In Continuum’s most recent Masterclass, “The Secret to Go-to-Market Executive Hiring,” three of our top GTM executives discussed the current state of the executive-hiring market, how to avoid wrong hires, when to hire a full-time executive vs. a fractional executive and other advice for navigating the GTM hiring landscape in a buyer’s market. Our speakers included Jessica Alter, former VP of business development at Figma repeat founder and advisor to Continuum; Blake Harber, former VP of Sales at Lucid and Workstream; and Mimi Brady, former Head of Customer Success at Dropbox and current VP of Customer Success at Blockchain.com.
You can watch the complete Masterclass here but we’ve also summarized the most important takeaways that founders and CEOs need to know when thinking about hiring for key GTM roles.
- Hiring the Wrong Person Will Cost You Dearly
It’s been estimated that hiring the wrong person in an executive role can cost your company around 10 times that executive’s annual salary. Let that sink in for a minute. And it’s not just the economic impact that a bad hire can have on your company. It also eats away at a startup’s most valuable asset: time. You lose, on average, 12-18 months of time. Jessica talks more about the impact of this at the start of the Masterclass. Check it out!
- Avoid Making Full-Time Senior Hires Before the Function Has a Playbook
It’s natural for many Founders to want to hand the responsibility of taking their product to market to someone who has “done it before” after some healthy revenue traction. Blake emphasized several very common mistakes he sees founders make every day once they start seeing a little revenue - hiring an SDR right away but not ready to manage them or jumping to hire a full-time VP far too early. It’s really hard to make the transition from founder-lead sales into the early sales team that can take what a founder has done and build repeatability around it. Find the person who can be both player and coach and ideally complement them with a fractional leader who can help them and help you learn how to manage them.
- Don't Neglect Customer Success
Customer success guru Mimi Brady had one very clear piece of advice for founders and CEOs in the Masterclass: Don’t wait until you see customers churning to start thinking about CS, because you’ll be behind already. Founders often find the area of CS to be ambiguous, which results in wrong hiring decisions, lack of correct incentive structures and a lot of frustration. Hiring a CS leader is different from hiring for other roles, as in CS you need someone who can be both consultative and operational. Mimi encouraged founders to think of CS a great place to start with a fractional leader early, as you might not need the full-time person to get things setup - similar to a CFO.
- Find the Marketing Hire That Fits Your Needs
Jessica discussed the common mistakes that are made during the hiring process for marketing and business development (BD) roles. A lack of clarity on the type of marketing, as well as the broad spectrum of interpretations of the functions and goals of BD, can lead to confusion and ineffective outcomes. From the get-go, clearly define the type of marketing or BD role you need, and seek candidates with relevant experience and expertise in those specific areas.
- Value Problem-Solving Skills and FSO Quotients
As Jessica emphasized, when you’re hiring for any position, it’s important to assess the candidates’ problem-solving skills and how high their FSO - figure shit out - quotient is. Prestigious company names on candidates’ résumés may not always indicate that they’re the right fit. Look beyond the names and focus on candidates who can adapt and thrive in a dynamic startup environment and who have had experience at your company’s size and stage. Blake also emphasized the importance of finding individuals with a flexible and adaptable mindset, particularly for early-stage startups. Search for candidates who demonstrate a player-coach mentality and are capable of taking on leadership responsibilities while also handling day-to-day tasks.
- When you can, start fractionally
There’s a lot of risk in hiring GTM executives today. One of Blake’s biggest pieces of advice was that when you can, work with someone on an interim, fractional or advisory basis first. Work to establish the relationship, understand the scope of what needs to be done, ensure they are going to operate at the level you need and build trust together before committing to the full-time partnership. Fractional executives can help with exploring new growth channels, building GTM playbooks, auditing your current CS function and laying the foundation for a scalable, operational CS team. No matter the need, make sure to clearly assess and define your goals before deciding to hire anyone.
We also put together a framework to help companies understand when to hire full-time and when to hire fractional (see below).
- Seek Advisors and Coaches for Your Best Performers
Jessica challenged the conventional wisdom of providing coaches or advisors only to underperforming team members. Having someone help you improve faster is a reward to your best performers.This approach can help high-performing individuals level up faster and is a high ROI way to support their growth and development.