Sales Leadership: Where are all the women?

Credit: Berzko

We’ve been crunching our year-end data and we have a bit of a dilemma. This year we only placed one woman.

We place senior commercial leadership into media, information and technology companies and we only placed one woman.

Three women have been close to being appointed. One was offered the role, but she decided to stay in her current company (due, in part, to a very supportive CEO). Another woman lost out a role to a man with 20 years more experience (and was the youngest candidate in the process). Another lost out due to market forces; an acquisition quashed the role.

Our clients are not sexist. On the contrary, they want to see diversity in the candidates we present. So do we.

The odds are in some ways stacked against us to deliver on diversity (although this is no excuse). Sales has the worst leadership gap of any sector. Women make up 38% of the sales workforce and 27% of sales leadership roles.[1] This falls short of the UK’s average figures of women in leadership.[2]

The candidate market may not be our ally in this, but there is more we could be doing – and will do to redress the imbalance. We’re gatekeepers of some outstanding leadership opportunities and we want to do more. We’re starting here, at the level of reconnaissance. We’ll being examining our own practices and we’ll move towards implementing good ideas by Q2 2018. We would appreciate the input of our network.

We plan to take affirmative action. We’re going to see what we can do to influence this creatively and positively. For example, we’ll audit the language in our job adverts to ensure they don’t exclude by using “masculine” language.[3]

We’ll also share our findings here on LinkedIn for our network to use, distribute or feedback. Women are statistically less likely to engage with LinkedIn, but it’s our loudest platform.

It is a real loss not to have more female commercial leaders. It’s a profession run by metrics and performance and this should in some ways protect women from unconscious bias. But this is not the case.

We work in information, media and technology; an area that has a huge influence on the world. It impacts what we see, create and know – and our behaviour.

We’re looking forward to improving the diversity offering within our service to bring something of real value to the wider world. We’ll be as transparent as we can and we hope to benefit from your input.

Thank you.

The Herringbone Team


  1. Why we need female sales leaders
  2. Why aren’t there more women in sales leadership?
  3. Our experience of gender diversity headhunting for senior commercial leadership

Why We Need Female Sales Leaders:

Putting aside the macro-economic and ethical arguments for gender diversity (and there are many), businesses benefit from female leadership. Gender diversity makes business sense. According to Ernst and Young, women in leadership increases firm profitability by 15%.[4]

Decision-makers in B2B contexts are increasingly women[5] but 78% of companies in the UK don’t differentiate their approach to female business decision-makers (we’re conscious we haven’t been).[6]

“Some of the companies we interviewed began to take the female economy seriously after receiving a wake-up call: Sending an exclusively male team to make a sales pitch to an all-female buying team was a commonly mentioned trigger.”[7] A.T Kearney [The Rise of the Female Economy]

Why Aren’t There More Women in Sales Leadership?

We suspect that women not getting into sales leadership is cumulative. Apparently faced with time pressures and multiple CVs people are more likely to go for “people like me” and therefore male homogeny triumphs. We see this less at senior levels in the industry – more in the first 10 years of a career, but these are the years where women can be enticed into (or disparaged from) leadership.

Research suggests a double standard with women needing three years in a company to be promoted and men only needing two. Male CVs also have a higher engagement rate than women.

“Starting with a company that is evenly split between men and women at every level, the consequence of a 1% bias towards hiring and promoting men is that, after 20 decisions made with just that 1% bias, men occupy 65% of a company’s leadership positions. Over time, of course, that disparity just gets more pronounced.”[8]

LinkedIn has an excellent gender and diversity report (Moving the Needle for Women Leaders) that illustrates some other factors at play.[9]

Some interesting points include:

  • Men have a longer window in the workforce to strive for leadership positions (30 years). Women have between 10-15 years.
  • Women are 61% more likely than men to have a partner with a job as or more intense than theirs.
  • Women are 5 times more likely to be the primary parent.
  • Women rate their own confidence, aspiration and endurance less highly than men – at the beginning and middle of their career.

The report also has some interesting thoughts on overcoming the gap through hiring, development and retainion. Recommended reading.

We’ve all heard that men are more likely to apply for a role if they feel “somewhat” qualified – whereas women will eliminate themselves. In theory, women applicants should be more attractive than men, having self-screened as meeting the job requirements.

We also suspect there is a drop-off in the workforce of high potential female sales employees several years prior to leadership and will be investigating.

Our Own Gender Experience:

Our internal system isn’t really set up to gather diversity data (despite being a popular CRM system for recruiters and Headhunters).

We do have some anecdotal facts that say something about the sector (and probably us).

1.    Every female candidate we have worked with at this level is absolutely exceptional in terms of their previous experience, numbers, leadership reputation and how they come across. (Do they have to be exceptional to get to the top?)

2.    Every woman we’ve put forward this year has impressed and progressed in the interview process – despite having been in their previous roles for years (i.e. they were not consummate interviewees).

3.    Women rarely approach our company (as clients or candidates).

4.    Men regularly approach us as clients or candidates.

5.    The majority of applicants for our roles are men (we’ll be auditing our job descriptions).

6.    If we approach women concerning an opportunity, they are much less likely than men to get back to us. We currently use the same approach for screening and approaching men and women (we may change this).

7.    ~95% of the senior commercial leaders in our network are men, despite our concerted efforts.

8.    New clients who are women (~15% of our clients) work with us on the basis of trusted referral through industry relationships. New male clients seem to prefer referral, but will award us an appointment based on our pitching our services to them. (Perhaps our approach needs to change).

9.    Once we have secured the trust of a female candidate they are notably loyal, cooperative and thoughtful about our own business needs – even if we haven’t been able to help them securing a role immediately. Of course, many of the men are too, but allthe women are.

10. We deal directly with CEOs and MDs and they are (for the most part) men. They don’t seem to be as answerable to PSL and HR process.

