Job Title or Specialized Skill
By Lee B. Salz
Many business executives focus their search for sales management
candidates from within their industry. They are restricting their
ability to find the right person for the role.
One of the most critical decisions a company will make is the
hiring of the right sales manager. However, many business owners and
executives make the all too common mistake of restricting their
search to those with industry experience. There is a feeling that
the sales manager must come from their industry as that is the only
way they will be successful in the role. Many put that element of
their criteria at the top of their decision list. "The successful
applicant will have 10 years experience in the widget industry."
The end result of this approach is that companies hire the
industry retreads. Perhaps, employers think that this person will
bring along valuable competitive secrets, maybe even some clients.
While that may occasionally happen, this approach negatively impacts
the company. They may as well hang a sign outside that says, "No
new ideas permitted" because that is what you get when you focus
your search on industry people only. What often happens is that the
individual gets hired because they can create the illusion of
brilliance by using industry jargon to blind the interviewer.
"Eureka! We've found our sales manager! She is very strategic."
Every company thinks they are in an industry that is so
unique and has so many nuances that the hire must have industry
background. This is a scary approach! If that's the feeling in the
company, there is a much bigger issue that they face. How will they
scale? If they always limit the search to those within the industry,
what do they do when they run out of candidates? The fact is that
most industry information can be taught. The company needs to get
over their hubris thinking that their industry is so special that it
takes an industry veteran to be successful. Product knowledge is not
the main driver in a successful sales person, nor is it the primary
one for the successful sales manager. Consider this, CEOs bounce
from Fortune 1000 company to Fortune 1000 company based on their CEO
acumen, not their industry knowledge.
A more prudent approach for hiring the right sales manager is
to look for a candidate who comes to the table with the specialized
skill set associated with a sales manager. Yes, this is a
specialized skill set and, often times, is portable into any
industry. The role of the sales manager is to both be a leader and a
manager which is not usually skills developed in the womb. They are
cultivated and developed through training and experience as a sales
manager. Some of the elements that companies should be focused on
when hiring the right sales manager include:
Whether the company has an opening on the sales team or not, the
best sales managers are on a never-ending quest for strong talent.
As the prospective employer, you want to understand the candidate's
process for screening sales candidates. How do they prime the
applicant pump? Can they develop a profile of the ideal sales
person, and prioritize it between required and desired
attributes? What is their process for evaluating candidates against
the profile? Ask any company why they miss their revenue targets and
most will tell you that having unfilled slots on the team is a
contributing factor. Recruitment is a very important arrow in the
sales manager's quiver.
Rarely can you
hire a sales person, hand them their territory, and send them off
with a good luck kiss. At least, not if you expect them to be
successful. Another key skill of the sales manager is their method
for quickly assimilating the sales person into the organization.
What is their strategy to minimize the amount of time that the new
sales person is in a non-revenue generating capacity? What is their
plan to make them productive in the least amount of time? How do
they measure whether or not the neophyte sales person is going to be
have one superstar on their sales team, their rainmaker. That's not
exactly a scalable model. It limits growth and creates exposure for
the company. What happens if the rainmaker leaves? Scalable sales
organizations are based on process. The entire team follows a
specified model based on a defined formula. Can this candidate
create this process for the company? What experience have they had
in doing so? And, what were the results?
There's a wonderful expression about management. "What gets
measured, gets done!" The wonderful aspect of sales is that there is
so much data that can be reviewed to understand trends and make
changes to the business. How the sales manager utilizes metrics in
their approach is another element that is important to scrutinize as
you interview the candidate. How have they used metrics to affect
the performance of the team? What is their approach to scrutinize a
sales pipeline or forecast?
The beauty of sales is that the compensation plan serves as the
sales person's job description. This can also be a curse for the
company if the wrong behaviors are rewarded by the plan. This is
another important skill that a strong sales manager should possess.
What is their approach for developing the right compensation plan
for the company? How do they determine which behaviors to reward and
Sales is philosophy so no one ever knows everything about it. It's
also very easy for sales people to develop bad habits. Thus, it is
critical that the sales manager have a skill development plan for
their team. What is their approach for developing their team
members? How do they inspire the overachievers to continue to
overachieve? How do they manage the underperformers and lead them to
either perform or deselect from the company?
The first six items fall into a management category. However, the
strong sales managers are also leaders. Their sales teams will run
through walls for them. Their sales people not only want to be
successful for themselves, but also for their manager. How does this
sales management candidate create an environment where others are
inspired to follow them and their teachings? Leadership skills and
salesforce retention work hand-in-hand. Strong leaders keep their
strong players on the team for the long haul.
In addition to
cultural fit, these are the seven key elements that a company should
use to make a decision to hire a particular sales management
candidate. What the employer will get with this hiring approach is a
strong, scalable organization with fresh ideas. People in your
company won't be able to get away with the old mantra of "we've just
always done it that way." Don't you want to drive your company to
grow? Expand your horizons and reap the benefits. Taking this
approach will help your company develop long-lasting, fruitful sales
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Lee B. Salz.
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