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Stop Kissing Frogs: Advice to Avoid Commercial Leadership Misfires

June 20, 2024

In any given year, about 35% of the searches carried out by Chasm Partners focus on commercial leadership roles. Whether the title is Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Commercial Officer, or Head of Sales, the commercial leader is often the most critical and challenging position for a growing company to fill. This need becomes even more urgent after raising capital, where there's an expectation of significant revenue growth and a demand for an experienced leader to achieve those targets.

Despite the critical nature of this role, search partners like Chasm are often brought in after one or more commercial leaders have already failed in the organization. While we all may have to “kiss a few frogs” in our lifetimes, the search for your organization’s commercial leader should feel less like a guessing game and more like a strategic elimination tournament. By working closely with your search partner, you can narrow your scope and find the right leader to meet your growth objectives.

Shifting Trends in Commercial Hiring

Before understanding how to adjust your recruitment strategy, let’s quickly review what has changed in the past 18 months regarding the shifting demand for commercial leadership talent:

2023 Trends: Focus on Profitability 

2024 Trends: Renewed Demand for Revenue Leaders 

The Challenges of Recruiting Commercial Leadership 

The role of the commercial leader typically focuses on a few key responsibilities:

This seems straightforward yet the search for a qualified, proven leader may be the toughest search a company faces. The ideal candidate profile typically looks something like this:

Ideal Candidate Profile

“Seasoned commercial leader with a demonstrated track record of delivering on revenue growth in a (VC) or (PE) backed environment and scaling from $X to $XX in three years, leading to a successful exit… in the specific market segment  – plans, providers, employers and or life sciences.”  Add “with a SaaS product or services company” depending on your offering.

Finding candidates who fit this profile can be challenging, especially considering that the number of companies that have scaled and exited successfully according to plan is relatively small. Not to mention, the ideal candidate must have been in a leadership role long enough to drive growth, hire the team, and establish the sales strategy. Now the talent pool is even smaller.

Market Realities and Misfires

Although in high demand in healthcare organizations across all growth stages, many high-performing sales leaders are naturally drawn to startup opportunities that promise equity and significant growth. However, these roles often come with the risk of unmet expectations, resulting in a “misfire.” 

The Cycle of Misfires 

Young companies frequently cycle through two to three sales leaders within the first few years. This can occur for a number of reasons, but it is most regularly due to severe misalignments. In some cases, the product failed or expectations were unmet — either the candidate underdelivered or the board’s expectations were unrealistic. In other cases, the organization opted for a “quick” hire through a network or investor referral that went awry. For these reasons and others like them, it’s not uncommon to come across multiple sales leaders with short tenures on their resume due to “misfires.” 

Ultimately, this level of churn hurts both parties. Not only is it expensive but damaging to the primary goal: growth. 

The Value of a Professional Search Partner

The truth is that complex searches like these can be kept in-house. I’ve seen it work. However, in my experience as a recruiter and operator in healthcare across the past 25 years, I can speak first-hand to the benefits of working with a search partner, especially for highly critical roles such as this. 

A few specific value-adds include:

At Chasm, we also offer onboarding coaching sessions through ChasmLead to help your new leader integrate seamlessly into your company and further reduce the chance of a misfire. In fact, 94% of ChasmLead coached placements remain in-seat for more than one year. 

Conclusion

If your organization is struggling to recruit and retain commercial leadership, consider the value add of partnering with a search team that specializes in healthcare and commercial searches. If you’re going to do it, take the time to do it right, and leave the “frog kissing” to the professionals. 

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This article was written by Pam Zients, Partner at Chasm Partners. Pam specializes in commercial leadership placements at healthcare services and technology companies.  

To continue the conversation with Pam, connect with her on LinkedIn.

Pam Zients
Partner, ChasmSearch

Pam Zients

Partner, ChasmSearch

As a healthcare industry veteran, Pam has experienced first-hand the need for transformation of the US healthcare system. She thrives on partnering with healthcare companies focused on developing innovative technologies and solutions that improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery and enhance the consumer experience. As a Partner with Chasm Partners, Pam leverages her experience with both established and early-stage healthcare companies to identify exceptional talent in executive leadership, sales, operations, and customer success.

Before joining Chasm, Pam worked in business development, client success and consulting for healthcare startups and health systems. She has worked with seed-stage companies, nonprofits and publicly traded companies across her healthcare career.

Prior to her endeavors in the healthcare start-up world, Pam spent four years with the Advisory Board Company in senior account executive and client success positions. She also spent close to a decade in hospital strategic planning and business development roles with both HCA and SCL Health. Pam started her career as a journalist covering fiscal, monetary, and trade policy in Washington, DC.

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