There are few decisions more critical to a company than hiring the leadership of its sales organization. Yet few know how to do it well. Many get it wrong and “promote” their bestseller to a sales management position. Why this is called a promotion is beyond me. The job of a sales manager is very different from that of a salesperson, so why is this seen as a job boost? Oftentimes, sales managers earn less than the top salespeople. Financial support?
Some salespeople make the transition successfully, but many struggle with the transition. Sometimes the person doesn’t fit the role. More often, however, the struggle is caused by the company’s failure to recognize that this is not a promotion, but a move to an entirely new job. How do you deal with an employee in a new job? They train, mentor and monitor their performance! Look, most people don’t come out of the womb with the skills needed to be an effective manager. Therefore, it is a key responsibility of the company to recognize that when they place their top sales representative in this role, they must take the development of this person into their own hands. A congratulatory handshake and a smile just won’t cut it.
Many companies look for their sales management candidates outside of their organization. This approach also has its challenges. Whether you’re promoting internally or hiring externally, keep these five points in mind to ensure you find the right person for the position.
§ Selling versus managing. When you consider the broad spectrum of responsibilities from selling businesses directly to leading a team, what percentage of the time do you expect this person to be focused on personal selling versus administration? As mentioned above, the skills required for these two tasks are very different. It is also difficult to find professionals who are equally strong in both skills. Often there will be a compromise. When a sacrifice must be made, it makes the most sense to choose someone whose primary strength is in the preponderance of responsibility.
If the decision is made that the position will have equal responsibility for sales and administration, or that the primary responsibility will be sales, internal hiring may make sense. This allows the company to develop a new manager. However, the plan falls if the company does not commit to a development plan.
§ Create versus execute. Another consideration is what your expectations are of the sales manager in terms of the development of the company’s Sales Architecture® (the framework of the sales organization). Some companies already have a plan in place and the sales manager’s job is to ensure that the plan is executed as written. Essentially, the job is to motivate and coach the troops to ensure sales targets are met. This is typically the case for mid-level sales managers.
In other situations, the primary responsibility is to set the overall direction of the sales organization, formulate the compensation plan that supports that direction, and execute the plan. This is of course a completely different profile than the sales manager described above.
§ Title versus accountability. Check any job board and you will find a plethora of titles related to sales management. However, there is no direct connection between title and responsibilities. This can cause disconnection with the new manager and with clients if the two are not in sync. When you bestow the title of vice president on someone, it is assumed that this is a position of great responsibility and authority. When customers hear this title, they believe that this person is a high-ranking person in the company and can make decisions. Therefore, this can lead to customer frustration when the responsibility and authority does not match the title.
At the other end of the spectrum, labeling this person a “sales manager” creates a more youthful perception. There’s nothing wrong with the term, but what’s important is that you recognize the perception created. Again, this can cause problems with both the person in the role and clients if the responsibilities don’t match the title. Some very good sales management candidates will choose not to apply to your company because they believe it is a junior-level role.
§ Job interview. Probably the most difficult role to interview is the sales manager. For one, they are experienced in interviews. You know the answers you want. You know the sales jargon and the buzzwords. How do you get over the fluff and get your real answers? One way is to develop a list of benchmark questions to be asked of candidates. This enables a comparison of the answers in the candidate pool. (Email me and I’ll send you my 20 favorite questions.) It’s important that the questions are not in any order so that the candidate doesn’t build on their previous answers. Be sure to document the answers so you can check them later. You’ll be amazed at what comes out of this step of the process.
Another important consideration when interviewing these candidates is who they need to have a healthy business relationship with in order to be successful in their role. For example, there is an inherent contention between sales and operations. However, the company will fail if the leaders of these two areas are not able to work together productively. Consider the different department heads this person will be interacting with and involve them in the process. This also helps the new manager integrate into the organization once on board.
§ The ultimate screening tool. The most effective tool I’ve found when screening sales management candidates is requiring them to submit a written business plan. When the candidate has satisfactorily completed all other steps of the pre-bid process, a request is made for a one-page business plan showing how they would approach the position. I mention the one-page size three times in the conversation so my expectations are clear. The candidate will be asked when they can submit the document. It is important that the candidate is asked for the deadline and not the other way around, as you will see shortly.
The benefits of this step are numerous. First, it shows whether the candidate can communicate in writing. Writing is a lost art in business, but a crucial one for someone in a leadership role.
Another benefit is that it shows if the candidate understands what the role entails. A few hours have been spent with the candidate up to this point. When they’re close to the finish line, they should have a clear idea of what’s expected.
Another is to see if there is synergy in the approach to the role. It is best to see before marriage if their approach aligns with the leadership’s vision.
Another is the ability to see if that person can meet a deadline they set themselves. I asked when he could have the plan for me. He gave me a date and time. In the event of a delay, the candidate is no longer eligible for employment. End of the story.
After all, in this role I am the client. I asked for a one-sided plan, not an epic. Follow the instructions? Or do they ignore the customer’s wishes and do what they want. Although I do not disqualify candidates for this reason alone, I refer to it in a follow-up session with the candidate.
One last point that is crucial when setting it up is the background screen. Resume scams are at an all-time high! Candidates lie about their work history, salary history, and educational experience, not to mention criminal history. Find a reputable company to do this work for you.
Finding the right person for your sales leadership role is difficult. It’s also expensive. These five keys will help reduce risk and create a happy, healthy sales marriage between you and your new hire.