Five Keys to Hiring the Right Sales Manager
By Lee B. Salz
are few decisions more critical for a company than the hiring of the
leadership of their sales organization. Yet, few know how to
do it well. Many err and “promote” their best seller to a sales
management position. Why this is called a promotion is beyond me.
The job of the sales manager is vastly different than that of a
sales person, so why is this considered employment elevation? Often
times, sales managers earn less than the top sales people.
sales people make the transition successfully, but many struggle
with the change. Sometimes, it is a mismatch of the person to the
role. However, more frequently, the struggle is caused by the lack
of recognition by the company that this is not a promotion, but
rather a move into a completely new job. How do you handle an
employee in a new job? You train, mentor, and monitor their
performance! Look, most people don’t come out of the womb with the
skills required to be an effective manager. Thus, it is a key
responsibility of the company to recognize that when moving their
top sales person into that role they need to own the development of
that individual. A congratulatory handshake and smile just won’t get
companies look for their sales management candidates from outside
their organization. This approach also has its challenges. Whether
you promote from within or hire from outside, consider these five
points to make sure you find the right person for the role.
Selling versus Managing. If you consider the broad spectrum of
responsibilities from selling business directly to managing a team,
what percentage of the time do you expect this person to be focused
on personal selling versus managing? As mentioned above, the skill
set required for those two responsibilities is vastly different. It
is also difficult to find professionals that have equal strength in
both skill sets. Often times, there will be a trade-off. If there is
a sacrifice to be made, it makes the best sense to select someone
who has their primary strength in the more predominant part of the
decision is made that the position has equal responsibility for
selling and managing or the dominant responsibility is selling, it
may make sense for an internal hire. This allows the company to
develop a new manager. However, the plan falls down if the company
is not committed to a development plan.
Creating versus Executing. Another consideration is what your
expectations of the sales manager are relative to developing the
company’s sales architecture® (the framework of the sales
organization). In some companies, there is a plan already in place
and the job of the sales manager is to ensure the plan is executed
as written. In essence, the job is to motivate the troops and coach
them to make sure revenue targets are achieved. This is usually the
case for mid-level sales managers.
situations, the primary job is to establish the overall direction of
the sales organization, formulate the compensation plan that
supports that direction, and execute the plan. Needless to say, this
is a very different profile than the sales manager described above.
versus Responsibility. Check any job board and you will find a
plethora of titles referring to sales management. However, there is
not a direct correlation between title and responsibilities. This
can create a disconnect with the new manager and with clients if
those two are not synchronized. If you are going to give someone the
title of “Vice President,” there is an inherent expectation that
this is a high-responsibility, high-authority position. When clients
hear that title, they believe that this person is a senior-level
person in the company and can make decisions. Thus, this can create
client frustration if the responsibility and authority are not
consistent with the title.
other end of the spectrum, calling this person a “sales manager”
creates a more junior-level perception. There is nothing wrong with
the term, but it is important that you recognize the created
perception. Again, this can cause issues with both the person in the
role and clients if the responsibilities don’t match the title. Some
very good sales management candidates will elect not to apply to
your company because they believe it is a junior-level role.
Interviewing. Probably the toughest role for which to interview
is the sales manager. For one, they are experienced in interviewing.
They know the desired answers. They know the sales lingo and buzz
words. How do you get past the fluff and get your real answers? One
way is to develop a list of benchmark questions that candidates are
asked. This allows for comparison of answers among the candidate
pool. (Send me an email and I will send you my favorite 20
questions.) It is important that the questions not follow a sequence
so that the candidate cannot build off their prior answers. Be sure
to document the responses to each so you can review them later. You
will be amazed by what comes out of this step of the process.
important consideration when interviewing these candidates is with
whom they will need to have a healthy business relationship to be
successful in their role. For example, there is an inherent strife
between sales and operations. However, the company will fail if the
leaders of those two areas are not able to work together in a
productive manner. Consider the various department leaders with whom
this person will interact and engage them in the process. This also
helps the new manager assimilate into the organization once they are
Ultimate Screening Tool. The most effective tool that I have
found in screening sales management candidates is the request for
the submission of a written business plan. When the candidate has
satisfactorily completed all of the other steps of the pre-offer
process, the request is made for a one-page business plan that shows
how they would approach the job. I mention the one-page scope three
times in the conversation so my expectations are clear. The
candidate is asked by when they can submit the document. It is
important that the submission date be asked of the candidate, not
the other way around as you will see in a moment.
benefits of this step are numerous. For one, it shows if the
candidate can communicate in written form. Writing is a lost art in
business, but a critical one for someone in a leadership role.
Another benefit is that it shows if the candidate understands what
the role entails. A number of hours have been spent with the
candidate by this point. If they are near the finish line, they
should have a clear vision of the expectations. Another is to see
if there is a synergy in the approach to the role. It is best to see
before the marriage is performed if their approach is aligned with
the leadership’s vision.
another is the ability to see if this person can meet a self-imposed
deadline. I asked when he could have the plan to me. He provided me
with a date and time. If it is late, the candidate is no longer
considered for employment. End of story.
in this role, I am the client. I’ve asked for a one-page plan, not
an epic. Do they follow directions? Or do they ignore what the
client desires and do whatever they want. While I don’t eliminate
candidates solely for this, I refer to this in a follow-up session
with the candidate.
final point that is critical when hiring is to background screen.
Resume fraud is at an all-time high! Candidates lie about employment
history, salary history, and their education experience, not to
mention criminal history. Find a reputable firm to do this work for
the right person for your sales management role is difficult. It is
also expensive. These five keys will help mitigate the risk and
create a happy, healthy sales marriage between you and your new
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