How to Identify Top Sales Leaders in the Interview Process

Written by
Lucas Price
|
March 5, 2024
|
6 minutes
read

One company made headlines when the CEO said they don’t hire perfectly, but they try to fire perfectly. The CEO explained that they have a large sales organization and make a lot of new hires, but within 50 days it’s obvious which reps will or won’t succeed and they fire sometimes nearly two dozen sales employees each quarter. 

Obviously this opened up a lot of discussion around the hiring process—namely, if companies are right to move on so quickly from employees—and whether organizations or managers are at fault for not giving employees a better chance to succeed or not hiring them to begin with. Sales hires are expensive, and a bad sales hire (or multiple bad sales hires each quarter) can have a huge impact on your bottom line. While every employee can be expensive to replace, sales rep vacancies are compounded by lost revenue, missed quotas, and the time it takes to find and completely ramp up a new rep.

High turnover in any organization can mean the hiring process needs some work, but it can also be a result of poor leadership. There are anecdotal stories of people being blindsided by layoffs, poor team performance, and firings despite receiving consistently good feedback from a poor manager. And as many as 82% of employees say they would quit their job because of a bad manager. 

These details underscore why it’s so important to have good sales leadership in place as the frontline for your sales organization’s success. So, if it’s so important to have good sales managers who, at the very minimum, won’t drive team members away, how do you find the best sales managers who can help your sales org drive effective revenue growth for your whole company?  

What does it take to be a good sales leader, and how do you find one for your team?

  

The Disadvantages of Promoting Top Reps

It might feel like promoting top sellers into management roles is a natural progression in their career development. Many reps might expect that next step when they’ve consistently exceeded quotas and been a top performer for an extended period of time. 

Why, then, do sales leaders repeatedly hear that top sellers don’t necessarily make the best managers? There are a few reasons, but often the skills that make a salesperson excel at closing deals and building trust with customers don’t always translate into effective leadership. Top sellers, while incredibly valuable for driving revenue, may struggle when transitioning into management roles. 

Their success can sometimes be attributed to a singular focus on personal achievements and a rigid approach to sales strategies. This focus can translate to a sales leader with strong ideas about how everyone should do exactly what they do, putting rigid processes in place that are intended to mimic their own success. But instead, they may limit sales orgs from building on the strengths of each individual on the team.

As managers, these individuals may find it challenging to adapt their mindset from personal success to fostering a collaborative and high-performing team. And some top sellers often like the money and the recognition that comes from bringing in big deals themselves. 

Therefore, when seeking sales managers, it's imperative to identify traits that go beyond individual sales achievements. While top performing sales reps can be good leaders, you should identify what helps sales leaders succeed and interview top reps based on a rigorous hiring process that will help you identify the top sales leaders for your role. 

So if the above traits of top sellers are some that we should avoid when looking for the right sales manager, what traits should we ensure they do have?

The Traits that Set Successful Leaders Apart

Contrary to some opinions out there, hiring isn't a luck-of-the-draw process. It doesn’t have to be a guessing game on whether or not an applicant can succeed on your sales team. With a well-designed hiring process in place, you can identify the key traits prospective employees need to have in order to succeed in your role. Then you can build a hiring process that helps identify those traits, without bias.

The beautiful thing about this process? It works for hiring sales leadership, too. As you identify the critical traits your sales leadership team members need, you can build your hiring process so you have a good deal of confidence that you’re finding and hiring the right people to lead your sales organizations. 

What traits should you be looking for in sales leaders? We have a few suggestions:

Passion for Others' Success

This may be one of the most important traits for a sales leader. Exceptional sales managers have a genuine passion for helping their team members succeed. While they can be fueled by their own success, they genuinely want to see others win. They are proud of the collective accomplishments of the team rather than solely focused on individual achievements. 

During the hiring process, structure your questions to identify candidates who exhibit a strong desire to mentor, guide, and elevate the performance of their team members.

In addition to wanting to see others succeed, skilled sales leaders need to be highly adept with at least one of the following traits (and, at minimum, sufficient at the others):

  • Coaching and developing sellers: A sales manager's ability to provide constructive feedback, identify areas for improvement, and nurture the professional growth of each team member directly impacts overall success. By investing time in coaching, sales leaders empower their sellers with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate challenges, adapt to evolving market dynamics, and consistently exceed targets. This is a trait that needs to be identified during the hiring process, but doesn’t necessarily need to be perfect in your hire.

