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Did You Hire The Right Sales Leader?

As the world starts to move out of panic mode, into healing mode, and back to growth, you may find yourself in need of a sales leader. There are few decisions more critical for a company than hiring the right leader for your sales organization. This role is responsible for executing your company strategy out in the market. Use these tactics when looking to hire for your next sales leader.

Know what your Company needs

CEOs know the importance of hiring the right sales leader. According to Leveleleven, "56% of salespeople who rated their sales organization as excellent also rated their sales manager as excellent (compared to only 3% who rated their organization as average)."

Most often, CEOs will see if the sales leader candidate knows their industry and has a good track record of being a "good" sales leader. That is typically reflected in their prior company's sales numbers and growth. They also look to see if the sales leader has contacts, can ramp up quickly, and then they will hire based on whether they like that person/they interviewed well. This is a typical approach, but not always the most effective.

There are similarities between hiring a sales leader and hiring salespeople. Just like there are different skill sets associated with hiring salespeople (hunters and farmers, selling to big accounts vs. small accounts, inside vs. outside, selling direct vs. through resellers or distributors), there are also various types of sales leaders.

Some are good at tactical, in-the-field execution, and may even manage selected accounts, while others are more strategic and good at finding the next market and growth opportunity. Some are better at coaching/developing and building a team, while others are better at accountability and managing a tenured staff.

Many are good at executing your process and plan, while others are good at creating and implementing processes and systems. These are all unique skill sets. What is it that your company needs to grow?

Have you thought about the size of your sales team? The team's receptiveness? What your company's culture is like? What level of authority do you want your sales leader to have? What role do you need them to fill within the company? These are all critical things to know when you are looking to hire a sales leader.

Previous Team Size

When looking at what size team the new sales leader will lead, determine whether they came from a small team of less than five, or a big team of over 25. When a sales leader comes from leading a larger team, they may find it challenging to lead a team of only three. They could be accustomed to having the team contribute more because their previous team had more hands to help.

The sales leader needs to strike the right balance between encouraging the top performers and providing an assertive accountability culture. On a small team, that may be easier because you have access to each person more quickly. On a large team, they may have to prioritize their time differently.

If they come from a smaller team, the sales leader typically is the person to construct their plans, roll up their forecast, and do all the goal setting. On a larger team, the sales leader may have had support in putting those things together. Try flip-flopping these two types of leaders, and you could be headed for a disappointment.

Team Receptiveness

What is the sales leader candidate's experience with teams like yours? Did that sales leader work with a tenured team? Where everyone on the team has been around for a while and maybe resistant to change? Or did they work with a new team who was willing to try new things and very adaptable? Those two scenarios require different skill sets.

If your company's team is more on the tenured side, ask how the sales leader would handle potential push back. Have they had to deal with it before? If they have not had to deal with it before, you will want to know and beware.

On the other side, if you have a less-experienced team that needs to be developed, ask them how they teach and develop salespeople. Have they had to do a lot of that previously? Ask how they went about doing that.

You'll want to make sure your sales leader is a good fit for your team. You will not want to lose your entire team if the sales leader doesn't know how to work with them.

What is your Company Culture like?

There is an old saying that states, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." If you want to ruin your sales team, hire a sales manager that doesn't fit your culture or company values. Every company culture is different, and so is sales culture. Sales culture is the attitude, behaviors, and habits the sales team demonstrates a particular time and place.

What type of characteristics does your sales organization have?

  • High accountability?
  • Independence?
  • Healthy Competition?
  • Continual learning and development?
  • Agile Mindset?

Now consider how your new hire will fit in. Will they be emphasizing accountability? Have to create contests to drive that healthy competition? Will they need to focus on coaching and developing their team? Have they had to do anything like that before?

Maybe you want to change your company culture because people are too lax and not accountable. Ask questions as to whether they have had experience changing the culture of a sales team and how they went about doing it.

If you want to know more about company culture, check out our blog, "What is Company Culture – How To Fit."

Level of Authority

Authority is the power, right, or permission to take action. Too many times, there is vagueness of the authority level for the new sales hire. Some sales leaders want to "own sales" and make all the decisions, while the CEO/Owner doesn't feel they trust the new leader enough to give up the reigns. Likewise, other CEOs/Owners get frustrated because they want the new sales leader to take more initiative, but the new leader comes to get permission for everything they want to do. How much authority are you going to allow the sales leader to have? Will they be able to change the compensation plan without your input? Can they hire or fire without going to you first? Can they change pricing or the pricing structure without asking?

These are actions you'll want to make clear to your sales leader so they understand what they can do and when they need to involve you. If they are used to hiring without asking, you will want to know about it before things turn into a power struggle.

We have specific tools to help you with this. Reach out to us at info@pivotaladvisors.com to learn more.

Sales or Marketing Role?

This is important as many companies hire for the VP of Sales & Marketing. Are you seeking a sales leader who is more focused on selling, or brand awareness and marketing? Both of these roles have the primary focus on generating revenue for the company. However, marketing's primary goals are to look at the big picture, promote the company, product or service, brand awareness, and generate leads for the sales team. For sales, the goals are to leverage the brand and tools and hit sales volume goals by executing on the leads generated by marketing.

These are all very different skillsets when it comes to sales leaders. When interviewing candidates, see if they have more of a Sales approach to growth, or more of a Marketing approach and see how that matches up with what you need. Very few people are good at both.

Remote Management

One last thing you'll want to keep in mind, according to April Cision PR Newswire in April 2020, "66% of U.S. employees were working remotely at least part-time during the COVID-19 Pandemic." So, you'll want to know if that sales leader had to work with a remote team. If so, how did they go about doing that? Get specific with them. Do they let people run autonomously, or do they set weekly goals and follow up with them? How do they maintain a tight relationship and develop people while they are remote?

Or what experience have they had with crisis and change management. How did they work through the 2020 pandemic? What changed for them? How did they manage through the economic downturn?

When you are looking to hire a new sales leader, it is one of the most critical hires you will make in your company, and you'll want to look at the specifics of what you need and dig deep to ensure your candidate meets your requirements. Look at your team's needs, what your company is seeking, how you want your sales leader to spend their time, and the level of authority you are comfortable assigning. As you look at these characteristics, you'll be able to find the right sales leader for you and your company.

If you want or need help in this area, we do this kind of work all day long. Give us a call or send us an email at info@pivotaladvisors.com.

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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