11. Many of our clients’ HR teams seem evenly split male/female – though men tend to hold the leadership positions.

12. We created a LinkedIn sponsored content campaign and our target demographic was senior leadership in our sector (and in the UK). Men outnumbered women approximately 8:3.

13. Women seemed to be less represented on stage & programs of industry events.

14. Men we work with who are not actively looking for roles will move roles (they’re considered “passive” or “sleeper” candidates). Women will move roles if they’ve been looking for a role (considered “active” candidates).

15. All our network would rather hire through their network (rather than use internal or external agencies). Does this exacerbate homogeny?

We’d love to ask our network some questions to improve. We’re gatekeepers to leadership opportunities and want these to be as accessible as possible – for all.

We look forward to hearing from you.

[1] LinkedIn Diversity & Inclusion Report

[2] – this is a great article. Though pre-dates BBC wage scandal. Talks interestingly of the parallel economy and paints an aspirational picture of the post-gender economy. They interviewed 2:1 men to women. Which we don’t understand in the context…

[3] &


[5] See the B2C case study of EDF Energy:



[8] – a great article that sketches types of unconscious bias and how to overcome it.


How to use an Executive Search Firm

  Herringbone Search Partnership with Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance

Early last summer Ryan Henshaw met Marc Thivessen, COO of a joint venture between the Financial Times and IE Business School – the Corporate Learning Alliance.

The venture harnesses the power of the world’s most respected business media brand with a world-class business school and global network of educators.

Marc knew FT |IE Corporate Learning Alliance would at some stage want a search firm to help them hire a commercial leadership team to keep pace with the growth.  They stayed in touch.

A few months prior, we introduced ourselves to the razor sharp commercial leader and London-based Dutchman, Michel Rosier (photo, centre).  He was an early bird so Ryan had a coffee with him at dawn in central London.  He joined our candidate treasury, happy for us to connect him to our contacts in the market.

We introduced Michel to a leader at a leviathan information company a month later.  It was a good meeting, but the Leviathan didn’t have a perfect role at the time.

Over the summer, a role to lead global sales at FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance started brewing.

In August, the need had heightened and Ryan met with the COO Marc to nail down the brief. The leadership team hoped to present news of this key hire at the main board meeting in late September.

Working with search firms can (and should) take the pain out of hiring.  In this case, we worked hard with the COO to clarify the brief and set a clear timeline.  We were dealing with a decision-maker who was driven to make an appointment efficiently.

Ryan called on specific leaders he knew and approached the market within the timeframe.  To avoid Outlook purgatory there were defined windows for first and second interviews and key players were pinned down in advance.

We talked Marc through a handful of individuals.  The search was fine-tuned with a tight feedback loop.  Three candidates were interviewed in late August, including Michel.  He was invited back.  At the end of the second interview he was offered the role by the CEO, VanDyck Silveira.  Decisive.

Michel is now approaching his first year in the business and we’ve placed four more senior leaders with them, two reporting into Michel himself (including Nassim Ershaed pictured above).

From our standpoint, FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance were the perfect partner.

So how can you use Executive Search firms to guarantee a better result and process?

These simple rules of the game help to consistently secure the best people:

  • Ensure the key decision-makers are dealing with the search firm. Golden candidates don’t hang about, especially if they’re commercial leaders on the hunt for a job. It’s a turnoff for them if they’re left in limbo in the process (and painful for the secretary or HR team who become liaisons).
  • Work with one firm who is a specialist in your sector. They will have longstanding relationships and you’ll be benefitting from the multiple searches they undertook for other industry leaders over the last few years.  This represents thousands of hours of work and expertise on the market.  Using one firm per appointment streamlines the process, protects your employer brand and secures the undivided attention of the search firm – along with the candidate.
  • See the relationship as long-term. Invest in the search firm once you trust them – help them to understand your company.  Once they do they will be able to aggressively screen candidates on your behalf and champion your business to the candidate market.  It will add so much value.
  • Set limits and be decisive. Do you want to see endless people for fear of missing out?    See a maximum of 5.  It’s a tic of the times – what’s the next thing, who else is out there, can we find better?  Our culture can bend us to be on the look-out for the next best thing, the upgrade, the person who may walk around the corner.  Of course, you want the best asset to the company, but how much time can you devote to the hiring process?  If you can, trust that the firm has done the job. Get rolling and be decisive.
  • Schedule the process in. We have a timeline we can send you that we use that keeps the process dynamic. It will keep you and your executive team focussed on a result.
  • Only work with a firm you trust (and like). They are representing you to the market and should act as an additional member of the team.  If you don’t like or trust them, the candidates they approach on your behalf won’t either.

Our process has been refined over a decade and these are the guidelines that consistently seem to secure the most satisfactory appointments.  We hope they’re helpful.  If you use Executive Search firms and would like a copy of our timeline do let us know.

If you’d like to find out more about the executive courses run by FT| IE Corporate Learning Alliance get in touch with Nick Winwood.

If you’d like to meet to talk about sales and commercial leadership hiring, media and information market knowledge, staff retention, salary benchmarking or general hiring please get in touch.

More about Ryan Henshaw.

More about Herringbone Search.

STAY: Stability, Stickability and Sales Leadership

If you’re a start-up entrepreneur or investor your CV can look like you have been free running across the business world – with impunity.

If you’re a career sales leader you need to justify your hefty price tag with a CV that represents stability and, to use an Americanism, stickability. You need to look like a sure thing, not a gamble.  Employers are looking for someone to come on board and put in deep roots; committing to the employees, the management, the company, the shareholders, the clients, the investors, the vision and to the role; someone who creates longstanding relationships in the industry with the associated yield this brings.

And that is why they will pay you the big bucks.

