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How to hire a sales manager for a top-performing team



Sales is the beating heart of your business, and sales managers play a critical role on the team. They manage key relationships, drive new business, and coach account executives, BDRs, and other sales reps. You need to hire the right sales manager the first time around. You can’t afford to get it wrong.

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

Guesswork has no place in hiring. Here’s why:

Your gut is a lackluster 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: Well before anyone talked about The Great Resignation, annual turnover among U.S. salespeople regularly topped 25 percent. That’s twice the rate of the broader labor force. Hiring talented sales professionals can be a challenge. Retaining them? Even more so. While any turnover is stressful for the employees left behind, it’s even more disruptive when a manager leaves.

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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 and qualities the sales manager role requires.

From using a CRM to defining sales performance metrics, this is a position that requires a certain base skill set. Sales managers are usually responsible for designing and implementing a sales strategy. 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, and those new sales hires won’t onboard themselves.

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

  • Positive
  • Motivational
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Honest
  • Adaptable
  • Inspiring

At PI, we recommend that companies 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 a 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.

Our scientifically-validated PI Behavioral Assessment™ 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.

Our PI Cognitive Assessment™ measures 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. Identify and remove 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.

Sample interview questions to ask a sales manager candidate

When interviewing a potential sales manager, you’ll want to ask questions that probe for the traits and behaviors most critical to on-the-job success. Consider what we covered above—that great sales managers are often positive, honest, and motivational. These individuals are responsible for leading and inspiring an entire sales team. So, the right personality might be one that is outgoing and driven toward success.

You can see whether your candidate has the ideal behaviors for the role by asking the following questions:

  • Can you tell me about a time you had to lead a team to success?
  • How would you describe your relationship with these team members?
  • When was a time you had to hold others accountable to a team’s goals?
  • What are some ways you’ve used metrics or data to drive toward goals?
  • How do you handle conflict when it arises on a team?

By adding these questions to your hiring process, you up the odds of finding a personality well-suited for the role—and making the right hire.

3 most common Reference Profiles for sales managers

About 3,300 people set a Job Target for the sales manager position in our software. These are the three most common Reference Profiles that show up time and time again.

Hiring sales managers? Look for these 3 reference profiles

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 a 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.

When hiring a sales BDR, look for someone with a social profile.

If you have been following this blog series, you’ll note that these top four Reference Profiles match the top Reference Profiles of BDRs. 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 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 representatives 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!

How The Predictive Index helps companies hire top-performing sales managers

Hiring isn’t something you want to leave to guesswork. It can be tempting to trust your gut about a candidate, but that opens you up to bias, a potential mishire, and a whole lot of headache.

The Predictive Index helps eliminate that guesswork, and makes hiring intuitive and scalable. Powered by 65-plus years of behavioral science, PI gives you deep insights into how people work and thrive. Use PI to find, assess, and hire top talent—with confidence.

Goodbye, headache. Your next great sales manager is clicks away.

FAQ

Why hire a sales manager?

  • A sales manager can help you broaden your product reach to new markets.
  • They’ll define (or refine) your organization’s sales strategy, and implement new sales processes.
  • You’ll also gain a sales leader who can coach other sales professionals to greatness.

What are the qualities of a good sales manager?

Empathy

There’s no productivity on a sales team without buy-in and trust. Sales manager’s who take the time to understand the personalities, drives and goals of their staff create happier teams and see greater performance as a result.

Ability to motivate and inspire

In the process of developing relationships with their team, a good sales manager will make note of what motivates each team member to perform at their highest level. With those insights in mind, a good sales manager can introduce the right incentive at the right time to motivate the team to exceed sales goals. 

Ability to challenge and give constructive criticism

There will be times when members of the sales team don’t meet expectations. It’s inevitable even on high-performing teams. A good sales manager will seize the opportunity to give constructive criticism when necessary, preserving the health and standards of the team in the process.  

Adaptability

Leading a sales team in any industry requires adaptability, as goals, metrics and circumstances change quickly. In addition to adapting to elements that can’t be controlled, a good sales manager adapts to lead people with different experience levels and backgrounds effectively.

Goal-orientation

The sales department is often the most results-driven department in the company, and for good reason. A good sales manager can manage the pursuit of big-picture goals, and ensure small wins are gathered along the way.

What is the difference between a sales manager and a sales executive?

Sales managers and sales executives often have overlapping tasks and responsibilities as senior members of the sales department, but there is one major difference between the two titles. Sales executives are often tasked with guiding the overarching sales strategy of the company as a whole, while sales managers are responsible for the day-to-day management and success of the sales staff. 

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Erin heads up content marketing at PI. Her claim to fame? She's the only Erin Balsa on LinkedIn.

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