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The key to recruiting an effective sales manager
The importance of weighing up short-term wins against long-term success when hiring your next sales manager.
The sales industry has experienced challenging conditions over the past 18 months. Some teams have experienced growth, many have not, but one thing that has remained consistent is that the best performing teams have had a high-performing manager at their helm.
In recent months, pressure on the revenue line has created a ‘short-term fix’ mentality for many companies, with like-for-like replacement becoming a key trend when recruiting sales managers. Most organisations are just not looking at how to achieve success in the medium-long-term.
When it comes to recruiting sales managers and succession planning, organisations that have developed robust competency models by which to assess potential sales leaders have reaped the benefits. Many of the larger, global employment brands have invested heavily in ensuring only the very best leaders head up their sale functions. But what of smaller, local employers without the same resources to support talent development and acquisition?
By name, sales professionals are good at selling (at least on the surface in an interview setting). Getting into the detail of their actual leadership ability can be more challenging. I have witnessed a number of mid-sized employers appoint sales leaders with a strong reputation as a good seller in their market in the hope that their success as an individual will rub off on others in their new team – the end result is rarely positive.
Clearly a track record of success and strong market knowledge are beneficial in establishing credibility in a new environment, but if the inherent skills required of a leader are lacking, short-term gains can very quickly be wiped out with the longer term pain of an unhappy team.
Those organisations prepared to prioritise leadership competency over a potential candidates’ little black book will reap stronger returns over the long term. Clearly a foundation of sales success is essential for any sales manager, but as their career progresses their ability to get the best out of others and drive continuous improvement in a team is worth more to an organisation.
Managing Directors, General Managers or even business owners of SME organisations should focus on the traits and behaviours of potential sales managers that will get the best out of the existing sales structure, rather than relying on the successful candidate to generate 80% of the pipeline on their own. When it comes to hiring a new sales manager, focusing on the following competencies and looking for strong examples of success in each area is recommended:
Rather than treating a sales team as a singular unit, good sales managers focus on the individuals within the team. They work hard to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the people in their team and understand what drives each of them. By adopting a flexible, personal approach, they actively support individuals to achieve their specific goals. A strong manager has the vision to help define an individual team member’s career plan and help them to focus on their future goals within the organisation.
Reinforce and incentivise
Aside from implementing and managing an official incentive structure (i.e. salary and bonuses), an effective sales manager will make every effort to recognise and reward good performance wherever possible. On-the-spot praise, celebrating success, promoting and developing high flyers and instigating in-house competitions are all positive ways to reinforce key behaviours and incentivise good performance.
Coaching and ongoing support
A great sales manager will believe in ongoing development for his/her team and in helping them to overcome challenges and achieve their maximum potential. This can be in the form of one-on-one coaching and clear objective setting as well as helping to facilitate regular training opportunities. An open, honest dialogue will need to exist between a sales manager and their employees, and a good sales manager will ensure continuous two-way feedback takes place.
Motivate and inspire
Working in sales can be highly pressurised, difficult and sometimes disheartening. Morale can have a big impact on the success of the team and a sales manager should recognise this. The ability to inspire confidence, offer encouragement and direction as well as boost energy and morale are all integral to great sales leadership.
Industry and product knowledge
An ideal sales manager will know their product/service and their industry inside out. They will share insight, industry updates and relevant information with their team on a regular basis to help grow the knowledge of the team to best equip them to deal with clients/customers.
However, hiring managers should consider that there are many brilliant sales managers working in related industries who would require a period of education around a company’s product and customer base, but would then be able to go on to achieve higher levels of success. Again, my view is that organisations prepared to broaden the search beyond their competition see a much stronger return in the long term.
The market appears to be creeping back into buoyant territory, so those organisations that invest in the right sales leader now should reap the rewards over the medium-long term.
Check out the latest sales jobs from Michael Page.
A great salesperson isn't automatically a great, or even good, sales manager. Organisations should prioritise leadership capabilities and an ability to inspire others and drive improvement in order to ensure long term success.