We wrote last year about how sales professionals can have a certain flightiness in their careers – they prospect for the greenest field, they can be stimulated by the new and they’re uninhibited by fear of change (see here). The same aptitude for winning new clients can win them new employers and roles. But there is a tipping point where too much change is not a good thing.

If you’re at the level where you’re earning a six-figure basic salary you can assume that for every role in the last 5-10 years that was less than 36 months your value as a candidate decreases (as your flight risk increases).

You may have performed brilliantly in each role, but how will your appeal compare to the candidate with longer tenures? Not favourably.  Young guns fresh on the employment market can work somewhere for 18 months, but as seniority increases so does the expectation that you will spend 5+ years in a role. Increasingly our clients are asking us for performers within the sector who display commitment and loyalty. Finding senior commercial leadership candidates is expensive and time-consuming. They don’t want to hire a bolter.

Your reasons for leaving will be put under the microscope.

Why do you leave? Why didn’t you stay? If there were problems, could you not resolve them? Why not?  Will you leave at the first or 71st roadblock? If the sector didn’t interest you, why were you in it initially? If the product wasn’t good enough couldn’t you leverage your influence to change things from within?

There will be a lingering suspicion that you could reach your targets and get along with everyone for a year or two– but then the fuel ran out and you were found out (or you left before you were discovered).

But even if you left on a positive note, if you were headhunted for an extraordinary opportunity, it is fair to assume you will be headhunted again. Can they trust you to stay and offer a return on their investment? Or will you want an upgrade? Will you need constant wooing to be bribed into loyalty?

We appreciate that this is a candidate market. If you are a sales leader in this sector you are in demand. The cliché is true. You are the lifeblood of an organisation.  People will try to pinch you. You’re likely to be offered alluring salary increases that trump internal opportunities. This will be tempting to peg a mortgage to, particularly in the middle of your career. Whilst this is the time in your life you have the most financial demands be aware that in ten years you may pick up the bill for too many moves and you’ll remain at the same level (albeit with different employers) with only sideways career moves accessible to you.  The commercial career crab with your desired path out of reach.

Stay as long as you can.  Stay. We are a purpose-driven generation but don’t believe the adverts that Monday morning is not Monday morning somewhere else – or that you need to be in a different environment to flourish. We usually don’t need somewhere new. We need a new perspective.

The candidates our clients love to love are those who can demonstrate consistent commercial success and longevity. Some candidates come to us looking for the next role when the best thing they could do would be to stay put for another year (or three) and this is what we advise.  It’s an investment position where holding often pays off.

We’re generalising but, really, stay.

There is also something about commitment that changes perspective. Don’t buy a new garden. Do some gardening; plant, weed, plan, etc. You get the metaphor.  Stay.

If you’re struggling to stay where you are you do have some options:

1. Change the elements of the role or the company that bother you. As Nelson Mandela said; “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  At the very least you’ll have a renewed sense of ownership and agency.

2. Change yourself. Your perspectives are more powerful in how you experience life than your circumstances.

3. Interview for roles or discuss opportunities with headhunting firms to find out your market rate. Leaving may not be worth what you think. Or you can leverage the new information with your current employer. They’re not that keen on this strategy (on the whole) but they’d rather keep you then replace you.

4. Leave on great terms with your current employer. Go elsewhere for x opportunity and return to the original employer in 3+ years. “Boomerang” candidates represent excellent value for money for companies and give a greater semblance of stability on the CV. You’re the candidate that the market leader wanted back at the table – well then we want you too.

5. Scratch your prospecting itch by having a slow burn career plan in place, replete with networking, an immaculate commercial CV (see here), market and sector research, planning and personal growth.  Don’t wait to be motivated by frustration and ennui where you might make a hasty move.  Put yourself in the path of the slow-maturing opportunities.

Tenure Career Exercises:

  • Carve out some time and look at the LinkedIn profiles of the commercial leaders you respect who are a rung or three above you in the corporate aquarium. What sort of tenure do they hold at companies. Look at the profiles of your peers who are missing out on new roles – what does their tenure look like?
  • If you’re offered a salary jump from a new employer – weigh up the maths considering the declining appeal your CV will have in the future. Will three salary jumps now mean that in 10 years your desired role will be harder to secure? Is it worth it in the long-term?
  • If you’ve had a few shorter stints can you see yourself in your current role for the next 3-5 years?  Should you move to stay?  We appreciate this is contradictory advice (from a Headhunter). Beware of the lure of the mirage – don’t use this to justify a premature move.
  • We know it’s an old chestnut – but a list of pros and cons of your current role could change your perspective.

We hope this is helpful.

As an addendum, we’d like to soften this for the renegades and real people. Those with a  chequered or imperfect professional past. You were fired, then had an adventure, a family earthquake, paternity leave, health hiccups, two redundancies and a break.  Our purpose is not to discourage. It is to tell you what the market tells us. Black and white stability has greater appeal to employers and commands a higher wage. So the next time you find yourself in a position to stay, then stay and accept that (for now) you may need to stomach a lower salary than you think you’re worth for double the amount of time you’d want to stay for. Hold your position.

Future-Proof your Revenue Team

Herringbone Search’s Managing Director recently undertook some meaty research with commercial leaders at companies worth billions in the media and information sector.

The research is here:

Leadership: Taking Care of Business

Hiring: The Bugbear of Senior Commercial Leaders

We identified three particular pain points that we are able to help with:

  • Making hiring less painful
  • Making hiring swifter (saving 5+ weeks of hiring purgatory and lost potential revenue)
  • Helping leaders, CEOs and MDs strengthen industry networks.

On the last point, many of those we interviewed wanted to hire through their own networks, but it was not their first port of call in reality.

Hiring through networks is satisfying and efficient, but it does require intentionally meeting people when there is no imminent role or gap in the team. It terms of time management it is an investment in the non-urgent, but important. If you get networking right the ROI can be a timely hire into a critical revenue-generating role months down the line.

