As a sales leader, there are many tasks competing for your time. From coaching your team to closing deals, these seemingly urgent activities matter and influence the success of your team and your career both in the short and long term. However, one activity stands out amongst all the rest: sales hiring. Even addressing underperformance issues should take a back seat to owning the sales hiring process.
Why? Because sales hiring directly influences all of the other urgent tasks we’ve mentioned and others that didn’t even make the list. It’s not a task that you can pass off to human resources or talent acquisition teams. While they can provide support, streamline administrative tasks, and help source candidates, sales leaders need to be on the ground evaluating the unique skills and culture needs to find the best people for your sales team.
Every task for a sales leader becomes much easier once you’ve hired top performers who align with your leadership style and company mission. In other words, hiring top talent is the foundation of every other vital task in your role as sales leader.
Why You Should Invest in Your Hiring Process
Say you find a candidate who can succeed on your team. That’s certainly an achievement in and of itself. However, take a moment to consider the impact if you find and hire someone who is just 10% better. What can you expect as a payoff? This candidate will ramp up faster and learn more quickly, which ultimately creates a feedback loop, boosting your entire team’s performance.
Sounds pretty amazing, right? That’s why it’s critical for sales leaders to be more than passively involved in the hiring process. Instead, you should own the hiring process. This process must be geared toward hiring and retaining top performers, not just those that can get the job done. Making that happen means you’ll need to be fully invested in the process, driving it toward successful outcomes.
But you might be saying, “I have a great talent acquisition (TA) team. Isn’t that enough?” Unfortunately, it’s not. Not even close.
Yes, the expertise of a TA team is a huge asset in facilitating a successful process and maintaining a steady stream of candidates. But sales hires are a different process than other team members across other departments. The skills needed to succeed in sales don’t always come through in traditional interviews. Sales leaders have the experience that makes them particularly equipped to put together a process for evaluating potential sales hires. Because of their background in the market, sales team performance, product, and sales processes, sales leaders have more insight into how a candidate will fit into a team and process than any TA team member could. Sales leaders can develop a process for evaluating sales skills, performance, and potential that differs from the other hiring processes TA works on. And by having the sales leadership team hands on developing the process, they can ensure it is done right.
And sales leaders have the most at stake.
What happens if a new hire fails? It’s not an uncommon occurrence, given that 46% of new hires fail. The consequences most directly impact sales leaders and managers, not the TA team. The time, resources, quota, and more lost most adversely impact you and your team. In other words, you have the proverbial “skin in the game.” You’re the most likely to be blamed and even fired if things don’t work out.
The Heat is On for Sales Leaders
The average tenure of Head of Sales hires is shrinking, currently at around 19 months. The pressure is on for sales leaders. Hiring the right VP of Sales or Manager capable of meeting (or even exceeding) targets can help your team achieve revenue milestones and significantly influence your company’s trajectory.
The problem? With short tenures and long lead times on ramping new sellers, one round of hiring mistake can be all it takes for a sales leader to lose their job. They may replace the initial mistakes with exceptional sellers, but by the time the second round has ramped, it could be too late.
That doesn’t even include other consequences such as recruiting, onboarding and training expenses as well as lost quotas, missed opportunities, and morale hits. It’s difficult to quantify the long-term impact of the sales hire problem plus the ever-shortening tenure of sales leaders given individual company factors, but one thing is for certain: it’s significant and consequential.
So, hiring the right people for sales is critical to being a successful sales leader. Your career success, plus that of your team and company as a whole, depends significantly on how well you can attract and retain the ideal performers. In essence, hiring may be the most important (and also undervalued) aspect of your role as a sales leader. You must invest in talent selection best practices to move your career, team, and organization forward.
Talent Selection Best Practices for Sales Leaders
So, how do sales managers own the hiring process? What does it take to go from being a passive participant in a TA-driven process to driving the operations yourself?
It starts by raising the talent bar for your organization through high hiring standards and deliberate processes. You don’t just need a checklist of things to do before hiring someone; you need a solid methodology in place that includes, at a minimum:
- Define the traits and competencies required for success
- Interview for those traits and competencies
- Structured interviews: with four total interviews being the sweet spot (Learn more about the Rule of Four.)
- Role scorecards for evaluation: Use to measure candidates against those competencies from the job description and standardize the review process in a cohesive way
- Candidate debriefing sessions: An often overlooked but valuable part of the hiring process. Include both individual, written reflections by interviewers and verbal group debriefs with a defined agenda.
- Reference calls: Don’t just ask for them; actually call these references and prepare ahead of time to avoid confirmation bias.
It’s also critical to know how to interview potential hires. Sales candidates tend to be solid storytellers, but you’re not hiring someone for their narrative capabilities. You want someone who possesses the competencies you’ve identified as essential for success in the role you’re hiring for.
Context is paramount. You might have a candidate who tells you they met quota without fail in their last role. Sounds great, right? Might as well hire them now.
Not so fast; a bit more context is needed to determine if this candidate is a fit. Dig a bit deeper and ask framing questions to figure out how that quota was structured and if it was done in a way that reflects the same or a similar structure as your organization. You may find that the candidate was operating from a tried-and-true playbook at an industry leader; a scenario that doesn’t quite reflect the reality of selling at your startup to an emerging market.
Need a bit of inspiration on what to ask and why? We’ve got 17 questions to help you prepare for your next sales leader interview.