5 Crutial Points to Consider when Hiring a Sales Manager

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Posted: June 10, 2010
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Hiring a sales manager for the first time can be a daunting task. Do you promote your top producer to a management role? Do you look outside for someone experienced in sales management who might not know your business as well? What do you need to look for, interview for, and test for when hiring a sales manager?

Research shows that high-achieving sales managers possess five common talents. Not surprising, none of these involve sales skills. The talents needed for success in building high-performance teams center more on the ability to develop and motivate people, identify sales opportunities, and develop and execute strategy.

Let's take a closer look at the talent needed for success in sales management.

Talent No. 1: The ability to lead and develop people.

Sales managers possessing this skill have the ability to manage a diverse team of people, understanding how to motivate each member.

I worked with a particularly talented sales manager I'll call Jill. She understood that her salesperson in Minnesota needed a call twice a week so she could share with Jill all her recent successes. The Minnesota rep might be considered high maintenance by some sales managers; Jill just considered her an individual that needed more strokes and recognition - and did just that.

On the other hand, Jill also had a salesperson in Texas who didn't care if she ever spoke to Jill, unless there was an operational issue she needed help with to expedite an order. Jill kept a fairly hands-off approach with this person.

Both salespeople exceeded their sales goals, and Jill had the No. 1 region in the country. Jill had the ability to identify what each person on her team needed, and adapted and delivered accordingly.

Talent No. 2: Opportunity analysis.

A good salesperson, by nature and job description, is worried about their territory, their market -- period.

For example, a salesperson may have the responsibility to develop the hospital market. They do an excellent job of developing a call plan, running appointments and closing the deal. When they are promoted to sales management, the job description changes. The sales manager is charged with growing five different segments and developing a plan of action for each. That plan may require a different marketing approach, activity plan and sales process.

This new position also requires skills in evaluating which market to grow, analyzing trends occurring in each market and studying the competition to identify gaps and areas of opportunity. These skills and talents are very different than the skills needed for success in sales, i.e., influencing, questioning and closing skills.

Talent No. 3: Systems and processes.

An effective sales manager is good at putting together systems and processes. However, many very good salespeople aren't systematic because sales requires the ability to adapt and adjust throughout a work day.

As is often the case, the top salesperson gets promoted and fails in the new position of sales manager because of their inability to put together systems and processes for duplication. Sales management isn't about direct selling; it's about getting things done through others, which is often accomplished through establishing processes and systems.

Talent No. 4: Problem solving and conflict resolution.

What can often make the sales management position difficult is that a sales manager is getting it from all sides. The salesperson is making demands on the sales manager that need to be sold to senior management or the president. Senior management and the president may be requesting changes that must be sold by the sales manager to the team.

This can be stressful, particularly if the sales manager doesn't possess good problem-solving or conflict-resolution skills. The result is often a stagnant sales culture because issues never get worked out, preventing the organization from moving forward.

Talent No. 5: Courage.

I'm taking this one from my own textbook (school of hard knocks).

Many changes happen in the life of a company. A small company that's growing will need to put systems in place for accountability and profitability. This change may be accompanied by a pushback from the sales team.

The pushback can happen when the first request for call reports are issued, specific product goals are linked with sales goals or the first-time margins, instead of overall sales, are measured.

The strong sales manager doesn't waver in his or her vision and is empathetic to the concerns of change. However, he or she also has the courage to go it alone until the changes start yielding the promised results. The results will be increased profits shared by all or increased efficiency, which reduces customer complaints.

It takes courage and conviction to raise the bar and create a high-performance sales culture.

Congratulations on hiring your first sales manager. Just make sure you're hiring a manager, not a salesperson.