Many of our clients already request speculative introductions to outstanding commercial performers.  We link them with hand-picked industry leaders we’ve spent time with. The goal is to help people connect – and because the calibre of both parties is so high and sector-specific the meetings always add value.

Our treasury of candidates are sales leaders on basic salaries of £80k to £350k, with breadth and depth of experience. This is the fruit of Herringbone having spent thousands of hours researching the industry and meeting emerging leaders and industry titans.

If you would like to meet four high-achieving sector leaders a year, let us know. We’ll work to any guidelines you set us and we will have met and qualified each person.

So if you were to suffer a string of resignations in your revenue team next year, you could already have a handful of high-quality potential candidates in mind – who are fully engaged with your business and who have met you and trust you. You would be able to immediately introduce them to the board and leapfrog those initial weeks of the standard hiring process.

The program is informal and non-committal. Taking measures to insure against expensive gaps in the revenue team does not get much easier than this.

If you’re interested, please get in touch with Ryan Henshaw directly either via LinkedIn or on

In The Beginning: How To Make An Impression In The First 90 Days

The starting line may define your trajectory in a company.

If you secure a new role, how should you approach your first quarter?  Bearing in mind that if you start a journey one degree off course, 90 days later you’ll be in quite the wrong place…

  We recommend you start by reading Michael Watkins’ book The First 90 days.  Or if you’re too busy, skim the interview with Michael Watkins here.

Watkins is associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.  The book helps new employees manage this critical time.  Whilst the book has moments of sounding a little like a Cold War “how to” for power and influence, it does have some very useful tips.

1.   A New Job Requires a New Approach

It is unlikely you will be able to succeed by doing the same things you did in your previous role.  Think about the differences between the roles and how you must adapt.

Watkins cites Douglas Ivestor, the CFO at Coca-Cola who was promoted to CEO.  He resigned two years later after “a series of blunders” – essentially because he was unable to abandon the detail for the vision the role required.

You must let go of your previous role and get ready to grow.

2.   Manage Your Achilles Heel(s)

We all have problems we are more comfortable facing and we develop specific problem-solving muscles whilst other muscles “atrophy” according to Watkins.  Like being right-handed. This leaves us vulnerable. Watkins suggests disciplined devotion to becoming ambidextrous.

Prioritise tasks in terms of importance rather than preference, even if you’re not feeling sure-footed in the new environment.  Prioritise in the way your boss would want you to in the first 90 days. What matters to them should matter to you.

3.   Analysis Before Action

Few leaders know how to systematically diagnose organisations. Watkins suggests a structured learning agenda over the first 90 days.  Have a plan for assimilating knowledge, from hard data (like financial reports) to soft information (like culture).

He recommends asking direct reports these type of questions:

  • What are the biggest challenges the organization faces? 
  • Why? 
  • What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth? 
  • How could we exploit these? 
  • What would you focus on if you were in my position? 

Business diagnosis must precede strategy.  This includes analysis of the prevailing organisational psychology and taking stock of the company story.

Watkins also suggests newbies identify some early wins to essentially buy them time and credibility.  This is a moving target.  Perception of a “win” will depend on the culture (and your boss).

4.   Who You Are

Your earliest interactions will set a tone.  What messages would you like to convey about who you are and how can you convey these?  First impressions are sticky.  Watkins emphasises building horizontal alliances as well as taking 100% ownership of your relationship with your boss.  You initiate.  You make it work.

Watkins believes the first 30 days should be about establishing personal credibility and making decisions on where to focus efforts in the following 60 days.

By the end of the 90 days you will have gauged how organisational architecture could be changed to better serve the company.  How could strategy, structure, systems, skills and culture work better together?  How could you move the furniture around before becoming part of it? How can you balance this with how much change the company can absorb?

5.   Your Team

You’ll probably inherit good, average and poor members and the early days are for evaluation. Watkins suggests keeping those with good judgement – those who can make sound predictions and develop good strategies for avoiding problems (regardless of intellect or other bells and whistles).

90 days is in some ways an arbitrary milepost – but by this point you will be expected to be making an impact.  Particularly in a revenue-generating setting.  The premise of the book is helpful in lighting up potential potholes and opportunities.

On a different note, starting a new role is a good opportunity to align your professional life with your personal values.  Perhaps watch this Ted talk by leadership expert Simon Sinek about work culture – so that when you are making the first 90 days work for you, you’re making life easier for the people who work for you.

In Summary:

The First 90 days: Grow. Be brave. Flex your weaker problem-solving muscles. Do extensive reconnaissance. Manage up. Watch out for sticky first impressions. Weigh up the team. Lay the foundations for great things for the organisation. Snatch some easy wins if you can. Create a safe atmosphere for your team to become a great leader.

Good luck!

Leadership – Taking Care of Business

Herringbone Search Information Snapshot – Part 2

We interviewed sales directors, commercial leaders and CEOs working for organisations with combined revenue in excess of £20bn in media and information services.  The responses reflect the most pressing concerns of people who have spent tens of thousands of hours in positions of commercial leadership.

Making time

We asked them about the area(s) they most needed to develop as leaders.  Unsurprisingly, time-management and being increasingly strategic were two dominant themes.  One-third of the group interviewed mentioned at least one of these. In particular, managing time to be more strategic.

Specific approaches included:

  • Pushing back internally
  • “Ruthless” prioritizing
  • Focusing on strategy that would mitigate risk
  • Challenging traditional thinking

The respondents didn’t talk about working on strategy.  They talked about beingstrategic; delivering strategically.  The language was dynamic and assertive:

“Making more time.”

“Dedicating more time to being more strategic and less reactionary.”