    Your company can invest in guiding, mentoring, and training your sales leaders after they’re hired to ensure all your sales leadership is providing a consistent leadership style and process. One critical trait is being able to help your sales leaders adopt a mindset shift from solely hitting numbers to nurturing personnel growth

  • Assisting on opportunities: This is both a very hands-on skill and one that requires thinking ahead and delegating. Sales leaders need to understand the sales process and be able to provide their teams with the tools and material they need to succeed.

    Their involvement goes beyond overseeing and extends to collaborating with team members on specific deals, fostering a sense of unity and shared responsibility. By lending expertise and guidance during critical moments in the sales process, leaders contribute to the overall effectiveness of the team. Their assistance not only ensures better outcomes in individual deals but also reinforces a culture of collaboration that strengthens the entire sales organization.

  • Hiring great sellers: If getting a hire right has such an important impact on your bottom line, then hiring managers who can distinguish between mediocre sales talent and those who will excel in your selling environment will have a huge impact on the success of your sales team and your company revenue.

    This trait is vital because it involves a strategic understanding of the skills, mindset, and cultural fit required for success in the organization. By consistently attracting top-tier talent, sales leaders ensure a dynamic and high-performing team that can adapt to market changes, capitalize on opportunities, and sustain long-term success. The art of hiring great sellers is a key driver of a sales leader's ability to build and maintain a competitive and resilient sales force.

Once your hiring process is structured to identify these traits in your sales leadership prospects, you can also start to identify and choose which of the following skills will help sales leaders succeed at your company and within your sales structure. 

Here are some other skills that can be important for sales leaders to have and that you can identify during the hiring process. 

Accountability for the Sales Team

Effective sales managers take full accountability for the results of their team, good and bad. Look for candidates who exhibit a strong sense of ownership and are committed to driving results collectively.

Responsible to the Team of Sellers

Sales leaders who are conscientious to their team of sellers are more likely to build trust and rapport within the group. As they understand their responsibility to ensure the success of their team, cohesiveness and unity grow throughout the sales organization, giving your customers and prospects a consistent experience throughout the sales process. Contrast this with sales leaders who hire team members expecting several to fail and are ready to cut ties with them early and often. That culture ensures a lack of trust and cohesiveness. 

Emotional Intelligence

Exceptional sales managers possess a high level of emotional intelligence. They can empathize with team members, understand their unique needs, and adapt their leadership style accordingly. They ensure team members are held accountable to the skills and standards they need to succeed and perform well for the company while always making sure to recognize team members and make them feel appreciated. Emotional intelligence is essential for creating a positive and motivating team environment.

Planning and Organization

Sales managers need to be adept at planning and organization. They should understand how to build a comprehensive team plan, assist sellers in crafting their individual plans, and stay attuned to deal details. These strong organizational skills allow your sales leaders to have more accurate forecasting, enabling proactive decision-making and resource allocation.

Hiring Doesn’t Have to be a Guessing Game

​​Hiring sales managers requires a slightly more nuanced approach to your hiring and sales process that goes beyond traditional criteria. And while top sellers bring valuable skills to the table, they may not always be the best fit to lead your sales organization to success. Make sure your top sellers know this. Don’t leave them hanging, waiting for a promotion that may not come. Be clear and communicate effectively about what traits and skills are needed to step into management roles and the interview process they can go through if they’re interested in that position. 

The traits outlined above are critical for effective sales leadership. By prioritizing these qualities in your hiring process, you can build a team of sales leaders who not only drive revenue but also foster a culture of collaboration, accountability, and continuous growth.

The art of hiring exceptional sales managers doesn’t have to be a guessing game or a “we don’t want to lose them so we have to promote them” process. You can hire true sales leadership talent by finding individuals who recognize the delicate balance between individual prowess and team-oriented leadership. You just need to make sure your hiring process is structured to find those individuals. That way, you can be sure you’re getting hiring perfect and not dealing with the outsized costs of excessive turnover in your sales organization.

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