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  • AJ Cheponis

How to recruit and hire a top-performing sales manager

Sales is the heart of your business, and sales managers play a critical role on the team. They manage key relationships, drive new business, and coach Sales Executives and Business Development Reps. You need to hire the right people the first time around. You can’t afford to get it wrong.


But when it comes time to choose a candidate, most hiring managers as well as senior executives cross their fingers and hope for the best. That’s a huge mistake.


Guesswork has no place in hiring.


Your gut is a bad predictor of on-the-job success: Sales managers are savvy, experienced pros who will tell you what you want to hear, and line up glowing references. Persuasiveness is one key to success in the role—but sales managers need to be more than great salespeople. They must also be great leaders. If you’re just guessing, how can you be sure the candidate has what it takes?


Bad hires kill your budget: According to a recent Bridge Group report, salesperson turnover rate is now 34%, with “involuntary turnover up nearly two-thirds of that number.” The same research suggests that one in ten companies experience turnover rates above 55%. That’s three times the rate in the overall labor force. While any turnover is stressful for the employees left behind, it’s even more disruptive when a manager leaves.

So how can you find the best sales managers to lead your team to success? Here are four places to start:



1. Define the skills the sales manager role requires.


From using a CRM to defining performance metrics, this is a position that requires a certain base skillset. Sales managers are usually responsible for designing and implementing a strategic sales plan. They must also have negotiation, planning, and people management skills.


You’ll also want to hire a manager with skills that suit your organization’s specific needs. Do you need your sales manager to identify ways to penetrate new markets? Look for candidates who can prove they have the skills and understanding to do that.



2. Focus on traits and behaviors over skills or experience.


You may have a candidate with a stellar track record for sales who could be the worst coach and mentor in the bunch. This isn’t to say skills and experience don’t have a part in the decision-making process—but behavior and attitude matter a lot more.

When hiring a sales manager, most teams look for someone who is:


  • Positive

  • Motivational

  • Emotionally intelligent

  • Honest

  • Adaptable

  • Inspiring


We recommend that companies always create a Job Target for open positions. A Job Target is a profile you build through a quick assessment survey. It isolates the precise behavioral traits and cognitive ability a person needs to succeed in a role. Job Targets serve as an essential guide for interviewing and evaluating candidates.


3. Use science and smart hiring practices.


Sales relies on quantitative data to measure effort and success. In a similar vein, technology provides hiring managers with the ability to leverage data to predict candidate job-fit. You can ask candidates to take behavioral and cognitive assessments as part of the initial application process.


We use a scientifically-validated PI Behavioral Assessment that identifies individuals’ innate behavioral drives. After a candidate takes the assessment, we assign them a Reference Profile. There are 17 major Reference Profiles. These show us where the employee’s strengths are and help ensure job fit.


In most management roles, we suggest the use of cognitive testing. We use the PI Cognitive Assessment to measure a person’s ability to learn. It’s important that you hire someone whose cognitive score falls in the range you set in your Job Target. If you hire someone with a lower score, they’d struggle to succeed in the role and end up miserable—and quitting.



Match those results to your Job Target to create your interview shortlist.



You’ll be looking at a smaller, better-qualified candidate pool. You can then screen for who has the required skills.



4. End hiring biases.


No matter how impartial managers try to be, unconscious bias always creeps into subjective sales recruiting and hiring decisions. The way to reduce subjective bias is to increase the role of objective science in your decision-making. This way you’re examining candidates based on how well they fit the job -- not on age, gender, or alma mater.



3 most common Reference Profiles for sales managers


After reviewing about 3,300 Job Targets for the sales manager role created by a wide variety of organizations. These are the three most common Reference Profiles that show up consistently.

1. Maverick

Mavericks lead through example. Success is a huge motivator for them and they have reserves of energy that push them to excel. They are also more willing to take risks than many other Reference Profiles. They tend to set ambitious sales goals that inspire their employees to excel in turn. A Maverick may cultivate a high-pressure team, but it also tends to be high reward. Mavericks understand that failure is part of the job and are highly resilient to day-to-day rejection. They instill that resilience in their employees.


2. Captain

Captains are highly focused on quotas, numbers, and goals. More metric-driven than other social Reference Profiles, the Captain is a strong communicator who understands process and structure. Captains are constantly pushing their teams to raise the bar by improving numbers. They often take on a leadership role quite naturally even before they are promoted by leading groups. They love an energetic team environment and love driving their team to take the sort of risks that win new business.


3. Persuader

Persuaders are the pied pipers of sales leadership. Charming, extroverted, and warm, they inspire devotion from their team. Persuaders will teach reps how to take the disappointments that come with sales and always come up swinging and ready to take new risks. They have real empathy for people on their teams and that makes them excellent coaches and mentors. And while they are happy to make decisions themselves, they love to work by managing and mobilizing other people.


All three of these profiles (as well as number four on the list -- Promoter) fall into what we call the Social group of Reference Profiles. These extraverts tend to focus on relationships and enthusiastic communication as their main way to make an impact at work.

You may note that these top four Reference Profiles match the top Reference Profiles of Business Development Reps. This is great news for your succession planning. The Reference Profiles you’re bringing in as BDRs will have the innate behavior drives they need to advance in your sales organization. But as we mentioned earlier—make sure they don’t have any “bad manager” traits like lack of self-awareness or playing favorites.



How to attract high-potential sales managers


Here are a few tips for hiring Mavericks, Captains, and Persuaders:


Craft the right job listing.


Sales managers are seasoned vets. They look at job descriptions with X-ray vision, scanning for keywords that tell them whether they can succeed in the role. They move fast and make a quick judgment and they don’t want to read a long novel of a job description. Get right to the point. Use short copy, bullets, and visuals. Be explicit about the KPIs and the results you will use to measure success in the role. These types have never met a challenge they didn’t want to take on.


Here are some bullet points you can copy and paste into your sales manager job listing:


Key Responsibilities:


  • Conduct research and find ways to penetrate new markets.

  • Network and develop important business relationships.

  • Support sales employees in generating leads or closing deals.

  • Train employees to use a CRM.

  • Coach employees by call shadowing, pitch sharing, and team role-playing.

  • Define performance metrics and use those for goal setting.

  • Pipeline management


Desired Skills and Experience:


  • Bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, or related field

  • Minimum of five years sales experience

  • Previous management experience preferred

  • Proven track record of generating and closing qualified leads

  • Strong proficiency with computers and CRMs

  • Strong verbal and written communication skills

  • Respectful of a diverse team



Look in the right places.


Social Reference Profiles love to chat. They spend more time networking at events or having coffee with colleagues than scanning online listings. You’re most likely to find them through executive recruiters or personal recommendations. Don’t be surprised if they come looking for you. Be prepared to sell them on the role and your company.



Offer them a challenge.


Mavericks, Captains, and Persuaders want to feel that this job is worth their effort and will challenge them. They love risks and the opportunity to make their mark, so tell them the revenue goals you have set for the upcoming quarter or year. Give them something they can sink their teeth into. They will rise to the challenge!


Hiring isn’t something you want to leave to guesswork.



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