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Don’t Blow Your Next Sales Leader Hire

Sales leaders have some of the shortest tenures of any positions in the business world. In fact, most research will show that the average tenure of a sales leader is right around two years, give or take a couple months. This is such an important role in the organization and is most often tightly linked to overall growth of the company. Why do people struggle with making this critical hire? There are three big reasons that we see:

Hiring wrong

This is probably the biggest reason. We hear CEOs and business leaders talk all the time about hiring “an experienced leader, preferably from the industry, that has a good track record of growing sales and managing teams.” Some executives even look to see if the candidates are strong sellers themselves because they need to be a strong seller to model good selling for their team. If that is your only criteria, then you should pull this blog out again in two years and read it again when you are ready to make your next sales leader hire. The fact of the matter is that not all sales leaders are the same. Before starting the interview process, consider some of these things (this is a partial list):

  • Is this person going to be a player-coach or a manager or a manager of managers – those are all different skill sets. If you have a team that needs development and coaching, the best person to hire is someone who will be out there alongside his/her team. That is way different than a person who “has been responsible for sales” but has done so from a higher level position.
    • Do you want someone to execute the plan or someone who is more strategic to develop the plan? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard an executive who says either “My leader should be out there selling and creating business” or “They spend all their time selling and not enough time being strategic and looking for our next growth opportunity.” These are symptoms of hiring the wrong type of person.
    • Will they need to create systems and processes and structure or does your company already have that? If you have sound sales process, sales plans, good metrics, etc., then you want a leader that can learn those systems and execute them well. If you don’t have these things in place, then you want someone who has experience creating them, implementing them and driving adoption – way different. There are many more people that can do the former rather than the latter.
    • Will they wear many hats and get their hands dirty a lot or are they strictly focused on sales leadership? Too many times small companies hire an established leader from a larger company and get frustrated because that person constantly needs support, constantly needs other people to do things for them and doesn’t do anything themselves. Likewise, other companies get frustrated because their leader spends way too much time in the weeds and details and doesn’t delegate. What is your expectation for this person?
    • We promote our top salesperson because we have the illusion (delusion) that since they were a good seller, they should be able to teach and model that to the rest of the team. That rarely works out.

Keep in mind that all of the leaders described above could be “experienced sales leaders from my industry” but they possess very different skills.

Communicate poorly

This is probably the #1 reason that we see sales leader get fired. There is a poor communication between CEO and sales leader. This is not all on them by the way. Sometimes CEOs are not clear on their expectations which makes it very hard for the sales leaders to live up to those expectations. Or, the CEO’s expectations of their leader changes over time, but they don’t talk about it. On the flip side, I’ve seen sales leader who have a great plan, good processes in place, drive great accountability and are good coaches, but they don’t tell their boss at all about all the cool things they are doing. They say things like “He/she doesn’t need to be concerned about that.” What a great formula for problems. Soon the CEO doesn’t see those things and questions the competence of the sales leader. We highly recommend a formal, structured sit-down between CEO and sales leader every week.

No patience

Sometimes, the CEO/Owner is just impatient. Sales may not be where he/she wants them to be and it’s been that way for five years. But, the new sales leader has been there for 12 months and although the sales pipeline is building nicely, the results are not dramatically different. That’s because the sale cycle is 9-12 months long and all the good things the sales leader has been doing is just starting to kick in. But, we don’t wait for them. Instead we make a change and start the process all over again.

These are just a few of the things to consider when hiring your next sales leader. If you would like to chat more about your specific scenario, we would love to talk to you and help you make a better decision this time around.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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