Mind the Gap

Just under half of our group mentioned specific knowledge, skills or experience gaps they wanted to work on to improve their leadership offering.  The majority of these were in some way related to people management (particularly a tendency towards micro-management) and general financial skills.

One young COO wanted to strengthen personal technical knowledge; a Sales Director mentioned his recruitment skills.  One manager who oversees a $50m portfolio wanted to be more forbearing:

“I need to work on my empathy. I expect everyone to be as committed to the cause as I am and they’re not.”

Soft skills, like decision-making and communication, were mentioned by 20% of respondents.  Confidence and courage were mentioned by fewer than 10% – and only by respondents who were new to a sector or product.  10% felt the need to be more political.

Some wanted to work on areas that were crucial to fulfilling their current roles.  Others mentioned areas of development that would increase their professional equity in the longer term.

Here’s looking at you, kid

We received candid responses to a slightly awkward question to ask (personally and grammatically):

“As you think about where you want to be in your career, if you’re not there, what do you need to get there?”

23% of our group were unequivocally happy, satisfied, content or where they would expect to be in their career.

14% were, broadly speaking, where they wanted to be.

50% were not where they wanted to be. Most of this group talked about why they hadn’t “arrived” rather than what they expected to do to reach their desired professional level.  They predominantly cited reasons that implicated their own decisions and behaviour, not their circumstances:

“Coming to the field late.”

“Maturing late.”

“Not making it happen.”

“Not being proactive enough.”

“Not being ambitious enough early enough.”

“Unwilling to play a political game.”

“Staying in a role too long.”

“Cultural barriers.”

“Not being in the right place at the right time.”

Magical thinking

The first question we asked these commercial leaders was:

“If you could change one thing about the business you work in what would that be?”

We were, perhaps, hoping for predominantly hiring issues we could help address.  The responses were so varied they weren’t usefully pie-chartable. It was, however, the only question everyone answered.

We have turned the grievances into a list of questions you can use when grilling the board of your prospective employer – or when raising challenges internally in your current businesses.

  • What is the actual culture here?
  • How well do the sales and marketing team work together? What are the greatest points of tension?
  • Could the CEO be more (or less) involved?
  • How many direct reports are too many to manage well?
  • Is the commercial culture strategic or reactionary?
  • How are excellent people hired?
  • What is the employer brand in the eyes of the market?
  • What is the current and long-term hiring strategy for the commercial function of the business?
  • Are there sufficient resources to train and build capacity at mid-level to promote from within?
  • How often are under-performers retained in the revenue-driven team to fill gaps due to lack of resources?
  • Is forward hiring standard practice?
  • On the whole are targets achieved (and considered achievable) by members of the team in leadership positions?
  • What is the potential future career path for me here?
  • How does this product rank in comparison to other products on the market? Is this product seen as essential to the target market or optional?
  • How is outstanding mid-level leadership hired and retained?
  • How good is the communication and collaboration across the organisation? How frustrating is the reality?
  • What is the quality of the systems and policies in place to manage clients and governance?
  • Across the company how is the business development function viewed?
  • How quickly can a new product or an improved product get to market? What is the impact of this on client retention?
  • How consultative is engagement with clients in reality?


  • Leaders want to spend time with more senior leaders.
  • There were two incidents of swearing noted by these stretched and committed leaders.  They were both to do with caring. “Giving a s***” about a team or about work generally.
  • One sales leader mentioned he needed to be more ‘x’ and less ‘y’ in terms of behavior to be able to play the political game.  This would arguably (we think) make him less effective at commercial and revenue-driven leadership.
  • 9% of the commercial leaders we surveyed were women.  We imagine this is down to three reasons.  Firstly, fewer women choose to work in the revenue-driven and commercial arms of companies (not speculation).  Secondly, the Managing Director of Herringbone Search invited his gender-proportionate network to be surveyed, and he may have more appeal with men (speculation).  Thirdly, the men he invited on the whole accepted, so they either believed it would add value to their lives in some way or they felt free to leave the office for a chunk of time over lunch to answer a survey.  Perhaps the women did not (speculation).  Gender food for thought.
  • Inefficient mid-level and junior recruitment practices have a large impact on those several rungs up the hierarchy.

In brief…

Commercial leaders:

–      Can identify their weaknesses.

–      Can be quick to doubt or criticise their own career path and achievements, and will take responsibility for perceived underachievement in their career.

Our simple takeaway?  Managing time aggressively helps us all be more strategic in our roles, our careers and our lives.

Career check:

Q: Are you working on areas of personal development that will benefit your career in the short, medium or long-term?

Q: Where would you like to be in your career in 3, 5 and 10 years?

Q: What will it take? What are the obstacles?

To all those who took part – many thanks indeed.

The Herringbone Search Team

Hiring – The Bugbear of Senior Commercial Leaders

Herringbone Information Snapshot – Part 1

Our clients are mostly in media and information.  They live by selling good content, research and data. We (bravely) decided to compile some research of our own, about them – and for them.

Herringbone Search undertook a survey with sales directors, commercial leaders and CEOs working for organizations with combined revenue in excess of £20bn.  Ryan Henshaw, Managing Director, invested just over 40 hours of his time taking some of his network to lunch.  We’ve distilled their insights in to two information snapshots.  One covering hiring and the success of their teams, the next covering their view of the organisations they work for and their approach to their own careers.  The results were interesting.

There is a disconnect between preferred hiring methods and real action

We asked about effective and actual methods of hiring.  Approximately 60% had conflicting answers; they used x method but preferred to use y.  They didn’t (or couldn’t) use the method they preferred.  The answers were unprompted.  The results were as follows:

There is a preference towards using personal networks, recommendations and referrals.  One respondent specified the benefit in regularly meeting people in the industry even without a role in mind.  However, those that considered “networking” as their most successful method all mentioned a different option for their “first port of call.”

