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:
Recruitment. 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.
Onboarding. 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 successful?
Process. Many companies 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?
Metrics. 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?
Compensation. 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 when/how?
Skill development. 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?
Leadership. 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
Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus
their sales activity using his sales architecture� methodology. He is the President
of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of “Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager.” Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a print columnist for SalesforceXP Magazine, and the host of the
Internet radio show, “Secrets of Business Gurus.” Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales
Marriage” where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business
consultant. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitecture.com or 763.416.4321.