May 15, 2013
It doesn’t hurt to get a little creative.
It’s not surprising that sales managers are sometimes plucked from the ranks of the sales staff. Someone who is wildly successful at selling should be able to mentor his or her team and handle the logistics of the job, right?
Not very often. A sales manager – which you realize if you’ve ever been one – is a manager, just like the manager of any other division in your company. Department leaders don’t have to have served in positions lower on the food chain. They’re often brought in because of the specific set of skills required – not because they exceeded their personal sales quotas every week.
That said, here are some of the issues I would consider if I was hiring someone to lead my team. Before I even advertised the opening, I would:
- Think carefully about the job title itself. Make sure it matches the responsibilities that person will undertake – it may have some impact on who does and doesn’t apply for the position. It depends on the level of expertise and talent you’re requiring. Do you want to hire someone who sees himself or herself as a sales manager? Or a vice-president of sales?
- Articulate desirable personal qualities in the job description. Don’t just request background on previous positions held and their responsibilities. What kind of personal traits do you want to see in your sales manager? Do you want someone who is self-directed? An exceptional communicator? An effective problem-solver? A skilled mentor? (Tip: Also include the phrase, “…and other duties as assigned.” This can help you avoid uncomfortable situations down the road.)
- Make a list of the most challenging situations the current sales manager has faced. This will help you shape the job description, and may be fodder for candidate questions during interviews (“How would you have handled this situation?”).
Once I’d narrowed down the pool of applicants, I would:
- Ask candidates for a brief set of overall objectives and goals. They don’t need to expound at length, and they needn’t turn in a full-blown business plan. Just 1-2 pages outlining their vision for the team and their expectations. I’d ask that they get very specific at some point and reveal what they consider to be effective tactics. This will not only give you information about their planning and strategizing skills, but it will also let you see what they know about your company.
- Find roundabout ways to learn about the potential employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, check references. But also ask the candidates what they think their former co-workers and supervisors will say about them (this will also help you gauge their honesty and their self-image). Ask two of your salespeople – the two most disparate you can think of – to have lunch with your top candidates and get their feedback.
- Introduce your most promising candidates to other department managers. Watch how they interact.
Above all, give yourself time to make this critical decision. Call candidates back in if there’s no clear winner. Start from scratch if you have to. Make sure that the management of your sales division is in capable hands.
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