If you’ve grown your business from the ground up, then you’ve personally filled the sales role and then you’ve supervised salespeople you hired, so you’ve effectively been the sales manager. But now your business is successful and the demands on your time are even greater, so you’ve made the decision to put a Sales Manager in place. Good for you!
Your first thought is you’ll have one of your existing sales reps – maybe your most senior one – fill this role. Not so fast.
A Sales Manager needs a completely different skill set than a salesperson. A Sales Manager must lead, teach, and coach. Just because a salesperson can sell well, doesn’t mean they’ll make a good manager. And, in fact, you may be hurting your top line revenue by trying this move.
So, you look outside.
Where I’ve had the biggest trouble hiring that VP of Sales has been that they’re either (a.) too strict and businesslike, or (b.) too friendly and soft. It takes a balance between these two extremes, and that’s tough to find.
One guy I hired had a good work history and seemed like he really knew what he was doing. He had a grasp of the numbers, of sales metrics, management tools, and of how he would guide the team strategically. Problem? Nobody liked him. He had a hard time connecting with people and because he didn’t take time to understand who his reps were and what goals they had, he never earned their respect. Ultimately it didn’t work. I had to let him go.
Once I hired a guy I immediately liked. He was funny, easy to talk with, approachable, and he too had a good work history and seemed like he really knew what he was doing. He knew how to develop relationships with the reps, dug deep into what motivated them and what their goals were, and really got to know them. He was almost the opposite of the first guy.
Problem? He became so close to them that confrontation and accountability was extremely uncomfortable for him. When I, as the CEO, came after him on the forecast and sales team performance, he’d explain to the reps that the CEO was on a rampage and that they needed to get the numbers up. Doing this, he destroyed his own credibility and authority. It was all my fault that he had to be tough. In the end, he invalidated his own authority. He had to go.
So, how’s it done right? What type of person best fills this role?
Lucky for me, one of my best buddies has been in Sales Management for over 20 years in the technology space working with some amazing companies in that industry. So I called Rich and asked him what he thought had made him so successful over the years. We had a great conversation and he told me it really comes down to FOUR THINGS a person must do well to succeed as a Sales Manager / Sales Leader.
- Always be Recruiting. As a salesperson, you always need a full funnel of opportunities. As a sales manager, you always need a funnel of potential new salespeople. This person must network well and always have their eyes open for sales candidates to help them grow the business.
- Ability to “onboard” quickly. Once you’ve made that new sales hire, your main goal is to get them producing as quickly as possible. This person will have an awesome process for indoctrinating their new salespeople into the company, training them on the products and sales tools, and getting them into the field quickly and effectively.
- A great coach. A great Sales Manager must also be a good leader. She must get to know her reps. And, she must be able to see the big picture from an executive level, look ahead, plan accordingly, and then translate all of that into individual responsibilities and goals for the reps. It’s not so much solving problems and challenges for the reps, but teaching them how to solve these on their own and how to avoid them in the first place, perhaps. She must help them help themselves.
- Accountability. The sales numbers are only part of accountability. Product training and certification, certain levels of measured activity, and always acting within the company’s ethical and cultural guidelines are also part of the equation. The Sales Manager must be able to discuss these measurements with the reps and insist on performance in this area. She must be able to have the tough conversations and let people go when they’re not performing.
So, when you’re looking for that Sales Manager to take your organization to the next level, think of Rich’s four main points as you develop your interview questions.
I hope this helps. Hiring for this role is extremely difficult and requires patience and persistence to get the right person. Don’t settle. Do it right!
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