts here; you have to put the time in. He knows he’s onto something when he’s excited to see the hire again at the next interview.
Know when to let go
For a sales VP, decide which metrics are the most important and evaluate their performance based on those metrics. If a hire isn’t working out, it’s best to part ways with them as soon as possible. Don’t waste your time trying to make the wrong hire work in your company.
Know your customer
Your product must be something people need, not something people want. How do you know the difference? Get out of the office and spend as much time as possible with your customers. Their feedback is especially important in your company’s early days.
Know your board
As a CEO, your board may be your boss but the buck stops with you. Only you are responsible for your decisions and your company’s results.
- Board members should provide expertise and guidance, not force decisions on you.
- If you think your board is too forceful or overbearing, it’s up to you to tell them to either back off or find a different CEO who is more amenable to a board like that. Don’t change your leadership style to suit them.
Burton’s advice for early stage founders: you have to believe in what you’re doing and that you can do it. If you don’t, pursue something else until you find the right fit.
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TriNet goes public