In brief:

  • Discrepancy between preferred and actual methods of hiring for 60% of respondents
  • Networking is considered the “most successful” method for many but not the first port of call for those same respondents
  • There can be some reluctance to use internal recruitment functions
  • The use of internal and external recruitment functions was qualified (i.e. they had to be “good” external recruiters or “well-run” internal functions).

General frustration with hiring with good candidates proving elusive

H.S: What do you consider to be the most successful way of recruiting?

Executive X: I’m not sure I’ve found it yet…

This leads us into our next section.


FINDING THE RIGHT CANDIDATE Struggle to find good people – dross | Finding people full stop! | Finding business managers with P+L sense | Finding new business people | Attracting the right candidate and finding genuine sales professionals | Culture fit, profiling & behavioural match | Consistency of candidates getting to the final interview stage | Getting the volume on junior roles
AWKWARD INTERNAL PROCESS Internal process/ resources “clunky,” “unstructured,” or “unreliable”  | No ability to shortlist with existing internal function | Not able to actively recruit | No assessment tool to help with retention | Wasted time
WRONG PACKAGE OFFERED Not paying high enough wages | Competing against software companies | Package structure / Basic vs. Bonus weighting
PIPELINE TIMING Internal reluctance to forward hire | Holes are left too long
EXTERNAL RECRUITERS Not knowing which recruiters to trust | Recruiters missing the brief
INTERVIEW SKILL Decision-making in interviews

Myriad answers.  The same effect.  Gaps in the team and senior leadership bound in a frustrating process.  Interestingly no one mentioned their employer brand being an issue.

We asked another question.

CVs (Quality & quantity) | Volume of CVs | Sift through CVs | CVs | Looking at poor CVs, which do not demonstrate soft skills | Looking through a vast amount of CVs from 3-4 recruiters.
FRONT END RECRUITMENT (Time and volume) / Initial vetting process is time consuming, more rigor is needed in the initial assessment | Volume at front end of recruitment process | Initial search – would rather pay for someone who will challenge the brief, know sources, and get back with strong shortlists.
WORKING WITH THE INTERNAL RECRUITMENT FUNCTION Using the internal recruitment function | Working with internal team to set a profile and then cut out initial interviews | Having to complete Risk Assessment Framework before speaking to anyone about team or individual requirements.
DECISION-MAKING Front end decisions on CV’s | Decision to see a candidate.
WORKING WITH BAD RECRUITERS Bad recruiters | CV flow poor | Communications – nothing more valuable than a good recruiter and transparency
INITIAL INTERVIEWS (Post screening/ 1st stage) – particularly for junior roles

In brief: Finding great people is challenging, time-consuming and frustrating for most senior executives.  The start seems particularly painful.  Finding the right candidate is seen as the greatest challenge.

After all the effort of hiring, how are these teams doing?

On average, 40% of each team brought in 80% of the revenue. 60% of the team were considered satisfactory (with some reporting only 10% of the team as satisfactory).

We can see why there can be an aversion to decision-making in the hiring process, when a large proportion of the existing team are not really performing.

The human angle

We asked one executive what kept him up at night:

“Not meeting my sales target which represents treble-digit growth – which in turn means I won’t get paid my commission, a large part of my remuneration.  Which in turn means I’d end up in debt, which means I would end up having to sell my house!”

Hiring is particularly personal (and stressful?) when income is pegged to wider team performance.

In the following article Herringbone Search will cover how these executives approach their own career, including what they value in commercial leadership and their wider business challenges.

The Perfect Commercial CV?


Your CV is the ultimate card you play in your work life. Make it count. (iStock)

Your CV is the ultimate card you play in your work life. Make it count. (iStock)


Turn your CV into the perfect commercial CV.  We know it’s painful, but take the time.

Your CV is your elevator pitch. About you. It should work hard for you. Like a Marketing Department – warming up the market and breaking the ice.

It’s easier for us in this business if the CV arrives in our hands complete and perfect as an origami swan, but it’s undeniably a little charming when people fumble tooting their own horn.

Even some of the most successful leaders may be a little lost when it comes to their own CV.

Rest assured, it’s perfectly normal. But like any product, don’t let the packaging let you down.

Starting Blocks

Get your employment dates right and add the months if you can – it doesn’t need to be good enough for Pentagon clearance, just near enough. Make sure it matches your LinkedIn profile. Most recent role first. Add the dates of internal promotions – track your rise from Graduate to CEO. Whoever is assessing will be looking for internal progression.

Make sure you mention if something was a contract role – otherwise it looks like you weren’t kept on after seven months (four times in a row).

Redundancy is part of modern work life. Of course you can mention it and gardening leave. No explanation needed, but if you do want to justify – make it brief. e.g. “Redundancy due to merger.”

Reasons for leaving roles are not necessary to add – it’s assumed you moved onwards and upwards to a better company, product, role or package. If your career stability looks patchy, you may need to put some rationale in, like moving countries.

Personal reasons for gaps should be succinct. e.g. “Sabbatical for care of ageing parent” or “Parenting career break” or “Fulfilled travelling ambitions to Patagonia.” These are all valid and require no explanation.

If you moved within the same parent company – mention that. Stability is golden and the reader may not know that X and Y company are both part of Z Corp.

If you spent time in an unrelated field early on in your career – summarise. e.g. “2000-2003 Various Stage Production Roles.”  This is common. We all have dreams and we all need to eat and life is not always linear. Keep it brief.

Justify Your Price Tag

If you are in the commercial arm of business, you represent a considerable outlay of funds. You may feel you bring value for money, but assume you are perceived as expensive. Very expensive. You are an ‘acquisition’ – the company interviewing you needs to do its due diligence. If they invest in you and take a gamble on you – will you strengthen the position of the company?

