5 Keys to Hiring the Right Sales Manager

There 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. Promotion?

Some 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 it done.

Many 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 responsibility.

If 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 Architects® (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.

In other 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.

Title 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.

At the 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.

Another 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 onboard.

The 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.

The 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.

Still 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.

Finally, 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.

One 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 you.

Finding 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 employee.

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