You need to demonstrate your value and make this plain as day to all those who’ll be looking at your CV – from busy HR professionals to board members and EAs sneaking a look at your CV.  Your CV needs to represent a miniature business plan as to why you are worth it and why you are not a risk. Make the case.

If there are ‘snags’ in your CV – overcome possible objections. You want all the people in the process to be able to champion you with conviction.

The easiest way to do this is to use your numbers (and the numbers of the team/department/region you oversee) with absolute clarity and preferably not in an addendum to your CV.

We appreciate this may seem a little soulless, but your CV is your frontrunner and ambassador. Be human in person when your CV gets you that meeting.

Add the numbers simply under each role to give the reader the sense of size of business you’ve managed and value of your team’s deals:

2016 Annual objective £25mn, Q1-Q3 101% YTD

2015 Annual objective £15mn, £21mn achieved (industry key note speaker at XX event)

2014 Annual objective £10mn, £15.7mn achieved (3rd in commercial team of 37)

The eye of the reader will be drawn immediately to this and lure them to read the rest.

Where you can add the actual figures (e.g. $7mn) do – but honour the confidentiality of your current company, especially when interviewing within the same market. You can add % of targets you’ve achieved. Where you can’t give specifics, try and give as clear idea as possible – so the reader can distinguish if you managed thousands or millions in revenue.

You can add KPIs. If you had to make 250 calls and 10 client meetings a week while managing a team 10 years ago, that is impressive. It shows tremendous work ethic. And maybe why you wanted to leave.

Contextualise it if you can. What growth did your input represent for the company and what total of revenue? Did the company increase market share under your watch and with your contribution and by how much? Did the company beat competitors in a market downturn? It may not all be down to you, but it’s meaty for the reader. Again, be sensitive about confidentiality.

Don’t worry about falling short of targets and company goals in the past. There are always good reasons. Perhaps it was a poorly funded product launch or redistribution of regions or teams. Don’t give excuses, be honest. Everyone misses targets and it’s a hallmark of authenticity to include these.

Add awards and accolades. Title and date. No fluff around it. It’s not necessary. It’ll be skimmed over.

Some people add ‘key achievements’ under each role – this is a chance to put down a couple of things you’re particularly proud of. From a human standpoint we’re often proudest of moments of human connection – but in a commercial CV you need to put your greatest commercial achievements, because this is what will impact the humans in your next company and their job security.

What did you turn around? What exceeded expectation? What team did you resuscitate and get over the unthinkable finish line? Quantify your qualitative achievements.

If you create a great culture in the teams around you – it may be easier and more objective to put this in as an observation by someone else. e.g. “Recognition from the board for creating a culture conducive to success.”

An employers greatest risk? You’ll be a mis-hire. You will waste their time, money or energy and the whole painful recruitment process will have to start again. You’re using them as a notch on your professional belt as you rise to greater things. You’re incompetent or lazy. You’re a coasting leader or a toxic colleague. It may not be a new role for them – why did the last person leave?

De-risk yourself for them. Be a sure thing.


Not everyone reading your CV is an expert in your sector. Often the gatekeepers won’t be (even if you’re a kind of a big deal).

Titles can be meaningless.

These questions should be fairly easy to answer from a glance at your CV about all related previous commerical roles:

  • Who did you work for? If this is an arm of a larger company – put it in, if you were commissioned by the private equity firm backing the venture – put it in.
  • What does this company or department do? One sentence – free from jargon.
  • What products did you deal with? What verticals and sectors?
  • Was it B2B or B2C? Transactional or consultative?
  • What AOV range? High value or high volume?
  • Who bought the product or service? What types of company and what positions within them?
  • Were you a player manager? Were you a strategist that was not tied to personal KPIs?
  • Who did you manage directly and indirectly? What type of sales people were they?
  • What regional or departmental responsibility did you have?
  • What was your total revenue responsibility?

Write the business case to answer ‘Why you?’ using your professional experience.


The temptation to be grandiose is never far from some of us. What were you hired to do and what did that mean in reality? Try not to be vague. A few points will suffice for each role.

Dig out your old job description from your personal email account and use that.[1]


We want what other people want.

If you were headhunted previously, or re-hired by a previous employer, or requested by the US team to turnaround their East-Coast outfit, let the reader know. It means you’re in demand by people who know you, even just by reputation. You’re an expert and you’re not a nightmare to work with.

The Sales Effect

If you’re going for a commercial role don’t shy away from your sales background. It may be snubbed by some, but actually you’re proving yourself a commercial thoroughbred from the furnace of your telesales beginnings. If you’ve been in the trenches, you could be a better leader for it.

Big Picture

Don’t assume that people will know the news about the companies you have worked for. Do add big picture information. e.g. “Appointed, by CEO, to head commercial arm after departmental merger with X Corp” or “Brought company to 150% growth to point of sale to X private equity firm.”

Perfect Pitch

If you write an introduction to yourself we suggest 3 lines maximum, it’s easy to slip into cliché and put people off. Keep adjectives to a minimum and we recommend not making it a soft hook or too personal. If you add your sector experience or a couple of recognisable brand names it helps even the most sleep-deprived person to spot you quickly.

e.g. Driven Managing Director responsible for $100mn global revenue for third largest US provider of data information. Passionate leader of global team of 300, with seven direct reports, motivating excellence. Longstanding commercial career in the intelligence sector in X, Y and Z corp.

The Personal Section

We recommend not being funny or personal. No exclamation marks. Two lines is more than sufficient. e.g. Time with family, playing tennis and European city breaks.

Nothing florid. This is because the rest of the CV is a business plan (de-risking you) and suddenly another tone intrudes with anecdotes about a favourite author. It can be a little distracting. Like someone showing you a picture of their cat at the end of their brilliant interview. Enjoyable, but perplexing. If you have excelled in a different field (winning Henley Regatta) then add that.

On this note, keep the tone of your CV consistent. When people keep adding to the CV they wrote when they were 19 in the 1980s, it’s like ending dinner on a bad coffee.

You want the most attention on the most recent roles you’ve undertaken – or the most important one in relation to the prospective role. Later roles need to be succinct and in the same tone.


Unless you wrote your dissertation on something pertinent to the role or sector – don’t include the title. Add where you went to uni, college and school. Some choose not to add dates or grades, but people do like a chronological timeline of your working history and ageism shouldn’t be a concern. Grades are far less important than demonstrable subsequent sales success. Commercial acumen trumps academia.

If you write additional skills, add the CRM systems you’re used to and specific knowledge you have. Don’t add normal working packages – like Excel. It’s like saying you speak Englesh.


In some ways structure doesn’t matter. Clean formatting is key. Nothing fancy is necessary – make it easy to open as an attachment or read on a phone. Have a word version at the ready.

The bulk of the CV has to be your demonstrable success in previous roles. If you are a dynamic and energetic employee, keep in mind a long-winded and sagging CV is not going to reflect you.

There is no two-page rule, but sales pitches tend to be more successful if they are succinct and your CV is your ultimate sales pitch.

Leave the reader wanting more (i.e. to call you or meet you).


At least 3 other people should read your CV. They should look for clarity, simplicity, mistakes, presentation, etc. It can feel awkward to bare your CV to others, but it’s not your soul. It is important to sense check it. You just can’t see what you don’t see.

Teenagers, millennials, partners… People in your sector and out of your sector should look at it – and people who are not intimidated to feedback.

Sector-specific recruiters are brilliant at repackaging CVs to the appropriate markets. Exploit this expertise.

Ask a professional who knows your sector to advise you. They can also feedback about how your CV compares to the competition. It’s a great investment of time.

If you’ve been a hiring manager take note of the CVs that were a joy to read. Simple and clear.

Play the Game

The CV has to be tailored to an extent to the roles you’re after. It’s box-ticking, but it will get you over any requirement-based pedantry. Recruitment can be an odd game – but play it, because it’s your working life at stake.

Lost in Translation

Humility is not self-deprecation. It’s being able to say what you do well with confidence.

If you’re applying for roles internationally tone can get lost. If you’re British, its wise to remember people will not understand self-effacement in your CV (or emails or interviews).

It’s hard to say well (and apologies for any offence), but we notice that one gender can have a reluctance to identify and frame their greatest successes and strengths. They diminish their part in extraordinary achievements.

If you’re reluctant to sell yourself talk to a recruiter or headhunter – they’ll do it for you. They’ll also recognise brilliant and marketable aspects of your past experience that you may not realise are in demand.

This article may be riddled with mistakes and poor formatting – and far too long. Your CV cannot be.

What could be more important than representing yourself well and getting access to the best role you can possible get?

The Herringbone Team

[1] Hopefully this is not a dubious address like whathappensinvegas@gmail.comand if it is – make sure this is not what you use on your CV.

The Sales Hiring Checklist: Find and Keep Talent

We regularly see these commonly known hiring mistakes when businesses struggle to hire and keep super sales talent.


Gut plays a huge role in hiring decisions.  It’s human nature.  Intuition does help to read environmental cues, but we recommend creating a rational cheat sheet in advance to steady impulse.

If you’re a gut-led business, get as many guts in on the decision-making as possible.  Five guts are better than one.

Know Their Do

Don’t oversell the role. Transparency about the nitty-gritty day-to-day nature of the work will help foster fewer illusions.  The naked truth will serve your company better than an embellished job description.

Know Your Who

Assess your workforce – who thrives in your environment?  If problem-solvers perform, hire a Land Rover.  If you need someone dependable who can cover miles of pipeline cultivation, hire a Mercedes.  Lamborghinis are tempting candidates, but they may not last on the terrain.

Know Your Do

The company pitch, product and process should run through the business like a stick of Brighton rock.  Hiring managers should understand the business organism and the defined function of the role they are hiring for.

Recruitment 101

 Find out if candidates value career stability – if they are poised for commitment.  They may have previously been the victim of circumstance or poor choices, but too many roles should ring alarm bells.

Rethink Hiring Priorities

It is easier to select on experience, written in plain sight on CVs, but this is not the best predictor of performance.

Mental bandwidth, core values, purpose and habits are difficult to change and better indicators of potential success.

It is hard to screen for ‘values’ if you have 30 minutes, a cold, a candidate in front of you and a leaky biro.  If you can’t use psychometric testing, sketch out the characteristics your top performers share to guide your decision-making.

Use Headhunters Well

Maximise the headhunters in your network. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for in a candidate, headhunters can help to fine-tune a brief.  They also should know your sector well and be able to advise on flaws in the hiring process – why candidates may leave or decline roles.

The Story

When you hire a candidate you form part of their life story.  Monday morning is always Monday morning, but if a new role is highly appreciated, retention will be higher.  Will the new candidate take the role for granted or be grateful?

“Passive” Candidates

A candidate who is not actively looking for a new role has more to lose with the wrong move.  They do their due diligence about your company and the role.  They are also less likely to adapt themselves in the interview process.  If they choose to move to your company it’s a very considered move.


A trial day is often impossible.  At the very least ensure candidates (even executive ones) meet as many colleagues as possible.  Inviting them to events or social occasions during the hiring period will help them to understand your culture.

In Summary…

We covered the pioneering nature of sales people here and why they may be more susceptible to move on.  We also offered thoughts on ongoing retention strategies here.

We appreciate the immense pressure commercial teams are under to find outstanding performers.  We work in detail with our clients to implement successful hiring methods, but hope this serves as a helpful checklist.

We leave you with this parting thought from WWII Field Marshal, Erwin Rommel.

Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. 

The Herringbone Team